P-51C Thunderbird History

Jimmy Stewart & Jackie Cochran

Jimmy Stewart

May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997

From Hollywood to Armed Forces

Stewart was the first Hollywood star to enlist in the armed forces after Pearl Harbor. He joined the Air Force, flew over 20 combat missions, and attained the rank of Brigadier General, the highest rank of any Hollywood star.


  • Air Force Pilot Badge
  • Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
  • Distinguished Flying Cross with Cluster
  • Air Medal with Three Clusters
  • Army Commendation Medal
  • Presidential Unit Citation
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • American Campaign Medal MAY 20, 1908 – JULY 2 , 1997
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 stars
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Air Force Longevity Service Award with 4 Cluster
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Silver Hourglass Device
  • French Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm



From the beginning of his career in 1935, through his final theatrical project in 1991, Stewart appeared in more than 92 films, television programs, and shorts.

  • Academy Award Winner – The Philadelphia Story (1940) Eleven of his films have been preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
  • His roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harvey, and Anatomy of a Murder earned him Academy Award nominations.
  • Named third-greatest male screen legend of the Golden Age of Hollywood by the American Film Institute, behind Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.
  • The American Film Institute has also named five of Stewart’s films to its list of the 100 best American films ever made.

The 1949 Bendix race winner P-51C Thunderbird, owned by celebrity & WWII bomber pilot Jimmy Stewart, weighed just 6223 lbs and raced on a special mix of 150 octane gasoline produced by General Petroleum Company.

As Thunderbird streaked across the Cleveland finish line with Joe DeBona in the pilot’s seat, the staggering average speed of 470 miles per hour set a Bendix record for piston airplanes.

Thunderbird was finished with 48 coats of primers and the iconic gloss cobalt blue paint. Polished to a high shine, the paint job reportedly added 8 mph to the speed of the aircraft. As Thunderbird streaked across the Cleveland finish line with Joe DeBona in the pilot’s seat, the staggering average speed of 470 miles per hour set a Bendix record for piston airplanes.

Thunderbird, with its red Pegasus horse, gloss paint scheme, celebrity owners and pilots continues to be one of the most notable and recognizable P-51s in the world.

P-51C Thunderbird

Jackie Cochran

May 11, 1906 – August 9, 1980

From Cosmetics to Command

In 1935 Jackie Cochran officially established her make-up line, which was meant for a more active woman who wanted to have adventures, but also look polished while doing so. The brand’s use of “wings to beauty” and claim that a full beauty routine takes just a few minutes, suggested that it was a brand intended for the busy go-getter.

“To live without risk for me would be tantamount to death.”


“It never dawned on me not to do something because I was a woman…I thought nothing of approaching men like Vincent Bendix, the airplane manufacturer for whom the transcontinental air race was named, to explain my position: ‘I can fly as well as any man entered in that race.’ I didn’t see it as being boastful so much as speaking the truth. I learned through hard work and hard living that if I didn’t speak the truth about myself, no one else would fill in the missing pieces.” – Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran

“When Jackie Cochran set her mind to do something, she was a damned Sherman tank at full steam.”



Jacqueline was a pioneer of aviation in the 20th century. In 1948, Jackie joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve with a rank of lieutenant colonel, almost certainly becoming the first female pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She set world records for flying from the ‘30s through the ‘60s, including:

  • First woman to break the sound barrier
  • First woman to fly a jet across the ocean
  • First woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic
  • First pilot to fly above 20,000 feet with an oxygen mask
  • First woman to land and take off from an aircraft carrier.
  • 1938 Bendix Trophy Winner – setting a new transcontinental speed record as well as altitude records.
  • As a consultant for Northrop, she set a staggering 73 speed, distance and altitude records in the company’s T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer.

At the time of her death in 1980, Cochran held more speed, distance or altitude records than any other pilot.


In 1941, before the U.S. had formally entered World War II, Jackie organized a group of women to join the British Air Transport Auxiliary Service, and began ferrying bombers across the Atlantic. The next year, Jackie came back to the U.S. and Gen. Hap Arnold put her in charge of the newly formed Women’s Flight Training Detachment (WFTD). The WFTD was created at about the same time as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Service (WAFS), and the two were merged in 1943 to form the legendary Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with Jackie at the helm. The WASP grew to more than 1,000 pilots, who reportedly flew a combined 60,000,000 miles throughout the war.


  • U.S. Air Force Command Pilot Wings
  • Women Air Force Service Pilots Badge
  • Distinguished Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit
  • Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Oak Leaf Clusters
  • American Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Bronze Hour Glass

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased the P-51C from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart, 19 December 1949. It was painted cobalt blue with gold lettering and trim.