On a cold February day in 1944, two Michigan airmen rolled an experimental aircraft out of a hanger at Lockheed’s test facility at Langford Lodge in Northern Ireland. They had been working on the project for two years, and it was time to put it to the test.
Major General Don R. Ostrander (retired) was born Sept. 24 1914, in Stockbridge, Michigan. He was valedictorian and president of his class of 1931. He attended West Point, where graduated in the upper third of his class of 1937.
After receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in the cavalry, Ostrander was ordered to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he served as a cavalry troop commander. Realizing that the impending war would not be fought on horseback, and that air power would loom large, he lobbied General H.H. “Hap” Arnold for a transfer to the Army Air Corps. Arnold granted his request, and he was transferred to the 709th Aviation Ordnance Co. at Langley Field, Virginia. In October 1941, he was again transferred to the 726th Aviation Ordnance Co. at Selfridge Field near Mt. Clemens, where he met and befriended Cass S. Hough.
Cass Hough, circa 1942-1945
Cass S. Hough was born October 4, 1904, in Plymouth, Michigan. His grandfather started the Daisy Manufacturing Company, makers of the famous Daisy air rifle, in 1886. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in 1921, and then attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1925. He joined the family business in 1926. He was commissioned into the Army Air Corps in 1938 and stationed at Selfridge Field, where he commanded a fighter squadron until he was transferred to England and the 8th Air Force in 1941.
In May 1942 Ostrander was also transferred to England where he became the ordnance and armament officer for the 8th Air Force Interceptor Command. He and Hough renewed their acquaintance and began working closely together on ordnance projects.
The P-38J “Droop Snoot” project was the brainchild of Ostrander and Hough. They came up with the idea of modifying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter into a “leader” bomber. The advantages of using a fighter as a strategic bomber were three-fold: a much higher air speed to and from the target, much fewer crew members risked in the mission, and the squadron could serve as its own fighter escort. The Modified P-38J was equipped with a Plexiglas nose cone and fitted with a top-secret Norden bombsight and body armor replacing the machine guns and cannon. The bombardier rode in the nose cone and led the bombing run; when the lead P-38J dropped its payload, so did the entire squadron.
The concept was so successful that the 8th Air Force immediately ordered three, then fifteen, Droop Snoot conversions. A total of twenty-three P-38Js were modified at Langford Lodge. The 20th Fighter Group flew the first combat mission April 10, 1944, when a Droop Snoot bomber led forty-two other P-38J’s on an attack against the Luftwaffe base at Gutersloh, Germany. Other successful missions in Germany and Italy followed, until the war in the European Theater was over in the spring of 1945.