Thunderbird Flies! Historic P-51 Air Racer Takes to the Skies

Thunderbird Is GO! Following the historic air racer’s momentous first engine runs with AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota a week or so ago, it was only a matter of time before the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s latest Mustang made its first post-restoration flight, and we are excited to report that is precisely what occurred today. While we await further details, the following report from Chuck Cravens describes the final dash to completion at AirCorps Aviation which saw Thunderbird reclaim its rightful place in the skies…

This is AirCorps Aviation’s second post-restoration first flight in just the past three weeks, with the other being P-47D Thunderbolt 42-27609 (also for the Dakota Territory Air Museum). Veteran warbird pilot, Bernie Vasquez, was at the controls this time too. We should expect to see both of these spectacular, ground-breaking restorations at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer! Congratulations to everyone who made this historic moment happen!!!

Thunderbird has its engine! (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

The overhauled Merlin came in not too long after the airframe’s move to AirCorps’ hangar at Bemidji Regional Airport. But before the move could take place, work on the airframe, scoop, radiator, various fillets, cowling panels, and cockpit had to be completed…

Here is the newly overhauled Merlin V-1650 in place. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

Airframe Work

Many details were taken care of as the yet-to-do checklist was shortened before the move to the airport.

The flaps and radiator are visible in this photo.(photo via AirCorps Aviation)

Scoop & Radiator

The radiator and the scoop that houses it are critical components for reliability in Mustangs.

The radiator section of the scoop sits on a bench before installation. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

This is a closer view from the other side of the radiator. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

The radiator has been leak tested and mounted in Thunderbird. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)


The wing and tail fillets on a Mustang are true metal forming artistry and requirer intricate forming of complex curves in the aluminum skin. Randy Carlson came over from his shop, Carlson Metal Shaping in Fargo, to take care of this specialized work.

The wing root fillets look great. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

Here we see the right-wing root fairings. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

A rear angle shows the weld that joins the upper and lower left-wing root fairings. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

Cowling Panels

Another area that requires skilled metal-forming artistry is the fitting of the cowl panels.

Mike Izzo works on one of the upper cowl panels. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)


A great deal of wiring, hydraulic work, and detailed installation of instruments and controls has to be completed to ready the Thunderbird for flight testing.

Aaron spent a lot of time inside Thunderbird’s cockpit this month. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)

Engine Test Run

The first run of the engine in a new restoration is always exciting. It is like the airplane coming alive.

The Merlin comes alive in a very successful test run. (photo via AirCorps Aviation)


Bravo to everyone at AirCorps Aviation for this magnificent restoration and to the team at the Dakota Territory Air Museum for having the vision and perspicacity to back it up!


Be the first to comment

Graphic Design, Branding and Aviation Art

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.