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Twin Mustang Prototype to Fly Again

Truth be told, the North American F-82 wasn’t just two mated Mus- tangs. 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 rightside 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.

-Stephan Wilkinson

Looks Can Be Deceiving

One of the most famous bombers of World War II is back in the air. that completed 207 missions over Europe—an Air Force record that is unbroken to this day—is right Flak-Bait, a Martin B-26B Marauder up there with Enola Gay and Memphis Belle as a superstar of the air war.

Marauders are of course best remembered through myth, rumor and innuendo as crew-killers too dangerous to fly. Though the B-26 ultimately had the best combat safety record of any U.S. medium bomber, “One a Day Into Tampa Bay,” “Widowmaker” and “Baltimore Whore” are its popular legacy, the result of a combination of high (for its time) wing loading, a brisk approach speed (again, for its time) and young, low-time pilots who had never flown anything more challenging than a dumpy Cessna AT-17—the infamous “Bamboo Bomber.” With a high single-engine minimum control speed, an engine failure on takeoff almost always meant a crash, and even at safer climbout speeds the engine needed to be feathered right quick. (Those 1,950-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800s were the first examples of the ubiquitous 18-cylinder engine to see combat.)

Okay, we’re kidding about the real Flak-Bait flying again, since anybody who has been to the National Air & Space Museum knows that the bomber’s entire forward fuselage and cockpit is on exhibit there. It’s hard to believe, but the B-26 shown here is actually a 1/6th-scale radio-controlled model powered by two 6-hp, 2-cycle Zenoah engines, with fully operable scale landing gear, bomb-bay doors, bomb-dropping mechanism, flaps, flight controls and pneumatic wheel brakes. It was built by a team of professional English modelers for Brian O’Meara in Denver, Colo., who paid well into five figures for the finished model.

The model is made of wood and weighs 102 pounds, and the project took almost a decade to complete. To read more about it and view a remarkable in-flight video filmed from an on-board camera, go to builder Stephen Carr’s website,

-Stephan Wilkinson

Flight 1549 Completes Its Journey

In a press conference the day after US Airways Flight 1549 lost engine power following a bird strike and landed on the Hudson River, NTSB spokesperson Kitty Higgins praised the pilots and crew for their quick thinking under pressure. The Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte—which has acquired the Airbus A320 and is preparing it for exhibition—plans to give Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his crew their due, but, says project manager Shawn Dorsch, the airplane itself will be equally important, including the advanced safety technology that gave the pilots enough time to react.“It is possible that visitors will come away [from the exhibit] thinking that Flight 1549 wasn’t a miracle at all, but a product of 100 years of design change,” he says.

The inspiration for the display came two years ago, when Dorsch saw the Safety Promotion Center at Tokyo International Airport, complete with flowcharts of safety improvements that resulted from the crash of Japan Air Lines Flight 123. These changes included redesigned seats and luggage bins that wouldn’t collapse and prevent people from exiting, features that helped save Flight 1549 passengers. The museum plans to highlight advances made after the Hudson River crash, such as new life vest configurations meant to encourage passengers to don the devices (only a few Flight 1549 passengers took their vests with them before exiting onto the wings), and steps taken to put life vests on 100 percent of airliners.

The “Miracle on the Hudson” A320, partially submerged for several days, is being conserved and reassembled at the museum’s main hangar, though the damaged underbelly and hole in the rear luggage compartment will remain to show how it looked just after impact. The plane will be opened up in certain places to reveal critical safety features, including the racks that held the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, and the auxiliary power unit (APU) that powered the flight controls and flaps after the engines failed.

Plans are for the airliner to be reassembled by January 15, 2012, the third anniversary of the crash, though visitors can watch the work in progress. The fuselage of the A320—the first to be displayed in a museum—arrived on June 10. The fact that the Carolinas Aviation Museum is in Charlotte, the original destination of Flight 1549, helped the staff to acquire the plane in the face of competing bids from the Smithsonian Institution and the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. For more info, visit

-Stephen Mauro

WWI Wings & Wheels

For the first time, a World War I aviation theme pervaded the annual Wings & Wheels Extravaganza held July 9-10 at the Golden Age Air Museum at Grimes Field, just outside of Bethel, Pa. Although civil aircraft ranging from the 1920s to the present were on hand—both the museum’s and those flown in by owners from all over the northeast—the weekend’s focus was on the 7/8th-scale replica Rumpler C.V that had bombed an Arab village in the 1961 film Lawrence of Arabia; the wooden airframe of a replica Sopwith Pup still under construction; a newly completed Fokker Dr.I replica in the markings of Red Baron brother Lothar von Richthofen, with an authentic Le Rhône rotary engine; and the crown jewel in the museum’s collection, an original 1918 Curtiss JN-4D Jenny trainer.

On a weekend marred elsewhere by the crackups of a 1961 Beechcraft and a replica Fokker Dr.I at Geneseo, N.Y. (fortunately resulting in no serious injuries), the Golden Age Air Museum put its Jenny, triplane and movie star Rumpler through their aerial paces without mishap, in addition to flying adventurous paying customers on 15- or 30-minute hops in its Bird and Waco biplanes. The museum will likely continue the World War I theme on an annual basis. Find out more at

-Jon Guttman

B-25J Lands at Flying Heritage Collection

On June 7 a newly restored B-25J Mitchell touched down at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., to join the ranks of the Flying Heritage Collection, Paul Allen’s incomparable array of historic military aircraft. After purchasing the medium bomber in 1999, the Microsoft cofounder commissioned a restoration, 12 years in the making, to return the plane to its WWII-era specs, including two Wright R-2600 Cyclone engines and 13 .50-caliber machine guns. The B-25J is painted in the olive green and blue of the 490th Bomb Squadron, a tribute to Master Sgt. Arnold Spielberg, a 490th crewman and father of Allen’s film director friend Steven Spielberg. On July 16 close to 1,000 spectators gathered to watch the venerable Mitchell and a P-51 escort buzz the runway for one of FHC’s summer “Fly Days” events.

Thunderbolt Hits Duxford

On June 14 the Imperial War Museum at Duxford unveiled the newest member of The Fighter Collection: a meticulously restored Curtiss P-47G Thunderbolt. The airplane, serial no. 42-25068, enjoyed pride of place at Flying Legends, the warbird airshow held at Duxford July 9 and 10. Though P-47Gs, license-built Curtiss versions of Republic’s P-47D, were usually used as fighter trainers Stateside, Duxford’s airplane is finished in the markings of Lieutenant Severino Calderon’s P-47D of the 84th Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, which was based at the airfield during World War II.

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.