New England Air Museum
North American P-51D Racer

Restoration as of November 29, 2013

The Museum's P-51D was built January 26, 1945 and assigned to the 340th Base Utility Squadron. After the end of World War II it designated as unneeded war materials and sold July 1, 1946 to W.W. Edmondson of Lynchburg, VA. It was registered as NC69406 as an experimental aircraft to be used for exhibition flying or racing. It was re-registered in December, 1946 as N13Y, the designation it would carry for most of its career. Later in December, it was sold to DiPonti Aviation in Minneapolis, MN, who then sold it to Anson Johnson, a pilot for National Airlines, who intended to race it.

Johnson began its racing career in 1947 in the Kendall Trophy Race and did not finish. He upgraded the engine by replacing the Packard Merlin V1650-3 with a modified V1650-225 for better sea level performance. He also added a new paddle-blade propeller and removed as much excess weight as he could. He had previously also "clipped" each wing by about two feet.

He entered the 1948 Cleveland Air Races Thompson Trophy against a strong field which included the modified P-39 "Cobra II" owned by "Tex" Johnson, two Goodyear F2G "Super" Corsairs, two Bell P-63 Kingcobras, andfive other Mustangs (one P-51A piloted by Woody Edmondson). Johnson formulated a strategy of endurance rather than outright speed. His strategy paid off as planes began to drop out due to an incredible race pace with laps at over 400 mph. He was the surprising (and surprised) winner when he finished first of three competitors left after 20 laps.

For 1949, Johnson was offered an opportunity to pilot "Beguine," a highly modified P-51C. Despite this offer, Johnson decided to refine N13Y even further, with help from National Airlines VP for Engineering, and some mechanics. They shortened the prop blades by six inches, faired the engine cowling with only a small air intake, removed the engine and oil cooler from the belly and replaced with modified P-63 coolers, and faired the wing leading edge slots. The result was one of the sleekest and cleanest P-51s ever produced.

The competition for the 1949 Thompson Trophy was again tough including three "Super" Corsairs, one Kingcobra and four Mustangs, including "Beguine." Two laps into the race, "Beguine" missed a pylon and in an attempt to get back onto the course crashed into a house killed a woman and her baby. The race continued but Johnson withdrew with smoke coming into the cockpit.

Racing ended in Cleveland after the crash. And the end of the Air Races, N13Y was finished with racing, at least against other aircraft. Johnson now wanted to set a new world speed record which was currently 469.22 mph set in 1939 by a Messerschmitt ME-109 in Nazi Germany. Luck was against Johnson when on his official run, the timing equipment failed. No one will ever know just how fast N13Y would have gone.

In 1959, Johnson sold the plane. It passed through several owners finally being purchased by the New England Air Museum in 1972.

When completed, the P-51D will take its place next to the other racers in the Museum's collection.

You can follow monthly updates on the the progress of the restoration here.

Restoration Program