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April 20, 2003

Ladd Gardner Interview
by: Wayne Sagar
Images used in the presentation of this interview are the property of the photographers noted on image, and or, "the Lefty Gardner collection" and are used with the permission of either the photographer, or the Gardner collection or both.

An interview with Ladd Gardner - Part VIII

Right after the accident we set up some goals that we had to attain to see this thing through. Obviously, the money situation, we don’t have any money to put this thing back together. I’m sure my dad had some ideas how we might do this, but my dad’s a very humble guy; I know how big of a guy he is, both as a dad but also as a warbird guy. As a pilot, he’s looked up to by many aspiring pilots and pilots of his age and such. He’s so humble, he doesn’t even realize it.

I said ‘look there’s a lot of fans out there, there’s a lot of supporters of this airplane and I’ll bet that through the help of people around the US and other places that we can do this’ I told him ‘you’ve got a huge following and if we get a huge amount of support from all the people, we can do this.’ Once I got him convinced of that, we decided that’s what we were going to do.

We hired an attorney to draw up the paperwork for a non-profit organization. We agreed that we wanted a name that was recognizable. Left to me, Lefty Gardner and "White Lightnin’" have always just kind of gone together and one without the other just doesn’t seem right. I suggested we call it ‘The Lefty Gardner White Lightnin’ Aviation Museum.’

This was something we decided we’d put on paper for very long term but it would also help short term. We wanted to be incorporated as a tax exempt, non-profit organization, so we can solicit tax exempt donations, tax deductible donations, from anybody. From the guy who wants to give a dollar to the guy who wants to give a thousand dollars and up, to raise enough money to restore the airplane; to put it back into the best condition that it can be put in; have it back on the airshow circuit.

We want to have it back out there for the people who have supported it for all these years. Really if it wasn’t for the fans all these years, what it all boils down to, my dad loved to fly it but if there was no demand, if the fans didn’t want it, if the airshows wouldn’t have requested it to come. That’s just the way it works, if the fans don’t care about it, then there’s no sense for the airshows paying the expenses for it to come and it’s not a cheap airplane to have come. Especially if you’re going to the west coast from Texas, just to pay for the gas there and back. Those people, the fans, deserve to have it back out there again. To be seen, to be touched.. all those things."

AAFO: There is no question that the airplane is a crowd favorite anywhere it goes. I know I can speak for all the fans of the National Championship Air Races when I say, the airplane and your dad are greatly missed at the event!! There are so few P-38’s flying and the "White Lightnin’" has always been such a unique example of the P-38, your dad’s demonstrations, as well as his racing there, were always one of my favorite parts of a visit to the event. There truly is nothing quite like the sight and sound of that airplane in the sky doing the aerobatic demonstration that your dad is so well known for. Again, I think I can speak for everyone who has seen it, this is something that should not go away and needs to be returned to flight so that it can be heard and seen!

Ladd: "I can’t agree with you more! Flying the airplane is definitely a thrill like there is no other but it really can’t replace the thrill of seeing my dad fly it. In his hands, it can be flown in a way like I don’t think anyone else can fly it really. I’ve literally watched people cry when he does his aerobatic routine. I’ve felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck and seen the hair on my arms stand up watching him fly. It just gives you a magical feeling that you can’t really explain until you see it for yourself."

AAFO: Ladd, I think your dad has passed the torch onto you and however big of shoes his might be to fill, I think his choice of a pilot for the "White Lightnin’" is well founded and personally, I’m looking forward to seeing you carry on in your Dad’s name with the airplane!

Ladd: "I have to tell you that I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to attempt to fill his shoes. I feel that I have been extremely blessed to grow up in the environment that I did with my dad leading the way. But there is someone else who could also play a huge role in the future of the airplane. My brother Daron has flown the -38 to and he is an excellent pilot, to say the least! I mean, he had the same teacher I did [Lefty] and my dad could not be more complimentary of his skills.

He’s a pilot for Southwest [Airlines] and has flown a lot of different airplanes. Not to mention, he has about ten years more experience than I do. So, before it’s said and done, there may be two of us to share the torch and I think that would be great!"

AAFO: Are plans in place for the eventual location of "The Lefty Gardner White Lightnin’ Aviation Museum?"

Ladd: "At this point, it’s hard to say. I can narrow it down and realistically tell you where I think it would go. If someone came in and said they wanted the airplane on display at their museum, and unlimited funding is available, it would be hard to turn that kind of thing down. Realistically, I was born and raised in Central and South Texas, and I don’t have any intention of leaving; I love it here and I don’t want to leave. All my family is here, including the most important one of all, my dad, and I want to be as close to him, for as long s we can be close together, I know that he feels the same way about me and, obviously, the airplane. It’s something that we’re both very passionate about and we want to be able to work on this together at whatever level we can. That being said, Kerville, Texas, where my mom and dad are now living, and where I’ll be moving soon, would be a likely place.

There’s a nice airport there, and we’re looking into the possibility of building a facility there. The Fredericksburg Airport is also a possibility. It’s about twenty miles NE of Kerville, and is really starting to grow. Fredericksburg is a very old German town with a LOT of tourists. The Admiral Nimitz Museum, which has been named "The National Museum of The Pacific War," is also based there in town. Anyone who has studied the P-38, knows what an enormous role it played in the US success in that part of the war, it would be really neat to be based in the same area as that museum. So, you just never know where this all could go, but I am very excited about the future of this project!"

part-I | part-II | part-III | part-IV | part-V | part VI | part-VII | part-VIII

You can help return one of America's great aviation treasures to flight status. Log into http://p38whitelightnin.com/ your tax-deductible contribution will be entered into the "Lefty Gardner White Lightnin' Aviation Museum" fund to restore "White Lightnin'" to flying condition. With the help of the fans of this airplane, the Gardner family will, once again, be seen flying this great airplane!

 

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You can help return one of America's great aviation treasures return to flight status - Log into http://p38whitelightnin.com/ your tax-deductible contribution will be entered into the "Lefty Gardner White Lightnin' Aviation Museum" fund to restore "White Lightnin'" to flying condition. With the help of the fans of this airplane, the Gardner family will once again, be seen flying this great airplane!