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See a Real Combat Vet, Sierra Sue II

The P-51D Mustang Sierra Sue II has extensive World War II combat history, and looks to tell her story at Oshkosh this year. Photo credit: Max Haynes

  • P-51D Mustang Sierra Sue II
    The P-51D Mustang Sierra Sue II has extensive World War II combat history, and looks to tell its story at Oshkosh this year.

July 18, 2015It’s always a treat when a true combat veteran airplane appears at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and the P-51 Sierra Sue II certainly qualifies. The airplane was brought back to factory-fresh condition after a three-year restoration completed in 2014 at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota.

“Just as she would look on the flightline in Belgium just after her nose art was painted,” noted AirCorps’ Chuck Cravens.

P-51s produced by North American’s Inglewood and Dallas factories were not flawless; production was rapid and mill-finish metal, paint, zinc chromate imperfections, and other blemishes happened to every Mustang that rolled off the line, including what became Sierra Sue II (BuNo 44-63675). In addition, wartime nose art wasn’t always up to museum standards or the airbrushed beauty displayed on many beautiful warbirds today.

Cravens said the AirCorps’ craftsmen discovered that efforts to recreate that authentic “imperfection” were at least as challenging as creating a standard showpiece warbird.

Sierra Sue II’s interesting history began with her delivery to the United Stated Army Air Force on November 27, 1944. The Mustang was shipped overseas on January 29, 1945, destined for Y-32 Ophoven, near Zwartberg, Belgium, the first week of April.

Sierra Sue II was flown in combat for the duration of the war, supporting the crossing of the Rheine and the push further into Germany until the Allied command ordered a halt at the Elbe. After that the plane was used as an escort to medium and heavy bomber missions until the last WWII mission on April 25, 1945.

Later in life, Sierra Sue II served in the Swedish and Nicaraguan air forces before being sold into private hands in 1971. Dave Allender, of Hayward, California, worked on modifications in a quest to break a low-altitude closed-course speed record, but the attempt was never made. Dr. Roger Christgau, a Minnesota physician, acquired BuNo 44-63675 in 1977 and owned it for 34 years until 2011.

It was sold to Paul Ehlen, who had AirCorps do the restoration. Sierra Sue II is currently on loan to the Wings of the North Museum, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Cravens says the airplane is one of the most original Mustangs in existence.

“She’s never had a back seat, her World War II tube radios are functional, her restorers took great pains to acquire (or duplicate where necessary) 1940s rivets, bolts, wiring, and countless other details,” he said.

Cravens just finished a new book tracing the history of the airplane titled, “Combat Vet P-51, the History of Sierra Sue II,” World War Two Survivor. Copies are available at AirVenture Oshkosh this year.

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