P-39 pilot, P-38 Ace, Donald McGee

Print size 12×18″

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Major Donald C. McGee

P-39, “Nips Nemesis”

Artwork and Research By;

Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette


Donald McGee and his P-39 “Nip Nemesis”



Major Donald C. McGee

By Sir Ernie Hamilton Boyette

Many of the aviators I worked with were ones I met at reunions. I met Donald at an American Ace reunion in San Antonio, Texas. I wanted to do a P-39 pilot but had not met one yet so I researched pilots that flew the P-39 who were active with the American Ace group. At these functions it was insane for me to figure out who I wanted to talk to. I wanted to interview them all yet the reunions were on weekends so the opportunity was short. I asked around until I found Donald. We instantly hit it off and I loved his story so I took his phone number and address and started communicating with him as soon as I got back home. He had an interesting story you will find because it shows a side of our Air Corp in the very beginning of the war that you may be unfamiliar with. Enjoy.

Donald Charles McGee was born on July 15, 1920 in Brooklyn New York. Becoming an aviator was Donald’s sole ambition after reading books covering the chivalry and heroic acts of the World War I aces as well as a book on flying by Assen Jordanoff. After graduating from high school Donald enlisted into the Army infantry on July 1, 1939 and later applied for the Air Corps Flying Cadet program. After being accepted Donald began his flight training on April 30th 1941 at the Flying Cadet Program located in Albany, Georgia. He worked hard because he wanted to fly. This was his one main lifelong goal. Donald did well in his classes and graduated on December 12, 1941 five days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He had achieved his boyhood dreams with his pilot’s wings and 2nd Lieutenants bars.

Donald was assigned to the 49th Fighter Group at Morrison Field, Florida, where he and his group were to receive fighter training. After the Japanese attack there were no aircraft available for advanced training. All of these aircraft were needed on the front lines. During his flight training program he had flow the PT-17, the BT-13 and the AT-6 but the next level of training was to be in the more powerful front line fighters. These airplanes had all been sent to the war front.

Because of the instant need for pilots training for Donald and the rest of his classmates was cut short. Very short. They missed out on an important part of the training by being checked out in fighters with more powerful engines. Plus they did not get or receive gunnery practice in any aircraft nor did they get training in dropping bombs. These are very important parts of being a fighter pilot. Amazing as is seems but Donald had not flown a front line fighter before he found himself heading for the Pacific War where he would receive on the job training.

Donald and the 49th were sent to California on January 6, 1942. Here they boarded the SS Mariposa bound for Australia. Mind you they missed their advanced aircraft training which also included fighter aerobatic tactics. The 49th were shipped off to combat having never practiced firing their guns or even trained in how to use their gun sights.

After arriving in Melbourne Australia, the 49th was sent to the RAAF Station Willamtown, New South Wells. Here they waited for their aircraft to arrive. It was in New South Wells that some experienced P-40 pilots joined the group. They had just arrived from the Philippines and Java after being driven out by the advancing Japanese. The experienced pilots joined the 49thso the group would at least boast a few experienced pilots.

Donald and the other new pilots listened closely to the stories of the veterans. One of the experienced pilots was Ajax Bulmer. Ajax flew with a squadron called the Lincoln Brigade which was a group of American pilots that flew for the communist in the Spanish Civil War. During this civil war the Germans flew for the Spanish Nationalist against the communist. Ajax told them about his flying in the civil war. He told Don and the rest that when you shoot down an enemy or if he is too tough you turn and head back. Don asked him what if the enemy does not want you to leave and chases you. Ajax told him to jockey the airplane around as much as possible to foil his aim. He said to the new group that you have been trained to fly your airplane nice and level. When you have an enemy on you tail you jerk your fighter right, left, up, down, roll, you do anything to get him to miss and expend his ammunition until he turns away.

The new pilots like Donald contemplated their fate and how soon they would see combat. Donald and the other new pilots asked dozens of questions of the veterans. One by one they listened to the war stories and got their questions answered. Donald told me they clung to every word from the veteran pilots. One of the tricks they tried to hang on to was to zigzag when an enemy fighter is zeroing in on your fighter from behind. Simple as it sounds if you don’t know this tactic in combat you can die before you can pick up on simple tips like this. Even something as simple as slowing down a little while being pursued can cause the enemy to over shoot your fighter where you could then end up on the tail of the enemy. You must remember that no matter how badly a man may want to fight is not the problem; it is the training of the man to fight properly. That is the goal.

After some brief classroom training Donald and others from the group were assigned to the 8th Fighter Group, 36th Fighter Squadron at Lowood Station. They started training in newly arrived P-39D Airacobra. Donald told me that it was a shock to fly a full-fledged fighter from scratch. They learned as they went only obtaining enough efficiency to classify as “ready for combat.” After the group was checked out in the P-39 they were then ordered to Port Moresby, New Guinea where they flew from Seven Mile airstrip. This was soon to be a hot spot of activity.

May 1, 1942 was their first morning at Port Moresby. Donald was up early and participated in flying around the field to get more time in the Airacobra and to become familiar with the surrounding area. He was also on his first mission per say in that he was flying cover for the airfield should they be attacked. His wingman was not able to take off earlier when he did because of mechanical difficulties so Donald flew with two other pilots. After two hours they turned toward their runway to be relieved by another flight. A slight fog had set in on the airfield and one of the fighters that landed before him had landed hard and was now obstructing the runway for him to come down. His fuel was running low but he was sure that it would only be a few minutes.

Donald pulled up some to gain some altitude until it was time for him to land. Donald told me that if the enemy did attack he did not want to be caught down too low. He continued flying a pattern around the airfield and the area at 3,500 feet. Then his radio came alive. The airfield radioed him and told Donald that they were under attack. He was lucky to be flying on the other side of the airfield when the Japanese came in at tree top level shooting up the airfield and the planes along the runway.

With less than 20 gallons of gas Donald banked around and saw a Zero attacking the airfield. He pointed the nose of Airacobra down towards the Zero and applied full military power which is full power. Increasing his speed he found that he came up on the Zero fairly quickly. Don told me on video tape that he was surprised after flying against the Zero was that they were taught that the Zero was superior to the American fighters. Yet he found that the P-39 was faster than the Zero’s he would end up fighting. He pulled onto the enemy’s tail just like he had studied. Flashbacks from all the stories he had listened to and read about when he was a kid raced back into his head. He was behind an enemy fighter! This was done by shear instinct because they still had very little time in tactical training. Very little. Donald told me that after reading all the stories about his World War One heroes he had a fairly good idea of what to do even though this was his first time. To read more about Donald please consider one of our prints or one of our upcoming books.



This is my painting of Donald’s P-39. This painting has been autographed by Don and is for sale. $2,400.00