The official recognised birthday of an airplane is widely accepted to be the day it first became airborne and accomplished a successful maiden flight. Therefore, 26 October 2012 marks the seventy-second birthday of the original Mustang, the NA-73X, which sired a large stable of offspring. It is truly unfortunate that the final disposition of this historic airplane remains to be unknown, however, it has been said by one of its pilots, Robert C. ‘Bob’ Chilton, that it was given to a school educating future airframe and powerplant mechanics somewhere in the Los Angeles area of California, but this comment cannot be verified by this author due to Chilton’s passing.
The oldest known Mustang survivor is one of the two XP-51 airplanes built. The first aircraft, serial number 41-038, made its first flight out of Mines Field, now LAX, on 20 May 1941 under the guidance of Bob Chilton. It is on permanent display at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
When combat aircraft are retired, especially classic combat aircraft such as the Mustang, they are often procured by civilians for various reasons and by museums for historic purposes. So, it was with the famed Mustang and in large numbers due to its everlasting popularity. Because of its prowess as a piston-powered and propeller-driven fighter, many serviceable Mustangs remained on duty after the Second World War. These primarily included the P-51D/K, P-51H and F-6D/K variants, many of which were almost brand new. These Mustangs soldiered on and, on 11 June 1948, they were officially re-designated as F-51D/K, F-51H and RF-51D/K airplanes.
A large quantity of F-51D/K and RF-51D/K Mustangs were involved in the Korean War while F-51H Mustangs remained stateside serving primarily in Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command units. Second World War-era Mustangs were replaced in large numbers by turbojet-powered fighters during and after the Korean War, so it was finally time to say goodbye to this old warhorse. And during 1953 to 1957, the number of Air National Guard and Air Reserve Mustangs steadily declined. As of 1957, a large number of friendly foreign countries began to procure and use surplus Mustangs: primarily F-51Ds and F-51Ks. When these were retired in the mid-1960s, they too became available to civilians, air parks and museums.
A rather unique P-51 that is privately owned is the first of two XP-51G (43-43335, 105-25931) lightweight Mustangs that were built. It is owned by John C. Morgan and located in La Cañada Flintridge, California.
Nicknamed the ‘Margie Hart’ after a good-looking stripper in Los Angeles, California, this rare airplane was last reported to be undergoing complete restoration to flight status on 26 September 2010. No further information has been released since that date however. In September of 2007 at Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, there were more Mustangs (forty-nine in all) and their owners, pilots, crewmembers and their friends present since wartime during what was dubbed The Gathering of Mustangs and The Final Roundup.
In March 1957, the exact day eludes this author, the last Mustang on active duty was ceremoniously retired from service with the 167th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the West Virginia Air National Guard based at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It was an F-51D-30-NA (44-74936) named ‘One Hop’ and this Mustang is now on permanent display at the National Museum of the USAF at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It is currently being displayed as a Second World War P-51D-15-NA (44-15174) of the 15AF 325FG, 318FS, ‘The Checkertail Clan’, named ‘Shimmy IV’. (The actual ‘Shimmy IV’ flown by 325FG CO Lt. Col. Chester L. ‘Chet’ Sluder was a P-51D-5-NT, 44-11234.)
‘Shimmy IV’ is one of many museum-owned Mustangs. One of the better known of these is the former P-51H-5-NA (USAAF serial number 44-64265, NAA factory number 126-35691) that came off the Inglewood production line in March 1945. It is currently being restored to represent ‘Louisiana Heatwave’, which was a P-51H-5-NA (44-64195) of the 82nd Fighter Group based at Grenier, New Hampshire. The actual ‘Louisiana Heatwave’ was flown by the late Second World War ace Capt. Claude J. Crenshaw (several aerial victories and three-and-one-third ground victories) while it was based at Pinecastle AFB near Orlando, Florida, as part of the 621st Fighter-Bomber Wing.
