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History Presentation and P-47 Flight Demonstration Kearby’s Thunderbolts—The 348th Fighter Group
September 16, 2023
Kearby’s Thunderbolts—The 348th Fighter Group
Saturday, September 16
Doors Open at 8:00am Presentation at 9:00am
At the outbreak of WWII Captain Neel Kearby was an experienced fighter pilot. He was soon promoted and given command of the 348th Fighter Group. The Group was equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt and was trained for deployment to Europe. But the 5th Air Force in the Pacific needed fighters. U.S. Army Air Forces commanders in the southwest Pacific were enamored with the P-38 Lightning as it had proved so effective against the Japanese in New Guinea. But P-38s were not being produced fast enough to meet the needs of the 5th Air Force, so they agreed to take the 348th Fighter Group to the Pacific.
Kearby, the tactician, saw the P-47 as a flying arsenal with tremendous destructive capabilities. With 8 forward-firing, heavy 50-caliber machine guns, it could pour concentrated fire on a target like no other aircraft in the U.S. inventory. It could dive with impunity and withstand a six-ton impact, making it virtually indestructible. Kearby and the 348th Fighter Group used the P-47’s capabilities to their advantage against lightly armored Japanese aircraft and tactical targets on the ground.
The 348th went on to establish a great record of service in the Pacific. Kearby himself was the first P-47 Ace in the Pacific Theater and set an Army Air Forces record for most victories in a single mission. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. On March 5th, 1944, during a combat mission while assigned to the 5th Air Force staff, Kearby was shot down. He successfully parachuted from the plane, but died from his wounds.
On Saturday, September 16th, at 9:00 am, museum docent and Air Force retired Flight Surgeon Colonel Dave Schall will present the full story of Colonel Neel Kearby and the 348thFighter Group which he led. The presentation will be followed by a flight demonstration of the museum’s P-47 Thunderbolt, weather permitting.