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The Glorious Aerodynamic Stallion

By Robert Talarczyk, EAA 600422

We have our share of everyday aircraft: executive jets and helicopters, high-end single engine aircraft, some jet warbirds, and other vintage aircraft tucked away in some of the hangars. But this month’s aircraft repairs were a little different at Skyland Aircraft Inc., the aircraft maintenance facility at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Normally, with most general aviation aircraft hangars, you see Beechcraft, Cessna, Piper, or the like in for repairs and inspections. This rare beauty was very different; you could feel the excitement behind closed doors here in Santa Fe.
There was some high-powered maintenance knowledge present as Airframe and Powerplant with an inspection authorization  technicians Steve Bunch and Tony Hughlett, of the maintenance team at Skyland Aircraft Inc.; and the original P-51 restoration expert Dan Martin, A&P /AI, and a pilot for this particular P-51D aircraft flew in from California. By land was top P-51 A&P/AI, Mike Barrow (aka “Sparrow” and also Crew Chief of “Dago Red”), who drove in from California in his pickup. The hangar was buzzing for weeks. An inspection list from A to Z was performed.

P-51D
Mike Barrow removing magneto. Mike knows his stuff when it comes to a P-51.

Everything from cleaning to oiling; to draining fuel, anti-freeze, and oil; to repairing, rebuilding, and replacing - even an unplanned top-end overhaul - had to be done. The Mustang is actually a pleasure for an A&P to work on, as that was part of the design challenge. This is the only aircraft I ever photographed that looked as good apart as it did all together. She looked like she was moving even when on the ground or in the hangar with all the panels and radios out, the canopy and engine heads off. The P-51 Mustang was designed in an astonishing 117 days and was overseen by the British Ministry of Aircraft Production.

It was a true team collaboration with state-of-the-art design, engineering, manufacturing and maintenance for that era. The P-51 first flew with the Royal Air Force as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, and it was the fastest single-engine propeller-driven aircraft in the world. Manufactured by North American Aviation in the United States, the P-51A engine was originally built by Allison. This P-51D engine, brand new surplus out of a crate when restored 14 years ago, was a Merlin 1450, built by Packard Motor Corporation of Detroit, Michigan. Can you remember when the Packard automobile promotion motto was, “Ask the man who owns one,”?

The P-51 powerplant was a water-cooled, V-12, with a Stromberg injection-type carburetor and a two-stage supercharger. The engine was well designed and built, so it could run on six cylinders. This sleek beauty can fly at 400 miles per hour. At cruising speed, the P-51D burns 65 to 67 gallons of 100LL per hour. The Mustang originally ran with a higher octane fuel which is no longer manufactured.

P-51D
Dan Martin (left) Mike Barrows (right) installing rebuilt radiator.

The building of this particular bird was completed on July 14, 1945, in Inglewood, California. One of the outstanding qualities of this P-51D was that all the part numbers matched from date of manufacture, so all parts and panels fit well. Even so, many replacement aluminum panels had to be handmade using a metalsmith’s wheel. A single upper engine fuselage panel could cost as much as $20,000, and a four-bladed replacement prop, $150,000.

When you talk about this kind of pricing, you’re talking about high performance, museum quality, vintage aircraft - which this one is! Usually, if you’re fortunate enough to see and appreciate a Mustang, it would be in a museum, at an air show, or at the Reno Air Races, running in the Unlimited Class.
The original model of the P-51 was the P-51A model (first flight in 1940), distinctively different from the D model. The D model has the bubble canopy, giving you 360-degree visibility and a dorsal fin, compared to that of the built-in canopy of the A model. In addition, the A model had a different engine (Allison) and was actually faster at lower altitudes, but it wasn’t as pretty. The development of the P-51 went on as far as the H model, followed by a few other variants. These fighters saw action in Europe in World War II, where many of them escorted B-17s and helped to create the famous United States Army Air Forces Red Tail Squadron.

The P-51 also saw limited action in the Pacific and in Korea as escorts for B-29s. Many pilots like Bud Anderson and Bob Hoover became aces in this aircraft. A number of P-51s were sold to other countries. After World War II, many were transferred to the United States Air Force and Air National Guard (ANG), which included the Albuquerque, New Mexico ANG, 188th Fighter Interceptor Group. The group had 25 P-51s in 1947.

P-51D
Mike Barrow doing run-up after top overhaul.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing and hearing one fly near you, the sound of the engine roar alone can make you run for cover. It was more than a match for the best fighters of the Axis powers. Enemy pilots used to fear combat against this demon of the skies until Germany introduced the ME-262 jet fighter at the very end of the war.

To fly one is a real adrenalin rush. The cockpit of the P-51D is extremely comfortable, and all controls and instruments are easily accessed with room to spare. It also has a jump seat in the rear, something not featured in every P-51D. Only the military’s best pilots flew this aircraft, as it demanded the very best pilot skills. Finally, there’s also a twin-profile, twin-engine model F-82 Mustang that’s really awesome. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, has one on display. There are also a few with dual tandem-controlled (formerly F-6K) and TF-51D (two-seat conversions of F-6Ds) for training such as “Crazy Horse,” which is based in Kissimmee, Florida. You can actually get flight training with a high price tag, if that’s your wish. Mustang - what a fabulous name for this glorious aerodynamic stallion!

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