By Mark La Ciura
contributing writer 

Republic Aviation's P-47D Thunderbolt at Tehachapi Airport

 

May 11, 2024



Mark La Ciura.

Bruce Lockwood taxiing the mighty P-47D Thunderbolt out of parking at Tehachapi Airport.

Back in the mid 1990s, I was hired on as an part-time airport attendant at the Tehachapi Municipal Airport. I also did general grounds maintenance, "FOD" control (keeping the runways/taxiways clean). I also got to help pilots fuel up their aircraft. I really enjoyed helping the pilots safely fuel and chat with them.

For me it was a dream job because I got to be around some fantastic aircraft, some world class pilots and I got to learn a lot about aviation at the same time. Being a long time sailplane pilot, I got to see first hand what the powered aviation world was like, and you never knew what or who would fly into our airport set at 4,000 feet above sea level.

One big factor using Tehachapi Airport was pilots doing cross country flights did not have to drop in altitude to sea level to buy fuel. It saved them money to stop here and have cup of Tehachapi Airport's coffee. Today, with the upgrades to a new fuel system, the airport is self serve and there's no longer hot coffee.

One day I got to meet Harrison Ford. Yes, the actor you may know as Han Solo from the Star Wars franchise or from one of his many other film roles. Ford flew in with his Beach-craft Bonanza A-36. He was super nice, low key, down to earth and did not own a cell phone at the time. He asked me to use the airport landline to call his wife. I got to fuel Ford's Bonanza and he handed me his credit card to pay for the 100 LL fuel. The flight instructors that were flying with the famous actor said no way he was paying for the fuel. This was a check ride that was ordered by the film production company to make sure Ford was okay to fly during a film.

Mark La Ciura.

Bruce Lockwood chatting with air show fans at Tehachapi Airport about the V-12 engines used in WWII war bird aircraft.

So, never a dull day at Tehachapi Airport for me.

Other famous actors flew in, as well. Kurt Russell flew in, also very nice, and we let him use a car to go a get a burger in town. He fueled the car up and put 50 bucks in the center console for the use of the car. Very classy move on Russell's part.

But, back to that P-47D Fighter/Bomber. To my amazement a P-47D Thunderbolt was in the tie downs at Tehachapi Airport and just fired up as I was coming back from lunch. I was lucky to have a camera with me and get some okay shots. The pilot flying the P-47D, I would find out latter, was Bruce Lockwood. Lockwood is a well-known Reno air racer champion winning Reno in a highly modified P-51D Mustang and has a speed record at Reno at over 512 MPH .

I was truly blown away by the size and sound coming from this massive war-bird P-47D Thunderbolt with the tail S/N number of 44- 90447. Later on, this P-47D was named Jacky's Revenge. Lockwood did two fly-by lower passes that just impressed me to no end and I will never forget. Many thanks to Lockwood for that flying display.

This mighty Republic Aviation P-47D Thunderbolt is a heavy fighter/bomber weighting about 13,000 pounds all loaded up with fuel and armament making it one of the heaviest fighters in WWII. The P47D Thunderbolt was a World War II era aircraft produced from 1941 through 1945. It was a high altitude fighter/bomber and also worked in the ground attack aircraft role. Our present day ground attack jet, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, takes its name from the P-47.

Pilots loved the P-47D Thunderbolt with its larger cockpit and its added armored protection. The P- 47D Thunderbolt has a great bubble canopy for fantastic visibility. Nicknamed "Jug" because of the nose and engine cowling. Other nicknames are Razorback (Non-bubble canopy version) and lead sled. The P-47D Thunderbolt was well-known for its firepower and its ability to take battle damage and keep flying.

The P-47D I saw at Tehachapi Airport was out of the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, California. The museum used to have a maintenance/restoration place in Mojave, and war-bird pilot Bruce Lockwood managed that site. He also flew many war birds back then. That is how we were blessed to see this P-47D Thunderbolt years ago in Tehachapi.

Mark La Ciura.

High speed fly by of the P-47D at our local airport piloted by Mr. Lockwood.

There is nothing like the sound of that big Pratt & Whitney 18 cylinder radial engine and its four bladed propeller at idle and at full song, as I heard during the low fly by pass piloted by Lockwood. The P47D has a advance turbo-supercharger system which helped greatly at high altitudes and the R-2800 engine was used in many war birds for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corp. fighters for this time period.

The R-2800-69 engine has 2,430 horse power. The P-47D has a top speed of 433 mph and cruising speed at 260 mph with a range of 1,100 miles with auxiliary fuel drop tanks and with a service ceiling of 42,000 feet.

I have great respect for the aircrews and pilots that served in WWII, and just seeing this famous fighter fly that day reinforced that respect. I feel very blessed to have been an eye witness that day and I will never forget seeing the mighty P-47D Thunderbolt fly.

 
 

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