New England Air Museum
P-51D Racer Undergoing Restoration

The Museum is pleased to announce that as of October, 2015 the restoration work on a historic North American P-51D Racer that participated in the Cleveland Air Races in both 1948 and 1949 piloted by Anson Johnson is now complete. Johnson won the 1948 Thompson Trophy.

This racer, known among aviation historians as ‘N13Y' serial # 44-72400, was modified by Johnson in several ways.  In preparation for the 1948 race, the engine was replaced with a modified Packard/Rolls Royce V1650-225 engine. He also used a paddle-blade propeller and shortened the wing by two feet on each end.  Through sheer endurance, Johnson was the surprise winner of the 1948 race, outlasting other contenders who were slated to fare better.
Johnson returned to the races in 1949, making more modifications to N13Y as follows: The propeller blades were shortened 6". The lower engine cowling was reworked as a continuous contour from spinner to the wing and a small carburetor air inlet was formed in the lower cowl. The engine radiator & oil coolers were moved from the lower belly scoop into the wings. New cooling inlets were built into the machine gun positions in the wings. A Bell P-39 radiator was cut in half and each section installed in each wing. The oil cooler was fitted into the right wing. The belly scoop was then removed. A final modification included the removal of the stock exhaust stacks and the fitting of horizontally rectangular, low back-pressure units. The aircraft was painted bright yellow with red spinner and markings. The main landing gears wheels were painted red. The result was one of the sleekest and cleanest P-51s ever produced.  Unfortunately, Johnson was forced to withdraw from the race after nine laps with smoke in the cockpit due to the failed modified exhaust stacks.
The 1949 races were the last for many years, cheating N13Y of an opportunity to prove her mettle.  In 1952 Johnson had an opportunity to set a new world speed record with this aircraft, but was thwarted again when the NAA’s (National Aeronautic Association) timing equipment failed.  It was estimated the aircraft flew at what would have been a record-setting 510 mph, but due to complications the NAA could never validate it.  The Museum will restore the aircraft as it was in 1949. Johnson sold the aircraft in 1959 and it would move through seven more owners until purchased by the New England Air Museum in 1972 and put into storage with the aircraft literally in pieces. But much of it is original to the 1949 build.

NEAM Begins the Restoration Effort

In October 2012, six large crates of parts, two dissected wings, a fuselage, a horizontal stabilizer, a vertical stabilizer, a rudder, a pair of elevators, a pair of flaps, a pair of main landing gear, and two wing fuel cells were all moved from NEAM's old storage building into the restoration hangar. The propeller, modified by Anson Johnson, was moved to the storage hangar.
A restoration team was assembled and during the next few months the task of reconstructing N13Y was started. This P-51D racer will be restored to its 1949 racing configuration. A detailed spreadsheet parts inventory of the over 1,000 parts was completed. The parts were categorized and stored in an organized fashion. All parts were photographed and the photos stored by category. A listing of missing parts for purchase or fabrication was compiled.
A detailed restoration plan was designed and a cost estimate for the process was documented. An aggressive three year timeline was estimated for completion of the project. The Museum's library was then searched for all documents pertaining to this aircraft.
Work fixtures to support the various airframe components were designed and fabricated. Those included were an engine frame stand, a wing stand, a main fuselage stand, an empennage (rear fuselage section) stand and lastly a stand to support the horizontal stabilizer. Several airframe assemblies were mounted and the project was underway.


Follow monthly updates by Restoration Crew Chief Pete McConnell