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North American P-51 Mustang

North American P-51 Mustang known as “Red Nose” ( Photo by John Willhoff)

The Airplane That Started it All

This was the plane that launched the Confederate Air Force (now Commemorative Air Force). It was acquired by the founding members of the CAF including Loyd P. Nolen himself. This airplane is not only historically significant, but it is thoroughly engrained in the CAF’s heritage as well. The Dixie Wing was selected to become the new home for the P-51 “Red Nose” by the CAF General Staff in November of 2002. We are very proud to have received such an honor and are doing our best to live up to that distinction.

Red Nose’s History

“Old Red Nose” has had a long and colorful history, dating back to the closing days of World War II. It was produced at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California, and rolled out on 11 April, 1945 and was to accepted by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) as serial number 44-73843. It was shipped to Page Army Air Force Base in Florida later that month and assigned to the 388th AAF Base Unit of the Third Air Force. Little is known of its service there, but it was probably used for training purposes. In September of 1945 the aircraft was transferred to the 336th Base Unit stationed at Sarasota, Florida. In November of that year, it was shipped to Hobbs AAFB in New Mexico and placed in storage. Its only other journey in the next six years was a transfer to the San Antonio Air Material Center at Kelly Air Force Base in 1947.

Though in storage for six years, this aircraft, now known as USAF F-51D-25NA s/n 42-73843, had not yet finished its tour of duty. In January of 1951, this aircraft was dropped from the USAF inventory and transferred to Canada under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. It was officially accepted by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on 11 January 1951, and was placed in stored reserve in Trenton, Ontario. A month later, on 26 February, this aircraft was once again flying, now with the No. 416 “Lynx” Squadron (regular) of the RCAF, based in Uplands, Ontario.

It served with this regular unit for little more than a year before transfer to the No. 10 Technical Services Unit in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 28 March 1952. Here it stayed until assigned to the No. 420 “Snowy Owls” squadron (auxiliary) of the RCAF in London, Ontario. Its tenure with this unit lasted until 19 July 1956, when the aircraft was listed as awaiting disposal and placed into storage. It was then bought by a private company in the United States, and ended back in San Antonio, Texas, now as the property of Stinson Field Aircraft.

What followed was a fateful day in the history of the CAF. On 17 October 1957, Mr. Lloyd P. Nolen, then of “Mustang and Company,” bought the aircraft with three friends for $2,500. This signified the unofficial start of the CAF; indeed, later that year, someone painted “Confederate Air Force” on its tail and the name stuck. In December of that year she was repainted with invasion stripes and coded VF*G, and at this time the members referred to the aircraft as “Old Red Nose.” She was officially donated to the CAF in 1977 and became part of the collection of the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum in 1991. The airplane was restored in 1993 and is in excellent shape. “Old Red Nose” was assigned to the Dixie Wing of the CAF in November of 2002 and took to the air for the first time in 4 years in September of 2003.

Red Nose is painted with the markings of the 334th FS, 4th FG, 8th AF, the pilot was Capt.David W.Howe,January 1945. He flew with 334th FS from 22/9/43 until 30/3/45 when returned to USA. 500 combat hours in two tours without an abort. The 334th Fighter Squadron was the successor to No. 71 Eagle squadron of the Royal Air Force when the 4th Fighter Group was activated on 12 September 1942. They were based at Debden Field, Essex. The “Fighting Eagles” as they were called, flew Spitfires until the arrival of P-47 Thunderbolts in 1943. A year later they changed to P-51 Mustangs, which they kept until the end of the war. The 334th was the top scoring squadron of the three squadrons in the 4th Fighter Group, with 395 kills.

Click on The History of P-51 Mustang ‘Red Nose” to read the complete story of this iconic airplane

Click on Flying the P-51 by Bob “Punchy” Powell to read about flying the Mustang in combat


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