The P-51 Mustang was a long-range fighter that was invaluable to the Allies during World War II. Its capabilities allowed them to strategically bomb Germany in retaliation to the devastating blows to Great Britain during the Blitz. Its role in the Allied victory is well known, but many of these fighters went on to live entirely different lives post-war. Read about the amazing life of one such fighter, 44-12852, then add a P-51K Mustang PlaneTag to your collection.
Each plane has a story to tell and MotoArt has had the privilege of preserving many of them . Many times they have caught the eye of MotoArt owner Dave Hall as he drives through the Mojave or Victorville boneyards. Some are historically significant, while others are workhorses for airlines. Most are donated or purchased from restoration projects and museums. And some, like this plane, come from trusted relationships forged over the last 20 years with aircraft restoration companies.
These authentic P-51K fuselage skins were removed during one of the numerous restorations of 44-12852 and used as patterns for the skins replacing them. These restorations have kept the aircraft airworthy over the 75+ years. These skins were generously donated by Aero Trader, giving us the opportunity to add an amazing warbird to the MotoArt encyclopedia of aviation history.
The P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter built by North American Aviation and used in World War II and in the Korean War. 16,776 total were produced across all variants in NAA plants in Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas.
This P-51 was constructed as an F-6K-15NT variant, which was a photo reconnaissance version of the P-51K. Delivered sometime in 1944 to the United States Army Air Force, it was one of only 43 built. While it most likely saw combat before the end of WWII, there aren’t a lot of records to tell its wartime story. Thankfully, in the many turns its career took, we were able to glean some of its fascinating history.
After World War II, the U.S. military had a large supply of surplus aircraft and it became too expensive to store and maintain them all. Many warplanes were stripped of ordinance and interior items before scrapping and smelting. For example, 5,483 aircraft - a mix of recon aircraft, fighters, and bombers were processed and disposed of at Kingman Army Air Field in Kingman, AZ. Depots such as Kingman were established all over the country specifically for this purpose.
The 1946 National Air Races, held in Cleveland, OH, were destined to be an exciting event. The last National Air Races had taken place in 1939, just as war was breaking out in Europe. This prompted the United States to begin designing and manufacturing aircraft for its allies. The National Air Races attracted pre-war race pilots, air show performers, and many celebrated wartime pilots as participants and judges.
The public was treated to an amazing display of the latest combat aircraft from all military branches, which had been developed during the years since the last Air Races. Our plane (now flying under a civilian registration of NX66111 as “Full House”) crashed on its belly during time trials due to an engine failure. It suffered tremendous damage. Her pilot and owner Jack Hardwick went on to fly in subsequent National Air Races, but his P-51 went on to the next milestone in her storied career.
After World War II, there was a demand for retired war planes - some legal, some not so much. Planes such as the Mustang and Flying Fortress were in demand from other countries, including the fledgling nation of Israel. After Jack Hardwick repaired NX66111, he sold it to Alfred Schwimmer, who was subsequently investigated by the FBI for illegally selling aircraft to Israel. Jack Hardwick re-acquired the airframe in 1954, and by adding crude dual-controls, marketed it as a TP-51D. He then sold it to B.L. Tractman of Miami, FL, who also had a history of illegally selling aircraft to foreign countries. It appears that many repairs and modifications were done, as well as changes to the registration and type of plane listed, likely to hide its true nature while being sold. B.L Tractman effectively hid 44-12852's identity from the FBI by identifying it as a “P-51 dual type trainer N22B.” This allowed B.L. Tractman to bypass export laws and sell the Mustang for $50,000 to the Dominican Republic where it proudly became known as FAD 1900.
In April of 1954 the plane returned to its roots as a fighter, but this time as part of the "Fuerza Aérea de República Dominicana", the Dominican Air Force. Registered under the identifier FAD 1900, she and other P-51's were under the command of Coronel Rafael Díaz Bonilla, known as “El Diablo Rojo” (The Red Devil). During this time, tensions between the Dominican Republic and Cuba were high, and the Mustangs were used to defend the borders and waters of the Dominican Republic. In July of 1982, the D.R. only had a handful of Mustangs left and they were all finally retired in 1984. Thus, The Red Devil was bestowed the distinction of being the last military P-51 instructor as well as the last military commander of the last combat military squadron of Mustangs anywhere in the world!
After serving for decades with the Fuerza Aérea de Republica Dominicana, the squadron of Mustangs - some damaged, some merely airframes or spare parts - were sold. FAD 1900 transited through many hands again before finally ending up with Dan Friedkin and Midwest Aero Restorations, in Danville, IL. Here it was converted to a P-51D and became christened as “Frenesi” under the registration N357FG. It was painted in the iconic WWII, 357th Fighter Group colors, and honored ace Lt. Col. Thomas L. Hayes. The 357th had the most air-to-air combat kills of any P-51 group in the Eighth Air Force and was third among all the groups fighting within Europe.
Frenesi was named after the popular song “Free ‘n Easy” and was the very first “D” model delivered to the 357th Fight Group. The aircraft has 82 bomb marks which indicate the number of completed missions rather than a bomb strike and also includes two Japanese kill marks and nine German ones. Throughout its many years of service, 44-12852 had never been fully restored and now was her time to shine again. Frenesi was painstakingly rebuilt to its original condition, and even partially deconstructed to remove the dual control that had been crudely installed so many years ago. Frenesi continues to fly to this day and her distinctive Merlin engine continues to thrill audiences at airshows worldwide.
Our P-51K Mustang PlaneTags are some of our most interesting PlaneTags to date. They are limited to a run of 3,500 pieces and each one features the natural patina from 44-12852's 75+ years of life. They are available in metal and some with paint. Another unique feature is the rivet hole visible in some of the PlaneTags. The look and feel of them will be a treasure to those who remember flying them or seeing them soar, as well as new generations of aviation enthusiasts. They are great for gift-giving and are a must-have for the collector.
Some information for this blog was taken from A Mustang’s Story by Michael O’Leary, that appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Mustangs International.
Take a look at some of the fabulous World War II-era warbirds we have had the opportunity to preserve. With rare finds like these, they are often a very limited run and sell out quickly.