This beautiful Rockwell International-sponsored P-51D nicknamed ‘Ole Yeller’ owned and operated by former USAAF/USAF and NAA test and demonstration pilot Robert A. ‘Bob’ Hoover proudly poses at an airfield in Rexburg, Idaho. Hoover flew alongside Capt. Chuck Yeager on 14 October 1947 after he broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1. (Photograph courtesy of Col. Bill Peake via Mark Nankivil)
The owner and head of Project XP-51G, John Morgan of La Canada, California, has acquired the first of the two experimental XP-51G Lightweight Mustangs that were built (43-43335) for his intended restoration of this extremely rare airplane. However, even though there is a website dedicated to this project, http://xp51g.com, Mr. Morgan remains elusive and the site has not been updated since 9 August 2009, last answering a query on 11 March 2011. It therefore remains unclear as to whether this project will proceed. (National Museum of the USAF)
Volunteers headed by project director Norman Meyers of the Mustang Restoration Project at the Chanute Air Museum are continuing their restoration of this rare P-51H-5-NA (44-64265) that carries the markings of ‘Louisiana Heatwave’ once flown by double ace and Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) recipient Captain Claude James Crenshaw of the 8th Air Force, 359th Fighter Group, 369th Fighter Squadron, (East Wretham, Great Britain). Crenshaw claimed several aerial kills and one probable (four in a single mission), three ground victories and one damaged (credited with eleven total kills) while flying two different P-51Ds of the same name (44-13606; P-51D-5-NA and 44-15016; P-51D-5-NA). From Monroe, Louisiana, he later flew a P-51H-5-NA (44-64195) that belonged to the 82nd Fighter Group of the Strategic Air Command, 15th Air Force, 66th Combat Fighter Wing based at Grenier AFB in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is this Crenshaw-flown P-51H that Meyers’ team is replicating. Visit http://p51h.home.comcast.net to learn more. (Photograph courtesy of Chanute Air Museum via Norm Meyers)
It was transferred to Chanute AFB at Rantoul, Illinois, on 11 June 1946 where it remained until placed on outdoor display rather than joining the Air Reserve or ANG. It was subsequently rescued from harsh outdoor weathering for restoration and display. Under the ‘Mustang Restoration Project’, headed by project director Norm ‘Mustanger’ Meyers, ‘Louisiana Heatwave’ is nearing full restoration for permanent display at the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, Illinois.
In addition to ‘Shimmy IV’, the National Museum of the United States Air Force houses several Mustangs in its collection including the famed ‘Betty Jo’, the F-82B Twin Mustang (USAAF serial number 44-65168, NAA serial number 123-43754) that set the non-stop, long-distance record of 5,051 miles during 27-28 February 1947. Last but not least is the very rare number two XP-82 Twin Mustang (USAAF serial number 44-83887, NAA serial number 120-43743) that is undergoing restoration to flyable condition at the WWII Flight Training Museum at Douglas Municipal Airport in Douglas, Georgia. Tom Reilly, owner and head of the ‘XP-82 Twin Mustang Restoration Project’ purchased the airplane from Walter Soplata in 2008.
As soon as post-war Mustangs became surplus, a large number were purchased from the US Government for the sole purpose of pylon racing at different venues throughout the US. Amongst the first of these was a P-51D Mustang owned by Earl Ortman that he entered into the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race in Cleveland, Ohio. Ortman took third place in that competition. Four additional P-51Ds were entered into this particular race that were piloted by Bruce Raymond (fourth place), Robert Swanson (fifth place), Woody Edmundson (seventh place) and George Welch who failed to finish due to engine problems that he encountered during his second lap. It was a ten-lap, 300-mile race around a thirty-mile course. The P-51D flown by Welch came from North American Aviation as he was one of its revered test pilots when NAA dabbled for a time in the popular world of pylon racing.
Since their first pylon races in 1946, Mustangs have continued to perform as dedicated air racers; however, there have been tragedies in this exhilarating but dangerous sport. Most recently, at the National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport in Reno, Nevada, the highly modified P-51D known as ‘The Galloping Ghost’ crashed close to a large crowd of spectators in the box-seat area of the grandstands around 4:30pm local time on 16 September 2011. The owner and pilot of the plane, James K. ‘Jimmy’ Leeward, and eleven spectators were killed and more than seventy onlookers injured. Notwithstanding this tragedy, pylon racing will most likely to continue as it is a very popular sport. And if so, Mustangs will continue to ply the skies around pylonsover these air racing facilities.
There are probably more models of the Mustang on the market than any other Second World War fighter. With too many to discuss within the scope of this work, they are available in all popular scales from 1:72 up to 1:18 scale. However, of all the models this author has seen, the one painstakingly produced by Mr. Young C. Park (2002 Metalworking Craftsman of the Year), his amazing 1:16-scale, all-aluminium P-51D Mustang, is far and away the most beautiful and extraordinary model.
Young C. Park’s 1:16 scale all-aluminium P-51D. (Photo by Young C. Park via Craig Libuse – Craftsmanship Museum)
Another photograph of Park’s P-51D model. (Photo by Young C. Park via Craig Libuse – Craftsmanship Museum)
Mr. Young C. Park. (Young C. Park)
Aerial Demonstration Team Mustangs
There were several Mustang-equipped aerial demonstration teams both inside and outside of the US, and the two best known of these are the ‘Guardian Angels’ of Maryland and ‘The Red Devils’ of Nevada.
