Frederick A. Johnsen
your attraction to warbirds is rooted in meticulously authentic
restoration techniques, the newly completed P-51D Happy
Jack’s Go Buggy is strong
medicine. Restored carefully—some might say obsessively—by
Midwest Aero Restorations of Danville, Illinois, this is a Mustang
to reckon with.
Happy Jack’s in
the warbird display area, restorer David Young said, "We went
out of our way to make it as authentic as possible." That may
be an understatement. Young and the team of restorers resisted the
temptation to buff the Mustang’s aluminum skin to a high polish,
working instead to achieve the slightly duller sheen of a production
P-51D as it left the North American Aviation assembly line in 1945.
On spot-welded subassemblies, the team re-created the look of acid
etching that North American applied to Mustangs back in the day.
data stencils were re-created and then lacquered as they had been
originally, with the lacquer realistically altering the color of the
aluminum where it was applied. Still not satisfied, the team
re-created orange dye painted on individual bolt heads so this P-51
would have that factory look.
the electric gun solenoids in the wings click convincingly when
activated, Young said, although the guns are non-functional. Belts
of dummy .50-caliber ammunition nest in wing ammunition boxes. The
K-14 gunsight in the windscreen works.
warbird has no room for a back-seater—the original-style fuselage
fuel tank is installed and functional. In the interest of flight
safety, modern radios and navigational aids are used, but dummy
vintage equipment can be installed for static display at air shows,
Young explained. Some vintage instruments had new, non-radioactive
luminous faces created.
team looked at photos of the original Happy
Jack’s Go Buggy and other
contemporary P-51 Mustangs and saw the fighters had been
field-modified to carry both a Spitfire-style rearview mirror on a
black stem above the canopy as well as a P-38 rearview mirror in a
Plexiglas shroud, so that is what restorers did when rebuilding the
fighter. A Plexiglas fitting for a wire antenna rests on the top of
the canopy, although the antenna itself is not present—also true
to history, Young said.
camouflage paint in flat olive drab and accurately proportioned
insignia add to the no-nonsense appeal of Happy
Jack’s Go Buggy.
than 60 years after their construction, disposable formed-paper drop
tanks are nearly extinct. Midwest Aero managed to locate one to use
as a master from which fiberglass copies were cast, accurate down to
the seams of individual strips of paper used in the lay-up of the
original tanks. Though non-functional, these icons of European
escort-fighter combat look ready, with plumbing leading from the
tanks to the wing.
figures the team spent about two-and-a-half years on this
restoration. This P-51, which made it to Europe in 1945, was
returned to the United States and finally mustered out of Air Force
inventory by 1958. Returned from military service in Guatemala in
the 1970s, the airframe spent much of the intervening years in
storage. As Midwest Aero Restorations worked on the Mustang,
restorers opted to re-skin control surfaces and much of the
fuselage. Some structural members were replaced, he said.
homage to authenticity is the use of the original low-pressure
oxygen system. Young said it took some looking to find a shop that
could pressure-test the P-51 oxygen cylinders. "Our main goal
in doing this whole project was to try and put this back the way it
was in the field," he said.