PUNXSUTAWNEY — At least one local man has experience piloting the now-rare P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes like the one coming to the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport Festival this weekend.
Dr. John Quatroche, 92, of Punxsutawney, graduated from St. Marys High School in 1942, joined the Army Air Corps and was a co-pilot of C-47 cargo planes hauling supplies and paratroopers and towing gliders from England into France and Germany.
When the war ended, Quatroche was one of many pilots who did not have enough service time to be rotated back to the States and was assigned to the American occupation force stationed in Austria. That’s when he transitioned to single-engine fighter planes.
“We thought it was wonderful” to get to fly fighters, Quatroche said, although he and his fellow pilots had been hoping to fly P-51 Mustangs.
“You were flying all by yourself” in the fighter, he said, and the Thunderbolt was much faster and more maneuverable than the cargo planes he had been piloting.
Taking off was no problem, Quatroche remembers, because the P-47 had more than enough power to get into the air. Landing was a little tricky, though, because a pilot had to keep a Thunderbolt going about 140 mph as it touched back down on the ground, he said.
As a member of the occupation army, Quatroche was limited to about four hours of piloting time per month.
When he returned home he graduated from college and practiced veterinary medicine for 60 years in Punxsutawney.
The Jimmy Stewart Airport Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday. Admission and parking are free. For more information, log onto www.jimmystewartairport.com.