Flying ace, 99, returns to Suffolk base 70 years after final mission

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99, visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the fi

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99, visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the first time since he left after the war. - Credit: Nick Butcher

He is thought to be the oldest living Second World War fighter ace.

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99 , visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the f

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99 , visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the first time since he left after the war. - Credit: Nick Butcher

And, at the age of 99, Major Frank McCauley has this week returned to the base from where he flew dozens of missions.

The American had travelled across the Atlantic for his first visit to Halesworth since he flew his final sortie here, in a P-47 Thunderbolt named Rat Racer, in 1943.

He served with the 56th Fighter Group at Halesworth (Holton) Airfield and carried out a total of 46 combat missions.

Mr McCauley travelled from Hamilton, Montana, with his wife Bobbie, and arrived at Halesworth Airfield Museum with William Hartshorn – a 56th Fighter Group replacement pilot who served at Boxted, Essex.

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99, visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the fi

Amerian World War Two fighter pilot Frank McCauley, 99, visits Halesworth Airfield Museum for the first time since he left after the war. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Raised on a dairy farm in Ohio, Mr McCauley joined the US Army Air Corps in 1941.

After graduating from flying school he was transferred to Connecticut for further training and in December 1942 travelled to London.

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He said: 'We didn't get our planes for a month and a half after we arrived so we had to do our training on bicycles and work on our formation.'

Mr McCauley arrived in Halesworth in April 1943, and got his first victory on August 11, when he and another pilot shot down the same Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Each pilot was credited with half a kill and on October 14, Mr McCauley officially became a fighter ace when he shot down his fifth Messerschmitt.

He said: 'I looked forward to every mission I could fly.

'I was always a little bit nervous when we were taking off, but when you get up there you are in complete control.'

He left Halesworth in November 1943, to act as an instructor with the 495th Fighter Training Wing, and spent the rest of his working years in construction.

And even at the age of 99, the father-of-three was determined to return to his former base. He said: 'It was a long journey but it brings back a lot of good memories.'

Mr McCauley visited the main runway and entertained museum volunteers with his stories, including how he completed a skydive at the age of 93.

Is your group celebrating a special occasion? Let us know by emailing reporter Amy Smith at amy.smith@archant.co.uk