Monday, January 31, 2011

The Inglewood Ghost

“The Inglewood Ghost”
An intensive restoration will culminate with
the Prototype Twin Mustang flying once again.
by Kevin S. Tanner
Editor, Air Classics

On 7 April 2008, an exciting restoration project arrived by truck on the ramp at Douglas, Georgia.  It was an ultra-rare XP-82 Twin Mustang Army Air Force serial # 44-83887.  While there are currently two other Twin Mustangs in various states of restoration, what makes this one unique is the fact that this particular aircraft served as a prototype for this long range fighter and is the oldest surviving example of the type.  Master craftsman Tom Reilly recently purchased the aircraft from legendary plane collector Walter Soplata of Newbury, Ohio.  Walter is certainly responsible for saving some one of a kind aircraft from destruction when no-one else wanted them, including the US government.  This aircraft would not exist today if not for his efforts.  The largest piece of this project is the almost complete left fuselage, which still had markings visible on its weathered skin.  Tom was also able to sift through the myriad of aircraft parts and recover the two belly scoops, the main and tail landing gear, the right side windscreen and frame, oil coolers, hydraulics, some control surfaces, and other various pieces.  Tom commented, “I have been collecting Twin Mustang parts for years for when the time came to purchase this aircraft from Walter.    

XP-82 arrives in Douglas, GA
In the dark early days of World War II, the United States War Department was very concerned about having a fighter with sufficient range to escort bombers to targets in occupied Eastern Europe and the Pacific. In Europe, American bombers were well capable of hitting their targets and returning home, but their fighter escort would have to turn back near the French-German border.  However, the situation in the Pacific theater was more critical.  No bombers or fighters being designed at the time could reach the Japanese home islands.  It would be a couple of years before the Allied Air forces would have an escort fighter capable of performing the long range escort mission.  Even then, it would require long, hard fighting to capture island bases in the Pacific from which B-29 Superfortress bombers could reach the Japanese mainland.  Eventually, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang would be developed and put into service.  Both of these fighters had range in excess of 2000 miles, which was fine for missions from England to Berlin and back, but not for missions from the Solomons or Philippines to Tokyo.  What was needed was a very long range escort fighter.  

XP-82 Cockpit
During October 1943, the North American Aircraft design team began development of a twin engine fighter that would become the P-82 Twin Mustang.  North American Design Chief, Edger Schmued came up with an idea for a somewhat radical twin engine concept which had two fuselages housing their own engines.  These fuselages would be joined together by a short center wing section.  This design eliminated the aerodynamics of a third fuselage or nacelle, considerably reducing drag.  The aircraft would have two pilots who could relieve each other on very long range flights.  On 7 January 1943, General “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Force, visited North American Aircraft's Inglewood, California factory to check on progress of the P-51 Mustang.  During this visit he was shown the concept for the new twin engine fighter and was so impressed that he gave the go ahead for the project known only as NA-120.  On 8 February 1944, after a mock-up was constructed and inspected, a letter of approval and contract was given to build two XP-82 and two XP-82A prototypes. The XP-82's would be powered by Packard Merlin engines while the XP-82A's would have Allison engines.  

The twin fuselages and outer wing panels were developed from the lightweight XP-51F Mustang which would later evolve into the P-51H.  One main difference would be the 57 inch fuselage plug behind the cockpit for installation of additional fuel tanks and equipment.  The XP-82 would carry the same six .50 caliber Browning M2 machine guns as the single engine Mustang, but they would be relocated to the center wing section.  The outer wings would be strengthened and have underwing hard points attached for carriage of additional fuel or 1000 lbs of ordnance.  The two vertical tails which were also developed from the XP-51F had large dorsal fin fillets for added stability in case of an engine failure. The tails would be connected by a large parallel chord horizontal stabilizer.  The two Packard-built Rolls Royce V-1650 Merlin engines installed on the XP-82 were rated at 1810 hp each in emergency war setting.  The left engine (V-1650-23) had a gear reduction box to make the left propeller turn opposite to the right engine (V-1650-25) making both propellers turn towards the center wing.  This insured better control during single engine operations.    
XP-82 Engine Mount

The entire program came close to being canceled when problems were experienced on the first flight attempt.  The aircraft simply refused to get airborne.  After nearly a month, engineers finally discovered the problem.  Originally, the propeller blades rotated outward and upward, blade tips meeting in the middle.  This configurations airflow created drag, causing the center wing section which made up one quarter of the wingspan to stall and cancel out any lift.  The firewall forwards were then swapped so that the blades swung inward and down with the tips meeting on the way down.  The first successful test flight was conducted on 26 June 1945.  

The second prototype XP-82 AAF serial # 44-83886 was completed on 25 May 1945.  The aircraft was accepted by the Army Air Force on 30 August that year.  The Army Air Force was so impressed with the potential of this new fighter that they immediately ordered the production version of the XP-82 (which would be designated the P-82B) a full two months before the prototype was completed.  

Throttle Quadrant
Tom's aircraft, XP-82 AAF serial # 44-83887 was accepted by the Army Air Force on 11 September 1945 and then returned to North American Aircraft for further testing.  On 18 March 1946 it was returned to the Army Air Force for use in official performance tests which were conducted over the following two months.  In October 1947 it was transferred to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at their Lewis facility in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Twin Mustang replaced a B-29 there which was being used for high altitude test work.  The XP-82 was later used to test Marquardt ram jet engines.  On 25 February 1950 the aircraft received substantial damage as it slid off an icy runway.  The Air Force then sold the aircraft to Walter Soplata who cut the aircraft in half and gave the right fuselage, wings and horizontal tail back to the Air Force for destructive testing.  The remains were stored in his yard until Tom Reilly purchased them in March 2008 and transported them to Douglas, Georgia.

The XP-82 finds a new home
It should be noted that, in service, Twin Mustangs would eventually achieve a top speed of 486 mph with a service ceiling of 41,000 feet.  Range on internal fuel was 1,390 miles.  With four 110 gallon fuel tanks installed beneath the wings, the aircraft could attain an amazing 3,445 miles.  This certainly gave the Army Air Forces the very long range they were looking for.  Only one XP-82A was built (serial # 44-83888) and it was completed in the summer of 1945, too late to see action in World War II. With the end of the war, all aircraft orders were cut short or canceled and P-82A production would reach only 99 aircraft. With the newly created United States Air Force in 1947, the Allison powered P-82A's were redesignated F-82E's.  Production of the XP-82/P-82B would be cut to just 20 aircraft.  These would go on to serve as trainers for later models of the long range fighter.  At the outbreak of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang would come into its own as a night/all weather interceptor as the radar equipped F-82G.  It was one of these fighters which shot down a Yak-11, becoming the first aerial victory of that conflict. 

Tom has proven by past projects that he is an absolute master at bending metal. He likes to take difficult projects that people tell him cannot be rebuilt and make them fly again.  This will certainly be the case with this project as well.  His plans are to have a fixture built for the left fuselage so disassembly can commence.  He will then replicate the right fuselage on a second fixture by using the left one as a pattern.  Look to future issues for updates on this ultra-rare and exciting rebuild project by Tom Reilly from Douglas, Georgia!          

1 comment:

  1. Is there any way one can contribute to the restoration project?? I was lucky enough to meet Tom Reilly yesterday (16 June) in Georgetown, DE, at Larry Kelley's hangar whilst working on the B-25 Panchito ..

    Jim Mandelblatt