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Twin Mustang Prototype to Fly Again

By Stephan Wilkinson 
Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: September 16, 2011 
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The second prototype North American XP-82, seen here in flight testing, will soon return to the air. (
The second prototype North American XP-82, seen here in flight testing, will soon return to the air. (

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, 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.

3 Responses to “Twin Mustang Prototype to Fly Again”

  1. 1
    Don Larson says:

    Another P-82 is alot futher along, formerly a Twin Mustang flown
    by NACA as a test bed, now in finial stages of build. ETR I would say is about 18 months out and the quality is better than factory. Located at KANE.

  2. 2
    Ed Likes says:

    I was at Pat Harker's hangar in September 2005 to see the Twin Mustang. Have you seen it lately as this is November 2013. I know it has to be pretty far along. Just wondering how far out Pat Harker might be from his Twin Mustang flying? Any pictures of this project?

  3. 3
    Tom Reilly says:

    Actually, we were able to find just about all of the remains from our XP-82 buried under years and tons of other a/c parts collected by Walter Soplata. Mr. Soplata was able to retrieve these parts back from NACA who tested them to destruction prior to F-82s going to Korea. All of the parts, i.e., right-hand fuselage, wings, horizontal, elevator and verticals were badly crunched, but we retrieved most all of the original parts from our XP-82 #44-83887. We were able to salvage approximately 60% of usable rebuildable parts out of the "tested-to-destruction" parts. Thanks,
    Tom Reilly

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