Following World War II, the Army Air force, touting its long-range B-29, was striving to be the only military service to control all flying aircraft. The Navy, wanting to maintain its jurisdiction over maritime operations, designed the Lockheed P2V as a long-range patrol aircraft, yet, needed to demonstrate its endurance superiority. The Navy, therefore, established “operation Turtle” to modify a P2V Neptune that could fly 12,000 statute miles and set a record.
The plane, anointed the “Truculent Turtle,” (meaning defiant and pugnacious) was modified, adding 3,390 gallons of additional fuel capacity. The additional gas meant the Turtle weighed 85,575 pounds, much beyond the landing gears ability to support the aircraft in a turn on the ground. Therefore, tanks were only partially filled until the aircraft was position at the end of the runway and ready for take-off.
The route was planned to take off from Perth, Australia, heading westerly over the Hawaiian Islands, crossing the west coast of the U.S., and landing somewhere in the Midwest, hopefully as far as Washington D.C. Using Jet Assisted Takeoff (JATO) the plane lifted off Perth at 7:00 a.m. on September 29, 1946.
The crew included CDR Tom Davis, co-pilot CDR Eugene Rankin, CDR Walter Reed, engineering officer and relief pilot, and LCDR Roy Tabeling, communications officer and relief pilot. Also aboard was Joey, a nine-month old kangaroo, to be given to the Washington, D.C. Zoo.
The flight was not without its challenges: thunderstorms caused a detour over the Solomon’s, ice crusted the wings over the Pacific, a rough running engine was experienced over Nevada, and freezing rain caused the plane to pick up 1,000 pounds of ice over Utah.
With gas tanks registering empty, the Truculent Turtle landed at the Naval Air Station in Columbus, Ohio, 55 hours and 17 minutes after takeoff. The plane had traveled 11,236 miles, a record that stood for 16 years until finally broken by a jet-powered B-52 in 1962.
The Truculent Turtle is now on display at the Pensacola Naval Air Station Museum.