COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) Soaring over southern Colorado, scanning the skies for a familiar bird. A warbird that retired Col. Frank Royal knows well.
Col. Royal sits copilot in a chase plane.
"I'm 101 and three quarters and as of last week, I went under hospice," said Col. Royal. "So it's kind of a special day."
The WWII veteran sat co-pilot, flying in a chase plane alongside the restored P-38, nicknamed "White 33."
"This is a unique experience," said Col. Royal.
The plane was damaged in a dogfight over Papua New Guinea and left there.
"Part of its wing was shot off and the plane managed to get back to base and land," said John Henry, a volunteer at the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs.
Eventually, it was recovered and brought to the museum.
This is where the story takes a remarkable twist.
"It was just completely coincidental that Col. Royal's son was in the museum and took a look and said, 'I think I recognize that plane. I want to bring my dad back.' And brought his dad back and his dad immediately said, 'Yes, that was one of the aircraft that was in my squadron in World War II,'" Henry said.
In fact, they figured out Royal flew that very plane, White 33.
“I...probably flew it early on over there in the...area where they first arrived on ship," said Col. Royal.
Now a world away, surrounded by family, he got to see White 33 in the air, where she belongs, just like all those years ago.
“I’m glad I was able to be here and with so many of my family also," Royal said. "We’ve been visiting out here from time to time, since they first brought it here from New Guinea and started working on it.”
“It was a nice flight. I got a good look at the B-25 with the White 33 right behind it, up over the city and toward the mountains," he added.
Other veterans lined the runway to cheer on the old pilot.
"I came out here to see a P-38 fly again, which I didn't think I'd ever see again. Next Sunday is my 92nd birthday, so I never expected to see a P-38 fly again in my lifetime," said retired Col. Watt Hall.
"I'm very emotional about it."
"This is one of those heart moments that you only get once in awhile: to bring back this man at 101 years of age and reunite him with this aircraft that was his squadron in WWII, in the middle of the Pacific theater. That's an amazing feeling. That's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence," Henry said.
"Mentally I was flying it," Col. Royal told the crowd when he got off the chase plane.
Just like all those years ago.
"I'm hoping that I'll still be able to enjoy seeing, and perhaps even, my spirit taking a little ride in one now and again," Royal added.
Maybe even in White 33.