by Chuck Cravens
The Red Tail lands after a successful test flight with a background of snow.
We at AirCorps were honored to be trusted with the repair of this very important warbird. Erik Hokuf and Mark Tisler were quoted in the press release when the Red Tail flew and I think they summed up why this repair was so important to all of us:
“One of the Six Guiding Principles of the CAF Red Tail Squadron is to never quit. The decision to repair the Mustang is a great example of that principle,” said Erik Hokuf, managing partner of AirCorps Aviation. “Our team was proud to help bring this very special aircraft back to flying status so it can once again inspire young people to rise above their own obstacles, just like the Tuskegee Airmen.”
“I have a long history with the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen. I was involved in both the first and second restorations,” said Mark Tisler, manager of restorations and one of the owners of AirCorps Aviation. “The CAF Red Tail Squadron teaches young people to never allow obstacles or circumstances to stop them from achieving their goals. The two restorations and the repair demonstrate the Squadron not only believes those teachings, but also sets an example of how to overcome obstacles.”
In February of 2016, the CAD Red Tail Squadron contacted AirCorps Aviation to take on the project of repairing the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tail P-51C after a landing accident.
On February 14th, Erik Hokuf, Mark Tisler, Doug Rozendaal, and David Hatfield arrived at Dallas Executive Airport to retrieve the Red Tail and bring her back to Bemidji, Minnesota for repairs.
The wings were removed in preparation for the trip.
The fuselage and wings were loaded on separate trucks for the 1,167 mile trip to Bemidji.
It took some time to make all the arrangements with insurers, parts suppliers and our own fabricators so that the actual repairs could begin.
In April, the P-51C’s damage was assessed and the parts that required renovation or replacement were removed. As work began the following list had been completed:
• All damage assessed
• Wings and Engine Mount sent to Odegaard Wings for repairs
• Engine sent to Roush for repairs
Brian worked on the inside of the exit duct.
New skin was visible on the outside of the exit duct area. Brian was riveting the exit duct in place.
This is the front side of the doghouse. The elongated oval shaped opening is where cooling air exits the oil cooler which mounted directly in front of that opening in the space shown. The opening above the oil cooling duct (to the left in the photo) is for radiator cooling air.
The pace of repairs picked up as more and more needed parts became available in May.
Randy worked on the complicated doghouse and radiator area.
Randy marked the radiator access skin or “wrapper” for riveting.
Brent worked on covering the rudder.
Brent prepared the newly renovated motor mounts for installation. Odegaard Wings did the repair of the mounts and shipped them to us.
The Red Tail sits in her fixture as repairs continued.
The oil cooler was visible in this bottom side view of the doghouse.
By May’s end, these items could be checked off the list:
- Repairs to the tailcone and completed
- Repairs to the belly including the radiator exit duct and door begun
- Replacement parts starting to arrive
Much of the work done in June was preparation of the firewall forward area for the eventual arrival of the Packard Merlin.
The motor mount castings were ready for installation of the rubber vibration isolators.
Cowl repairs were a big part of the June work.
In this view, the installed front motor mounts were visible.
A new air intake duct was being prepared.
The instrument panel showed up nicely in this photo.
The characteristic Mustang “smile” casting was fitted.
Visible progress was easy to see in July as the stabilizers and Packard Merlin went back into the Red Tail.
In July, the red horizontal and vertical stabilizer went back on.
The rudder was completed and painted, ready for installation.
Here we saw the rudder hinge fitting and control rod end. Below them was a new piece of skin.
Tye worked on the landing gear out at the hangar during July.
The rudder and elevator were on by the end of July
The difficult one piece lower rear cowl skin was fabricated in July.
The radiator went in permanently in July.
The Merlin came back from Roush and was installed just in time to announce it in the Red Tail Squadron’s Oshkosh tent.
By the end of the month, the checklist looked like this:
• Repair of the landing gear is in progress
• Repair of the rudder is in progress
The main gear were in a stand after they had been painted.
Tye finished the landing gear.
Fitting of the windows took up much of the effort in August.
The overhauled air cooler exit door actuator went back in.
Firewall forward work and the installation of various systems progressed in September, but the big news was the move out to the AirCorps hangar at Bemidji Regional Airport for assembly.