‘The Guardian Angels’
Maryland Air National Guard P-51H Mustangs were employed by ‘The Guardian Angels’ aerial demonstration team during 1952-1953. The P-51H Mustangs flown by ‘The Guardian Angels’ were 44-64453, 44-64505, 44-64559 and 44-64573, and were based at Harbor Field just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. The pilots included Capt. John F.R. Scott Jr. (leader), 1/Lt. Malcolm Henry (left wing), 1/Lt. William (Bill) Marriott (right wing) and Capt. Jesse D. Mitchell Jr. (slot).
‘The Red Devils’
‘The Red Devils’ aerial demonstration team flew four P-51D Mustangs based at Las Vegas AFB (Now Nellis AFB), Nevada, for a short time during 1949 but was soon disbanded. The pilots that flew for ‘The Red Devils’ comprised of leader Maj. John B. England, 1/Lt. Gabriel Bartholomew, 1/Lt. Leon Pagan, Capt. Joe Joiner and 1/Lt. James Putnam.
On 17 November 1954, England died in the crash of his F-86 Sabre flying out of Toul-Rosières Air Base in France while trying to avoid colliding with barracks due to dense fog. England AFB, Louisiana (closed in 1992), was so named in his honour on 25 June 1955. England was a leading P-51 ace in the Second World War with 108 missions flown and nineteen aerial victories. He also served as a combat pilot in the Korean War. The former England AFB is now England Air Park.
The Mustang was born to be a fighter. This long shot began life as an also-ran, running far behind the stampede of other fighters of the day. But it metamorphosed into a bona fide combatant through a number of ongoing development cycles to become the winner it was intended to be, a thoroughbred and a champion running far ahead of the pack. And in the end, the Mustang became a fighter like no other in the world. For its war fighting prowess through two hot wars and a cold war more than proved its value as a fighter, fighter-interceptor and fighter-bomber.
After its slow start under Allison V1710-power, the Merlin V1650-powered Mustang excelled in the last two-and-a-half years of the Second World War in which it became an excellent ace-making dogfighter, the very best of the long-range escort fighters and one of the deadliest tactical ground strafers and fighter bombers to emerge from that conflict. In the Korean War, the F-51 Mustang and F-82 Twin Mustang performed a multitude of combat duties, especially long-range fighter-bomber missions that the latest fuel-gulping turbojet fighters could not do. After its war fighting duties were over, the Mustang and Twin Mustang continued to protect the American homeland and its territories in the US Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. As the F-51 began to be replaced by more modern turbojet-powered fighters in the mid- to late-1950s, it joined many other air forces of US allies and friends.
‘The Guardian Angels’ flight demonstration team performed during the 1952-53 time period and its four assigned F-51H-10-NA Mustangs were 44-64573 (closest to the camera), 44-64505, 44-64559 and a P-51H-5-NA (44-64453). These aircraft belonged to the 104th Fighter Squadron of the Maryland ANG. (National Museum of the USAF)
The Red Devils’ demonstration team was based at Las Vegas AFB (now Nellis AFB), Nevada, in 1949 and its five members from left were: Lt. Gabriel Bartholomew (leader), Maj. John England and Lt. Leon Pagan. Kneeling are Capt. Joe Joiner, left, and Lt. James Putnam. It is interesting to note that England AFB, Louisiana, was named after Maj. England who was killed in an aircraft crash in 1954. (National Museum of the USAF)
‘Guardian Angels’ pilots from left are leader Capt. John F. R. Scott Jr., 1st Lt. Malcolm Henry, 1st Lt. William Marriott,and Capt. Jesse D. Mitchell Jr. walking away from their four Mustangs in mid-1953. (National Museum of the USAF)
Geraldine, representing a P-51D-NA (44-14320), is just about to break ground and fly in the is spectacular freeze-frame photograph by Mitchell D. Babarovich.
This is the original P-51D-10-NA (44-14495) named Dallas Doll. (USAF via Mark Nankivil)
One can surmise from the multitude of appendices, captioned illustrations, tables, text and first-person accounts within this wide-ranging history of the Mustang and its siblings, that this work is factual, clear-cut, and even more important, ingenuous.
The Mustang soldiered on longer than any other Second World War-era piston-powered, propeller-driven fighter which is a true testament to its combat mission capabilities. Thus, final retirement came only when the combat mission requirements of the P/F-51 had exceeded the war fighting capabilities the Mustang itself had helped to create. The US Air Force, specifically the 167th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the West Virginia Air National Guard, ceremoniously retired its very last Mustang: an F-51D-25-NA (44-73574) in March 1957. This, of course, was the very last Mustang to take wing in operational USAF colours.
(Personal note: This author has enjoyed everything aviation since 1950 when just seven years old. One of my most favourite aircraft has always been the Mustang. Although I have been writing aviation history for near on forty years now, I was never privileged to write a book or even a feature article on the Mustang; that is, not until I was rewarded with a book contract from Fonthill Media to produce this true labour of love.)