On February 28th, 2015 the Palm Springs Air Museum in California publically unveiled their North American P-51D Mustang “Bunny” (44-7490) after 14 months of restoration and sporting a Tuskagee Airmen “Red Tails” scheme and new nose art of that flown in World War Two by Lieutenant Colonel Bob Friend (a patron of the museum) whilst stationed in Europe with the USAAF 332nd Fighter Group. Tuskagee Airmen was the famed name given to the first group of black American pilots and crews in the USAAF in World War Two. Back then it was certainly a different time and the almost 1,000 pilots and 15,000 ground personnel were trained separately from white pilots in Tuskagee, Alabama. These brave men went on to fly 15,500 sorties and earn 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses during the war (the segregation of the United States military did not end until 1948).
I couldn’t make that unveiling but I did get a lucky sneak peek the day before when the P-51D was temporarily outside the hangar in the bright California sunshine. The fighter looked fantastic, as did the “Bunny” nose art!
Warbird News reports that this P-51D was built in 1945 but did not see combat in World War Two. Post war it ended up in the service of the Royal Canadian Air Force Number 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron and had the RCAF serial number 9273 (also flown with squadron code AC 273).
Mustang’s served in RCAF auxiliary squadrons until 1956. This one was damaged in a belly landing crash in a farmer’s field during Canadian service in the 1950’s. She was put into storage and later sold to private owners in the United States. From the records of Canadian Wings, the aircraft was with the RCAF from January 11th, 1951 to May 14th, 1959 (including time in storage). .
At some stage the P-51D was put back into flying condition and after changing hands a few times was purchased by the Palm Springs Air Museum in 1990. The museum flew her until 2002, when maintenance issues forced her to be grounded again. It was not until post restoration that she took to the skies again on February 9th, 2015. That’s one long hiatus from flying and it is great to the P-51D back where it belongs!