The move happened on the 14th, the wing arrived on the 27th and the end of the Red Tail’s earthbound days seemed in sight.
Cowl skins were nearly ready to be removed for the engine installation in this shot.
The forward lower cowl piece was shown during the fitting process.
The new stainless steel exhaust shrouds looked good after they were put on.
The scoop is a complex series of compound curves and it was one of the most difficult subassemblies to complete.
The big day arrived on the 14th as the Red Tail was rolled out for loading on a trailer.
The guys were very careful as they attached slings and lifted the fuselage.
The Red Tail sat safely in place on the flatbed trailer
The security gate at the airport was barely wide enough to take a Mustang fuselage through with the tail feathers installed.
Slings were reattached to unload the P-51C at the hangar.
Safely on the floor, the fuselage was ready for the wing.
It wasn’t long until the good folks at Odegaard Wings shipped the restored and repaired wings to the AirCorps hangar.
The wings rested safely on the floor on September 27th.
With the fuselage and wings at the hangar, the finishing touches were taken care of to prepare them for joining. The first week of October saw a milestone event when the wings and fuselage were assembled The rest of the month was used to put the gear doors, flaps , ailerons and other assemblies on the airframe.
Tye installed the coolant header tank.
Here we saw the gill liner inside the stress doors. It was installed to protect the fuel cell from wear and damage.
The wing and fuselage were nearly ready to be bolted together.
Dollies supporting the main tires allowed Tye, Erik, and Aaron to move the wing under the fuselage.
The wing and fuselage were carefully aligned before lowering the fuselage to join the two major assemblies.
Wings on, the Red Tail was ready for flaps and wing extensions.
The big nut on the end of one of the four bolts that hold the wings to the fuselage was shown here.
The cockpit floor was permanently installed after the wing went on.
Landing gear hydraulics had to be plumbed and tested.
Coolant hoses were connected, two of the major ones showed up at the top and in the center of this image.
The intake ducting system was fitted and assembled, this view showed the green painted alternate air door on the side of the duct.
November was a big month in the repair of the Red Tail. After the major assemblies went together in October, we could see the time was near for testing. In November the engine was run, the gear swung, and all efforts went into buttoning up the airframe and making her ready for the real big event, the post repair test flight.
The clamshell doors were installed permanently.
The supporting jacks held the Red Tail’s main gear tires just a few inches off the floor. This made swinging the gear possible and all went well with that test.
We had a shot of the lower tube which is the oil drain line running back to the lower firewall. The quick drain and the temperature sending unit were visible in this shot.
The 452 pound prop was put in place after careful alignment.
Doug Rozendaal was in the cockpit on November 16.
The Packard Merlin fired after months of preparation.
The V-1650 ran beautifully.
Once the engine test had been done, the spinner and cowl could be mounted.
A good view of the finished seat and cockpit showed here.
The finished instrument panel looked good.
December: The test flight happened on December 1st!
The Red Tail sat in the AirCorps Aviation hangar ready to be towed out for her test flight.
Tye towed the P-51C out of the hangar.
Doug fired up the Merlin and taxied out after warm up.
The whole team looked forward to this day and it was finally here.
The Mustang part of this image is small, but it is an important one because it shows the Red Tail right after lift off. Two hundred eighty-seven days and three thousand man hours went into this exhilarating moment. Dollies supporting the main tires allowed Tye, Erik, and Aaron to move the wing under the fuselage.
Doug made a beautiful banking pass so our photographer, John LaTourelle, could get this shot.
As she passed over, the new aluminum skin areas showed clearly.
Doug landed the Red Tail after the second successful test hop with snow covered pines in the background.
The team gathered in front of the Red Tail just after Doug’s two successful flights on December 1, 2016.
We were proud of the successful return to flight of the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang, Tuskegee Airmen. Doug reported no issues after the flights.
The goal to have this Mustang ready for the 2017 air show circuit has been realized except for a new paint job. On December 16th, Tuskegee Airmen flew out to Benton Harbor, Michigan where Flying Colors Aviation will apply a new paint job.
The Red Tail is expected to return to its mission of honoring the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen at air shows and events around the country.