Famous Mustang racer flies again

Thunderbird stars during debut at EAA AirVenture show at Oshkosh

One of the first arrivals at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 22 July was North American P-51C Mustang racer N5528N Thunderbird, fresh from the paint shop at AirCorps Aviation’s facility in Bemidji, Minnesota. The 24-year project to reconstruct the historic 1949 Bendix Trophy machine — which was previously owned by both actor James Stewart and legendary aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran — culminated in a first flight, while still in bare metal, at Bemidji on 6 June with Bernie Vasquez at the controls.

Thunderbird with Bernie Vasquez at the controls, en route to Oshkosh on 22 July.
Thunderbird with Bernie Vasquez at the controls, en route to Oshkosh on 22 July. WARREN A. PIETSCH

The remains of the Mustang were acquired by owner Warren A. Pietsch of Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair Inc in Minot, North Dakota, during June 1999, 44 years and one day after it had crashed near Morrill, Nebraska during a cloud-seeding flight for a hail suppression programme while operating from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Warren Pietsch is a director of the Minot-based Dakota Territory Air Museum, where another recent AirCorps restoration, Bruce Eames’ Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 42-27609 Bonnie (see Aeroplane August 2023) is also now based.

The stunning P-51C racer N5528N Thunderbird displaying at Wittman Field, Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 25 July.
The stunning P-51C racer N5528N Thunderbird displaying at Wittman Field, Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 25 July. NIGEL HITCHMAN

After many years of work, the largely complete fuselage, tail, and a set of P-51D wings for Thunderbird arrived at the AirCorps workshops for completion in March 2021, Warren Pietsch electing to have the wings of a D-model fitted on safely and handling quality grounds. During the war, North American Aviation built and tested P-51B and C models with D wings, which was to be of great assistance for the project when it came to seeking FAA approvals.

For more on Thunderbird, see the September 2023 issue of Aeroplane.

Thunderbird after arrival at Oshkosh on 22 July.
Thunderbird after arrival at Oshkosh on 22 July. CHRIS ABREY