P-51D Undergoing Restoration Was a Thompson Trophy Winner
The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, is pleased to announce that it has begun restoration work on a historic P-51D Racer that participated in the Cleveland Air Races in both 1948 and 1949 and was piloted by Anson Johnson. He won the 1948 Thompson Trophy.
This racer, known among aviation historians as N13 Yankee (N13Y), serial number 44-72400, was modified by Johnson in several ways which have intrigued P-51 enthusiasts ever since.
In preparation for the 1948 race, the engine was replaced with a modified V1650-225; Johnson used a paddle-blade propeller and shortened the wing by 2 inches on each end. Through sheer endurance, Johnson was the surprise winner of the 1948 race, outlasting other contenders who were slated to fare better.
Johnson returned to the races in 1949 having made additional alterations. The propeller blades were shortened 6 inches. The lower engine cowling was reworked as a continuous contour from spinner to the wing, and a small carburetor air inlet was formed in the lower cowl. The engine radiator and oil coolers were moved from the lower belly scoop into the wings. New cooling inlets were built into the machine gun positions in the wings. A P-39 radiator was cut in half and each section installed in each wing. The oil cooler was fitted into the right wing. The belly scoop was then removed. A final modification included the removal of the stock exhaust stacks and the fitting of horizontally rectangular, low back-pressure units. The aircraft was painted bright yellow with red spinner and markings, the main landing gear wheels painted red.
The result was one of the sleekest and cleanest P-51s ever produced. Unfortunately, Johnson was forced to withdraw from the race after nine laps with smoke in the cockpit due to the failed modified exhaust stacks. The 1949 races were the last for many years, cheating N13Y of opportunities to prove her mettle. In 1952 Johnson had an opportunity to set a new world speed record with this aircraft, but was thwarted again when the National Aeronautic Association NAA's timing equipment failed. It was estimated the aircraft flew at what would have been a record-setting 510 mph, but due to complications the NAA could never validate the speed.
Johnson sold the aircraft in 1959, and it would move through seven owners until purchased by the New England Air Museum in 1972. Although the aircraft had been in storage since then, Executive Director Michael Speciale finds that after a busy decade of restoration on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a Douglas A-26 Invader, a Lockheed F-104C Starfighter, and a Sikorsky S-59 helicopter, now is the time for the museum's talented crew of restoration volunteers to begin work on this unique piece of history. "We consider this to be one of the 'gems' of our collection," said Speciale. The museum will restore the aircraft as it was in 1949. It is literally in pieces at the moment, but much of it is original to the 1949 build. The museum is a nonprofit which relies mightily on volunteer effort and membership support, so the estimated completion of the restoration is at least a few years away.
Upon completion, the aircraft will join the museum's collection of other Thompson Trophy winners and competitors, including the Laird Solution, Marcoux-Bromberg Special, and GeeBee R-1 Super Sportster replica.
The New England Air Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday, and is located in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, adjacent to Bradley International Airport. Take I-91 north or south to Connecticut exit 40 (Route 20) to Route 75 north.
The New England Air Museum is owned and operated by the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association, a private, nonprofit educational institution organized in 1959. Located at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, the museum is the largest aviation museum in New England. This educational organization is dedicated to preserving and presenting historically significant aircraft and related artifacts, engaging visitors through high-quality exhibits to help them understand aviation technology and history and inspiring students through innovative and hands-on educational programs.