Tom Reilly has spent three years totally rebuilding the rarest Twin Mustang to survive—the number-two XP-82 prototype.
Truth be told, the North American F-82 wasn’t just two mated Mustangs. Most of us who have never gotten our hands greasy on one have assumed the very-long-range postwar twin was simply two P-51 fuselages riveted to a wing center section and horizontal stabilizer. “We’ve found that there are very few parts common to the World War II Mustang series,” says restoration pro Tom Reilly of Douglas, Ga., who has spent three years totally rebuilding the rarest Twin Mustang to survive—the number-two XP-82 prototype—and who estimates he still has a year and a half to go before his airplane flies.
And fly it will, for Reilly is famous among warbirders for putting back into the air projects ranging from Stearmans to B-24s that had been consigned to scrapheaps. Indeed, Reilly’s XP-82 came largely from two junkyards—one outside Fairbanks, Alaska, and the other from late Ohioan Walter Soplata’s famous back-lot salvage yard of rare warbirds.
Reilly isn’t doing the job on a shoestring, as you can see by visiting his detailed website, xp-82twinmustangproject.com. After all, the zero-timed Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and brand-new props for his project have cost over half a million dollars alone. With more than 40 years of experience at the warbird restoration game, however, Reilly has put together a small consortium of investors who are bankrolling the project in hopes of a multi-million-dollar sale of the finished airplane to a collector. No other P- or F-82s are flying anywhere in the world, and chances are that only one ever will: an equally classy restoration of an F-82E currently underway by Pat Harker and his C&P Aviation crew in Anoka, Minn.
The rarest parts of the XP-82 are its right-side Merlin engine and propeller, which turn counterclockwise (as seen from the cockpit) while the left engine rotates conventionally. That entire main engine block, nose case, oil pan and crankshaft are unique to the Twin Mustang, and hardly any have survived. Engine-builder Mike Nixon’s Tehachapi, Calif., shop, Vintage V12s, found a brand-new one in a garage in Mexico City, though it remains a mystery how it got there, but no spare backward P-82 props exist. The German company MT Propellers is building both props for Reilly, with composite blades on new MT hubs.
Not to be outdone, Reilly and his small crew of craftspeople (with occasional hands-on help from the project’s investor-enthusiasts) have built from scratch the bulk of the right-hand fuselage, using the original left unit—the only complete fuselage they were able to acquire—as a master. Why not just buy a scrapped P-51H fuselage, since popular lore has it that two of them were used to cobble up Twin Mustangs? Because they are actually quite different; the XP-82’s fuselages are nearly 5 feet longer, for one thing. Twin “Mustang” indeed.