When 1 Pilot Fought 64 Japanese Planes

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On December 13, 1943, 2nd Lt Philip R. Adair was flying Lullubelle, his beloved P-40, over the skies of Assam when he sees from a distance what looks like a flight of 4 planes. When he goes around to take a closer look, a force of 60 planes of both bombers and fighters are headed straight for his home base.

He was left with no choice but bravely engage the force alone. 

Bravely Facing the Odds

The bombers were the threat and he knew that if he took one shot at the fighter, he would lose the advantage of surprise. If you had any chance of success, it had to go against the bombers first. So, he decided to come in from high above on the left, trying to get some shots into the lead flight at maximum range. 

“I started firing pretty long range out because all I could do was fire enough tracers across the front of them to kind of shake things up a little bit. And I could see that as soon as I started shooting, they get a little nervous because the bombers were bouncing up and down and I wasn’t paying attention to the fighters at that time.”

“I was around behind the last flight, I picked up the last bomber in there and went after his left engine.”

Escape Maneuver

He could see hits on the engine and what looked like fire coming out of the bomber. However, he overtook it so quickly that he couldn’t really tell what was going on. At this point, the Zeroes were about to attack, but Adair had an escape maneuver ready. He pushes the stick full forward into the left corner, and into a negative G, outside roll and in a high-speed dive. 

Eventually, he pulls out and looks around and thankfully, the Zeroes were going back to defending the bomber formation. While his attack rattled the crew, the bombers were able to release their bombs. 

Another Run

Adair thought he had another run with the Zeroes, and while he took down one, he was hit. Fire comes shooting forward around both sides of the armor plate. 

He tried to pull out from his plane, but something was wrong. He yanks back on the throttle with both hands on the stick. Miraculously, he was able to get the nose up and into the sky. 

Not Done Yet

As he quickly heads for him, he quickly realized that his troubles are not over yet. It was very hard to hold the nose up to the horizon, even using both hands. He kept losing altitude and was flying right side up. 

He encountered a Zero he had hit earlier, and as Adair went after him, he realized he had no ammo left. The Zero, in turn, started shooting at him. Fortunately, he wasn’t hit and managed to escape from the enemy plane.

A Brilliant Idea

As he nursed his plane, a brilliant idea suddenly hit him. 

“I’ll just turn the plane upside down and see what happens. It climbed and I got quite a bit of an altitude. Then, the engine started cutting out again, so I flip it back right side up. It comes back and starts running smooth.”

Adair lost count of how many times he did the maneuver, but he eventually made it back to the airbase. Flipping the plane last minute, Lulabelle’s white-rimmed wheels kissed the runaway and she landed safely. 

It was Adair’s 44th mission. He later said, “For me, mission number 44 was the most exciting.” He received the Silver Star for challenging 64 Japanese planes.