Captain Everett Parsons Phillips and the P-38 Lightning
Originally posted Sept 05, 2012
The guy who originally taught me to fly an airplane and get my license was the late-Everett Phillips. He's been on my mind a lot the past few months, as I've again taken up airplane driving. I've realized all over again just what a strong basis in aviation fundamentals and airplane handling Phil gave me and also recalled all the fun we had together as we became best friends, hunting partners, traveled across the country by private plane, and also became for a time business partners in our own ground school training operation. He was the most naturally talented and accomplished pilot I've ever been around.
As it happens, Phil, who grew up in the hills of West Virginia (he liked to say that he had to put rocks in his shoes the first six months he left the Alleghenies, so he'd feel comfortable) piloted a P-38 Lightning through the European Theater in World War II. That's impressive enough, but Phil's plane - christened "Bag and Baggage" with nose art and a hand painted leather bomber jacked to match - was the photo reconnaissance version of the Lightning, termed the "Phantom" by the then-Army Air Force. That airplane, which was the fastest in the fleet until the P-51 Mustang came on line, had no armament and no armor plate, the "protection" for the pilot presumably being found in its speed, which at the time was deemed sufficient to out-run anything the Luftwaffe could put up against it. According to Phil, his squadron's motto was, "He who clicks and runs away lives to click another day."
So there he was, a 22 year-old kid with an airplane that could fly straight up. And he was a fighter pilot, in spirit and manner at least, his entire life. He fit the mold perfectly. Kind of a compact guy with a bit of swagger, an almost-cocky grin, and an attitude to go with it. I'd known and been friends with him for several years when I noticed on a shelf in his house an old black and white photo I'd never seen before. It was 22 year-old Phil, sitting in the cockpit of that Oh-My-God airplane in a leather jacket and (I swear) a silk scarf, with that same go-to-hell grin he still had the last time I ever saw him in his seventies.
As much of a stickler as he was on safety...and especially things like the coordinated and proper use of rudders and elevators on approach and landing...he himself would sometimes "push the envelope" a bit. At those times, like as not, he'd tell me in effect to do as he said and not as he did. That notwithstanding, I'll confess that on more than one occasion he made me more than a little uneasy. When I'd mention to him that I really didn't want to end my days in the crash of private plane, he'd respond, "Yeah, but it would be a classy way to die." A fighter pilot.
He survived WWII and found upon returning home that the airlines (wisely, one would think) wanted nothing to do with fighter pilots regardless of his multi-engine experience in the Lightning. So, he came back to Nebraska, where he had trained briefly before going to war, married a Nebraska girl, picked up a degree in pharmacy at the University and had a very successful career as a pharmacist, businessman, and ultimately, the director of the state veterans' nursing homes, while always keeping his hand in aviation in one capacity or another. A man of many parts and many talents. He was proud of his service before Tom Brokaw ever coined the phrase "The Greatest Generation" (which for my money they were) but he never wore his patriotism on his sleeve or stuffed it down your throat. He knew what he'd done, and that was enough, actually making it easier to admire and honor him.
As I say, Phil's been on my mind and my lips these past few months, so you can imagine my reaction at yesterday's Nebraska football game when the flyover was performed by a P-51 AND a P-38 Lightning. On a hunch, I drove out to the airport this morning, and there it was, sitting on the ramp at Duncan Aviation! I explained my interest to them and they arranged for me to be accompanied outside to look it over and photograph it. For all I'd heard about that legendary airplane, it was the first time I had ever seen one close up, and it was a very meaningful experience. And of course, I thought of Captain Phillips sitting in it in his silk scarf and leather jacket and that grin.
I heard a lot of P-38 stories over my years with Phil and enjoyed every one of them, but I didn't ask enough questions, just like with my parents. For example, this past June, it occurred to me that I'd never asked him where he was and what he did on D-Day. Stuff like that. Hopefully, some day my chance will come to ask those questions, but I hope not too soon.
Phil, wherever you are, across the miles and ages, we salute you, and "Bag and Baggage." Keep the clean side up and Happy Landings.
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