Cottonwood resident and WW II P-38 "Lightning" Ace, Maj. Ralph Wandrey met Col. Todd Canterbury, a current F-35 "Lightning II" pilot at a reception in Al Gradijan's Cottonwood Airport hangar on Saturday, June 21.
When Col. Canterbury, currently involved in the introduction of the F-35 to Air Force, Navy and Marine service, was informed that a WW II P-38 Ace was living in Cottonwood he made plans to visit Ralph while on leave in Arizona. Todd, his wife Kristie and father, Maj. Gen. Henry Canterbury, USAF (ret.), flew to Cottonwood to meet Ralph. Jess and Joan Tyler sponsored the reception.
Ralph and Todd span over 70 years of American fighter pilot history, but the meeting was instantly engaging, animated, and gracious. Airplane capabilities, combat stories, fighter strategy, and humor filled the conversations. Clearly these pilots had an immediate connection and great respect for each other. "It was an honor to have been a small part of getting these two great Lightning pilots together," said Tyler.
Maj. Ralph Wandrey flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in over 200 combat missions in the South Pacific in 1943-1944 with 6 confirmed and 12 probable victories. He often flew with Richard Bong, America's Ace of Aces, and for three missions, Charles Lindbergh was his wingman. Wandrey's autobiography, "Fighter Pilot," is now a rare collector's item. He has lived in Cottonwood since 1976.
Col. Todd Canterbury graduated from Arizona State University in 1992. He has flown the F-15E, F-16, and F-35, with 650 combat flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently commands the 33rd Fighter Wing at Elgin AFB, Fla., which includes training in all three of the F-35 service variants. Both Todd and his father, Hank, were also USAF Thunderbird demonstration team pilots, flying hundreds of air shows all over the world.
"I can think of no finer example of knowledge and conviction than Todd," said Gradijan. "If Col. Canterbury is an example of the skill and dedication of today's Armed Forces, we can all be very proud."