The staying power of the P-51 proves that a thing of beauty is a joy forever, if you can keep getting parts.
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, July 1999
(Page 4 of 4)
Norm Lewis, also of Louisville and one of the first graduates of Stallion 51 training, was lucky enough to find one of the 200 P-51Ds built under license in Australia near the war's end, designated C17s and C18s. Production was more leisurely in Australia, says Lewis, and the workmanship is exceptional.
Every now and then a crashed P-51 turns up. Coggan thinks there are probably some in Russia and some in Indonesia. Mike VadeBonCoeur is working on one that was pulled from a lake in Uruguay. "It was pretty much Swiss cheese," he says. Practically the only thing that will be original in the restoration is the manufacturer's data plate. "that's enough," says Saether. "then you have the airplane's soul."
If you have the money and find the airplane, there are four or five businesses in the United States rebuilding or restoring airframes and a like number overhauling Merlin engines. The majority of Mustang restorations today copy a modification ordered by the Army Air Forces near the end of World War II. So many pilots were killed in the P-51 during training that the Army finally decided to order a dual-control, dual-cockpit trainer. North American built 10 and a further 15 single-seaters were modified by Temco, an aircraft conversion operation in Dallas, Texas.
By Sunday afternoon, the Mustangs were gone. Some headed to Lakeland for the Sun 'n Fun fly-in; the rest went home to Indiana, California, Kentucky, New York. Tim Shea had never seen the airport look quite so empty.