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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 4 July 30, 2008     

Happy Jack’s is a happy restoration
By Frederick A. Johnsen

Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen

If 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.

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.

Stamped 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.

Mechanically, 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.

This 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.

The 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.

Partial camouflage paint in flat olive drab and accurately proportioned insignia add to the no-nonsense appeal of Happy Jack’s Go Buggy.

More 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.

Young 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.

Another 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.

Mission accomplished.

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