Thursday, November 26, 2009

P-51 Mustangs

The North American P-51 Mustang was not the most successful of WWII fighters by all metrics, but if success is measured by enduring popular fame, it stands above all of its contemporaries. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mustang was still in service with several smaller air forces worldwide, and in the United States, surplus Mustangs were moderately popular sport aircraft -- "moderately" because although its acquisition cost was not high, the expenses of fuel and maintenance limited its affordability. These photos were taken in those last few years before Mustangs and other WWII fighters came to be regarded as precious artifacts of military history. They are a few of the dozens of Mustangs that Dick photographed in those years.

This P-51 was based in Illinois in the 1960s. In the years since then, it has been involved in at least four serious accidents, each time being repaired or rebuilt. The last, in 2007, killed its owner, but the plane was repairable and will fly again.

Owned by an aircraft broker during the 1960s, this P-51 was destroyed in a 1971 crash.

The "STP Special" was a Mustang modified for air racing, and is seen here at the 1969 national air races at Reno, Nevada. For few heady years, it looked like air racing might attract the kind of major sponsors and public prominence associated with stock car racing, but during the 1970s this dream gradually died, and air racing became a niche interest until revived by the current Red Bull series under a very different formula. This machine raced into the 1970s, was retired to a museum, and is currently under restoration.

This Mustang has been more or less continuously airworthy since the 1960s, and remains so to the present day.

Owned by North American Rockwell, the corporate descendant of the company that built the P-51s, this airplane was displayed at airshows by test pilot and legendary aerobatic performer Bob Hoover. In 1970, it was damaged when an oxygen bottle exploded on the ground. Hoover switched to a new Mustang, and this one was repaired and flown by other owners. Today it flies in France.

I'll probably post another installment of Dick's photos of this popular aircraft in the next few weeks.

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