Sunday, February 28, 2010

Twin Mustangs

The F-82 Twin Mustang was not really two of North American's world-beating P-51 Mustang fighters joined at the hip, but that was the conceptual inspiration (as well as great marketing), and the final product stayed faithful to that concept. The idea was to double up on the Mustang's great strengths of fuel capacity and long range for bomber escort by adding another fuselage with more fuel tanks, and a second pilot to share the load of long escort missions. An early example proved its long-range performance by setting a non-stop speed record from Hawaii to New York, but by that time, the few years of history when long range bomber escort fighters really were needed had passed. The F-82 was repurposed as a night fighter with a radar operator in the right-hand cockpit.

About 500 F-82s were made, and today only three intact examples remain. The US Air Force still owns them all, having just resolved an ownership dispute over one of them that went to litigation. (There are also two F-82s being restored to fly by private owners.) These photos show all three of the USAF-owned planes.

This is the one that set the speed record from Hawaii to New York. That was in 1947; to this day, no piston-engined airplane has ever flown so fast over so long a distance. The USAF has displayed it in its museum for a long time. Dick took the above photo in 1965, when it was still displayed outside. The photo below is an official museum photo that he got from the gift shop, probably about the same date.

The later model F-82 below is displayed at the Lackland AF Base museum in Texas. Dick photographed it in December 1977.

The third USAF F-82, the one that was the subject of the ownership dispute, was just recently repossessed by the USAF. This is what it looked like in 1977, in the care of the Commemorative Air Force in Texas, who maintained it for over 20 years.

Here is the same plane in 2005, more or less as it looks today. Recent rumor has it that the USAF Museum will be painting it black and installing the large central radar pod that these night fighters carried