Dakota Territory Air Museum’s P-51C Thunderbird, Part 6

Update by Chuck Cravens
P-51C Thunderbird: Part 6 Feature
Thunderbird has its engine!


This month the dash to completion was the theme for Warren Pietsch and the AirCorps Aviation restoration crew. The overhauled Merlin came in not too long after the airframe was moved to the AirCorps hangar at Bemidji Regional Airport. Before the move, work on the airframe, scoop, radiator, various fillets, cowling panels, and cockpit had to be completed.

Here is the newly overhauled Merlin V-1650 in place.

Airframe Work

Many details were taken care of as the yet-to-do checklist was shortened before the move to the airport.

Scoop and Radiator

The radiator and the scoop that houses it are critical components for reliability in Mustangs.


The wing and tail fillets on a Mustang are true metal forming artistry and require intricate forming of complex curves in the aluminum skin. Randy Carlson came over from his shop, Carlson Metal Shaping in Fargo, to take care of this specialized work.

Cowling Panels

Another area that requires skilled metal-forming artistry is the fitting of the cowl panels.


A great deal of wiring, hydraulic work, and detailed installation of instruments and controls has to be completed to ready the Thunderbird for flight testing.

Engine Test Run

The first run of the engine in a new restoration is always exciting. It is like the airplane coming alive.

About the author

2 Responses
  1. Robert Halverson

    Greetings ___ Nice looking restoration. Was this plane ever flown by the Tuskegee Airmen?
    Thank you,
    Bob Halverson

  2. The original Thunderbird was constructed from parts of several Mustangs after the war. The restoration uses a C-model fuselage and a D-model wing. so, during wartime what became Thunderbird wasn’t a complete Mustang in service. There is no historical indication that this Mustang was flown by the Tuskegee Airmen.

Leave a Reply