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Good to the Last Drop! Hawaii to New York Non-Stop in a Twin Mustang

No fuel to spare, but they eeked out a record that still stands.

On the 27th of February 1947, Colonel Robert E. Thacker (pilot) and Lieutenant John M. Ard (copilot) took off from Hickam Field on Oahu, Hawaii and headed east. Their aircraft, Betty Jo, a P-82B Twin Mustang Air Force serial number 44-65168, landed 14 hours, 31 minutes, and 50 seconds later at La Guardia Field in New York. The flight covered 5,051 miles (8,129 kilometers) and averaged 347.5 miles (559.2 kilometers) per hour.

Betty Jo did not stop. Betty Jo did not refuel. Betty Jo took off with a total of 1,816 gallons of fuel and used nearly every drop of it to complete the flight. Thacker and Ard’s flight is still the longest non-stop flight by a piston engine fighter and the fastest flight from Hawaii to New York by a piston engine aircraft. The flight might have been completed in even less time had the pilot jettisoned his empty drop tanks after he drained them as planned!

Looking like nothing so much as a pair of P-51H Mustangs joined at the hip or some Photoshopped apparition, the P-82 was originally developed during World War II to fulfill the need for a very long-range escort fighter for B-29s that would be raiding Japan. The design had just barely gotten off the ground when the war ended. The prototype was completed on May 25th 1945. The first flight of the XP-82 was on June 26th 1945.

Oddly enough, initial production P-82s were powered by the Mustang’s Rolls Royce Merlin engine but the remaining production aircraft were all powered by the lower-horsepower Allison V-1710. The Merlin-powered Twin Mustangs eventually became trainers, which meant that P-82 trainers were faster and performed better at altitude than the subsequent Allison-powered production aircraft.

All P-82s became F-82s when the newly-formed United States Air Force changed the P-for-pursuit designation prefix to the F-for-fighter designation prefix on June 11th 1948. Later production aircraft were not equipped with full cockpits and dual controls as the prototype and early variants were. A radar operator occupied the right cockpit in radar-equipped F-82s.

The F-82E was the first F-82 model to reach operational status in March of 1948, with Strategic Air Command’s 27th Fighter Wing at Kearney Air Force Base in Nebraska. With range and performance that would allow them to escort bombers attacking Russia all the way to the target and back the 27th FW deployed to support air defense and long-range escort missions envisioned due to tensions around the Berlin Airlift. In early 1949, the 27th FW began flying long-range escort mission profiles. Missions from Kearney AFB to Mexico, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and nonstop to Washington D.C were all flown.

Strategic Air Command used F-82Es as long-range escort fighters. Air Defense Command used radar-equipped F-82Fs as all-weather day/night interceptors. When war came to the Korean peninsula in 1950, F-82s based in Japan were some of the first American aircraft to operate over Korea. F-82s even shot down the first three North Korean aircraft of the war. The F-82s went on to destroy a total of 20 aircraft in Korea.

Eventually shown the door by SAC because of the development of jet-powered interceptors, the F-82F and F-82G continued to perform interception missions for which the USAF and Air Defense Command had no other suitable aircraft. A jettison-able radar pod was mounted under the center wing section and a radar operator placed in the right seat. Presto- the F-82F, a radar-equipped fighter aircraft to replace war-weary P-61 airframes in the air defense night interception role. Similarly equipped F-82Gs were used for air defense missions in the Far East and winterized F-82Hs operated from bases in Alaska. About the only place F-82s were not based was Europe.

Replaced in Air Defense Command by the jet-powered Lockheed F-94 Starfire, the last operational ADC Twin Mustang outfit was the 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at McChord AFB in late 1951.

The 272 total Twin Mustangs built by North American Aviation ended up having very short operational lives. Starting in February of 1950 SAC phased out the F-82E in favor of the jet-powered Republic F-84E Thunderjet for bomber escort duties. In the Pacific, the F-82Gs were replaced Lockheed F-94A Starfires beginning in April of 1951. Air Defense Command replaced their F-82Fs with F-94As in beginning in June of 1951. A few of the ADC Twin Mustangs remained in service as target tugs.

When lack of parts inevitably made it impossible to keep the remaining airframes airworthy, all F-82s were withdrawn from service. The last remaining F-82Hs were flown to Elmendorf Air force Base in Alaska for storage and disposal in June of 1953. The last Twin Mustang was officially retired on November 12th 1953.

Since June 21st 1957, the world’s most famous Twin Mustang, Air Force serial number 44-65168, Betty Jo, has been on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio.

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.