XP-82 makes winning debut

The menacing sight of XP-82 Twin Mustang 44-83887/N887XP coming in to land at Lakeland on 4 April with Ray Fowler at the controls. The six .50 Browning machine guns in the centre wing section were augmented in service by eight more .50 guns in a belly-mounted pod.
FRANK B. MORMILLO

The world’s only airworthy North American XP-82 Twin Mustang, 44-83887/ N887XP, won the Grand Champion Warbird Award at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo at Lakeland Airport, Florida on 4 April during its first public appearance since making its maiden post-restoration flight on 31 December. The machine was rebuilt over a 10-year period by famed B-25 restoration specialist Tom Reilly and his team at Douglas Municipal Airport, Georgia. The aircraft was the second XP-82 prototype, making its maiden flight on 15 April 1945.

The Twin Mustang was the result of a requirement issued by the US Army Air Forces in November 1943 for a longrange, heavily armed escort fighter. Intended to accompany Boeing B-29s from Saipan to Japan and back, the Twin Mustang had a range six hours in excess of the P-51D, and a 49mph higher top speed. The island-hopping campaign across the Pacific gradually brought Japan into range for standard P-51s, and the type wasn’t destined to see service until the Korean War. On 27 June 1950, the first three enemy aircraft to be downed during that conflict fell to the guns of 68th Fighter Squadron F-82s during the Battle of Suwon airfield.

Only 272 Twin Mustangs were built, the first 22 being fitted with counter-rotating Rolls-Royce Merlins and the remainder with Allison V-1710s. In October 1947, XP-82 ‘887 was assigned to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at its Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, but was written off after suffering damage while in use as a ramjet testbed in July 1950.

During 1965 the wreck was acquired by collector Walter Soplata and moved to his back yard in Newbury, Ohio, where it remained — alongside many other historic aircraft — until being obtained by Tom Reilly’s B-25 Group, LLC in April 2008.

During the epic restoration, the team discovered graffiti on the inside of various sections of sheet metal, including the message, “John, I will have the tickets for you tomorrow for the theater”, apparently written by a North American employee for a co-worker on the following shift. The restoration crew documented and saved the graffiti to reapply it to the Twin Mustang’s interior surfaces.

Parts for the rebuild were sourced from locations as far apart as Alaska, Florida, Colorado, California and Mexico City, where a leftturning engine was found. Other components were fabricated at the workshop in Douglas.