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The XP-82 Makes the Journey to AirVenture
By Christina Basken
July 21, 2019 - Tom Reilly's highly anticipated XP-82 is finally here at Oshkosh, and just in time to help EAA celebrate 50 years in Oshkosh.
During 1943 with a world war raging on all fronts, the Allied military planners knew that to gain supremacy over the Axis they needed to hit the enemy's industrial targets deep inside of both Europe and Japan before they could concentrate on any invasion planning. The B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators in Europe already had the range, but fighters like the P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt could only escort them so far before having to turn back, leaving the bombers unprotected. The XP-82 was the answer.
But of the first two XP-82 Twin Mustangs built by North American Aviation in 1945, only one survived the scrapper's torch. The first airplane, 44-83886, accumulated less than 300 hours at Naval Air Station Patuxent River before being scrapped in 1955. XP-82 44-83887, although beat up, bent, and battered, had a somewhat better career and brighter future.
"Our airplane, -83887, went to NACA (the predecessor of NASA) in Cleveland, Ohio, immediately after its first flight on April 15, 1945, sometime in August or September of 1945," Tom said. "It was a test bed for an eight-machine-gun center pod, underwing rockets, and a radar pod. It flew with NACA from mid-1945 until 15 December 1949, when it skidded off the side of an icy runway, buried itself in the mud, and bent the center section. The military said, 'Well, we don't need it anymore.' They already had a second P-82 so they simply scrapped it. A soon-to-be very well-known aircraft collector from Newbury, Ohio, named Walter Soplata found out about the slightly bent XP-82 before the military could scrap it and paid $300 for the airplane and hauled it to his Ohio farm."
To properly describe and document the restoration of XP-82 -83887 and what Tom and his team have accomplished in the last 10 years would take volumes. But what was most evident when speaking with him about this project was that Tom Reilly does not live for shooting rivets. He prefers troubleshooting problems that come up and then finding solutions to fix them. Tom likes to take projects that people say can’t be done and restore them to flyable award-winning condition.
With tongue in cheek, Tom says he could have finished the XP-82 much earlier, but he only worked on it half-days — 12 hours per day.
"I still kick myself for taking that one Christmas day off a few years ago," Tom said. "I could be farther ahead if I had only worked on this airplane. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and realizing it's not a train is a good feeling. But my main goal, before I pass on, is to teach as many young kids the skills needed to not only obtain their A&P ticket, but, more importantly, help keep these vintage warbirds, like the XP-82, flying for future generations to enjoy and cherish. Someone has to be the caretakers of them. As we are only temporary custodians of these priceless warbirds."
But the day finally came, and both Tom and the XP-82 are at AirVenture.
"I flew a B-17 there in '87, and that was good. I flew a B-24 there in 1990 and won Grand Champion, and that was good," Tom said. "This year, I flew an XP-82 there. There's lots of B-17s there, and there's a couple B-24s. There's only one XP-82. It is absolutely the rarest thing in the world out there."
Tom said being at Oshkosh is a dream come true.
"Oshkosh is the biggest and the best air show in the world. It's the icing on the cake to finally get it here," Tom said.