The Republic P-47D “Thunderbolt” at the New England Air Museum is one of the many P-47 heavyweight fighters of World War II. Designed by famous aircraft designer Alexander Kartveli, the aircraft was very important to the Allies during the war.
NEAM’s P-47 was declared surplus in 1947 after having been used for training. The aircraft, along with nineteen others, was sent to the Peruvian Air Force as part of a defense assistance program. In 1971, Peru sent this particular P-47 to the US Air Force Museum, but since they already had one, it was then loaned to the Bradley Air Museum. The aircraft underwent restoration by the Connecticut Air National Guard before going on display.
The Thunderbolt at NEAM is surrounded by an exhibit highlighting and memorializing the 57th Fighter Group of World War II. The plane, the centerpiece of the exhibit, is outfitted in the colors and insignia of the 65th Fighter Squadron of the 57th Fighter Group. During the war, the 57th was the first combat unit stationed at Bradley Field. In fact, Lt. Eugene Bradley, for which the airport is named, was a member of the 57th Fighter Group. The 57th was the first American unit to work with the Royal Air Force, serving extensively in North Africa. Harvey Lippincott, one of the founders of the museum and designer of this exhibit, traveled with the 57th during World War II as a Pratt & Whitney engineer. The exhibit was dedicated in 1999, and was attended by large numbers of 57th Fighter Group veterans.
While restoring the P-47, restoration staff used a picture of one of the 65th Fighter Squadron’s aircraft. The P-47 in the photo had the name “Norma” written on the side, with the pilot, Lt. Bradley Muhl next to it. NEAM’s Thunderbolt was restored to be this plane. Many years later, Muhl was found and contacted, and he told the museum the story of his P-47. In 1945, Lt. Muhl met nurse Lt. Norma Holler while stationed in Italy. He was smitten, and named his plane “Norma” after her. The two were married that same year, and lived happy lives after the war was over. In the late 1990s, Brad and Norma Muhl visited the New England Air Museum, and of course particularly enjoyed the P-47 Thunderbolt “Norma” sitting proudly on the museum floor.