Festival pilot arrives in WWII plane featured in museum
LAKELAND, Fla. — Ron Fagen came to Sun 'n Fun this week in a P-40 Warhawk but it's the P-38 that made it possible for him to be there at all.
Fagen's father, Ray Fagen, fought in the Army's 4th Infantry Division in World War II at Utah Beach, the westernmost Allied landing beach as the Allies invaded Normandy, but it was the Battle of the Bulge that gave him his biggest challenge.
"He said it was just horrible," Ron Fagen, 65, said of his father's experience. "He didn't think he was getting out alive."
At one point, during the German offensive, Fagen's father was pinned in a trench and didn't think there was a way he could escape enemy advancement. Then the skies cleared just enough, Fagen said, and a P-38 Lightning passed over, giving his father enough cover fire to escape.
Fagen's father was wounded but alive.
"He claims it was the P-38 that saved his life," Fagen said. "So that's why we went and got one."
Fagen, of Granite Falls, Minn., started a World War II vehicle museum in Granite Falls in 2012.
Fagen served during the Vietnam War in the same infantry division his father had served in.
The Fagen Fighters World War II Museum houses fully operational aircraft and vehicles from the 1930s and '40s, including two P-40s, two P-51s and the P-38.
"We've got all kinds of junk," he laughed.
Fagen beamed outside the P-40 he flew down for the airshow.
He made three stops for fuel on the way, in Illinois, Tennessee and Gainesville. It's his second trip to Florida for Sun 'n Fun.
He was last here in 1996.
Tuesday's warmth provided a stark contrast to the weather Fagen saw before he left.
"It was 28 degrees," Fagen said.
"I missed a blizzard by one day."
The plane, with its bumble-bee yellow-and-black checkered tail, sky camouflage under its wings, and frightening tiger mouth behind its propeller, is painted to replicate P-40s U.S. pilots flew from North Africa during World War II.
The plane boasts "500 histories" because of all the different parts used to repair and restore it over the years, Fagen said.
During the flight, he traveled at an average speed of 300 mph, and said the plane rode about as smoothly as could be expected.
"The 1942 airplane behaved quite well," Fagen said, leaning on a tan wing.
"You've always just got to remember that these planes were not built for pleasure."
"They were built for battle."