Tribute to Lefty Gardner
and 31 years of #13 White Lightnin'

He really wanted to fly fighters...

Lefty Gardner took his first airplane ride with a barnstormer in a Jenny in 1935. From that point on, he wanted to fly fighters. As a teenager, he remembers watching T-6's swarming overhead while hoeing cotton with his dad, dreaming about what it would be like to be the one behind the controls.

And so when he joined the Army in 1942 and was sent to primary training in PT- 19s in Quero, Texas, he thought he was on his way. Unfortunately, the Army had other plans. After taking basic training in the BT- 13 and AT-9, 10, & 17's, he still wanted to fly fighters, but was sent instead to B-24 transition training with the 34th Bomb Group.

After 6 months of training, he and his crew flew a B-24 by way of South America and Africa to Mendelsham, England. Didn't the Army get it? He wanted to fly fighters! After 20 missions in the B-24, Lefty was moved into the B-17, and flew another 14 missions over Europe. Hoping to get reassigned, he signed on for a second tour, and ended up flying 12 more covert night missions in C-87s, (the cargo version of the B24). Lefty lost a lot of friends in the black and the flak. He finally left the service in 1946.

The dream persisted, and a post-war crop dusting business with brother Henry flying Stearmans helped keep it alive. Along with a former flight instructor, Lloyd Nolan (no, not the movie star), they started collecting airplanes: a Bearcat, a Mustang, a Corsair, and a P-38. It was the beginnings of the Confederate Air Force, and it put Lefty where he had always wanted to be - flying fighters!

Thirty one years later, Lefty Gardner was still flying that P-38L, N25Y, (Serial #5339). It's called White Lightnin' due to it's unusual white with red and blue trim paint job, which has become a legend in air racing and air show circles. The rare fighter is a treat to the eyes and ears, whether turning the pylons with the unlimited racers (Lefty had a particularly daring style of low-altitude racing!) or gracefully performing the airshow maneuvers with such artistry as to become a true living legend.

The plan was to retire White Lightnin' in 1994 after the Reno Air Races. A permanent home was first proposed at March Air Force Base, then at a newly formed museum of flying in Palm Springs CA. When the plans did not come to fruition, the lure of air shows and competition brought Lefty and White Lightnin' back to life.

Early in the week at the 1996 Reno Air Races the P-38 blew a hole thru the left engine casing forcing a safe emergency landing. The crew did an amazing job of getting the "new" (a pickled, crated, never fired, WWII vintage) engine out to Reno and getting it put on in time for one late graceful airshow on Sunday afternoon, just before the unlimited gold race. Lefty retired the P-38 again, this time putting it up for sale!

Recent sightings included a formation flight with an F-15 at the big USAF 50th anniversary celebration April '97 at Nellis AFB, and an appearance at the "Warbirds in Action" airshow at Shafter, CA (the old Minter Field of WWII days) the same weekend!

Thanks for the memories, Lefty!

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page design & sponsor:
Helix Interactive Productions
all photos on this page copyright © 1995 H.I.P. except:
air-air photo courtesy of Richard Merrill, White Lightnin' Air Racing Team
text adapted from article by Dean Craun - Warbirds in Action 1996 program
ver. 0.98 - this page under construction!