When a P-51 Mustang Isn’t Really a P-51 Mustang at All.
As we go to press the world is ever so slowly turning toward the release of the summer 2020 blockbuster film Top Gun: Maverick. If you haven’t seen the trailer (s) for the movie yet we’ve linked them below. Now we know that the US Navy retired the F-14D Tomcat in 2006. One mystery we’re looking to see solved is that fleeting appearance in the trailers of a Tomcat. Another aircraft appearing in the trailers we Avgeeks are hoping to get a good look at is the North American P-51D Mustang that appears in the trailers. See if you can spot it. More about that mystery Mustang after the clips below. The first two trailers were uploaded to YouTube by Paramount Pictures. The third video was uploaded by Flicks and the City Clips.
Official Trailer with a glimpse of the Mustang
New Trailer with a slightly better glimpse of the Mustang
Behind the Scenes with the best (albeit short) glimpse of the Mustang
A Lucky Horse Indeed
It might be a bit of a stretch for a Naval Aviator, terminal at Captain, to have a hangar full of toys and memorabilia such as Maverick (proudly) does. After all pay for a Navy Captain (O-6) tops out at about $175K after 30 years service (which Maverick almost certainly has by now) but it’s rare indeed. Suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of many great movies- aviation-related and otherwise. However it’s no coincidence that the particular Mustang in the film got the supporting role. It is in fact owned by one Tom Cruise- Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell himself. Every time I see him I still see Joel the U-Boat Commander, but that’s not important right now.
Mustang Yes…P-51D Well Not Really
Cruise’s Mustang, registered as N51EW, was built as an F-6K-15-NT with a Construction Number (CN) of 111-36123 at North American’s Dallas assembly plant in 1944. P-51Ks and F-6Ks were built in Dallas and differed from the D models primarily in the propeller department. Ks were equipped with an 11 foot Aeroproducts prop as opposed to the 11 foot 2 inch Hamilton Standard mill. The K canopies were a shaped a little bit differently as well. In use the hollow Aeroproducts propeller was unreliable, especially at high power settings. Many P-51Ks were refitted with a different Ham-Stan prop later in life. F-6Ds and F-6Ks were built with a pair of K-24 cameras (one vertical and one oblique) mounted aft just ahead of the tail wheel.
Somewhat Spotty Early History
The photo-reconnaissance-capable fighter was delivered to the US Army Air Force in 1944 and given the serial number 44-12840. There is no reliable record of actual use by the USAAF, and 840 may have sat idle in storage at one of the scores of equally idle bases in the States, but in 1946 840 was donated to the Civil Air Patrol. Between then and 1997 the aircraft was privately owned, for at least a few years by Earl Reinert with Victory Air Museum in Illinois. Between 1982 and 1987 the Mustang underwent a lengthy restoration at B&D Enterprises in California.
Becoming a Rich Kid
Ownership of 840 changed hands midway through the restoration, picking up the registration N51EW when owned by Eddie Wallachs of Lake Bluff in Illinois. Restoration was finally completed in 1997 by Al Teeters at Cal Pacific Airmotive in Salinas CA. As newly-restored Mustangs are wont to do, 840 won best P-51 at Oshkosh the following year (1998). The aircraft was then still based in Illinois but took up residence in California during 2001 when actor Tom Cruise (as Valhalla Aviation out of Bob Hope Airport in the Los Angeles area) acquired her. The Mustang has also been based at Van Nuys in the past. Tom Cruise became a licensed private pilot in 1994 and owns several other aircraft including a Gulfstream IV-SP.
840 wears the late-war colors (but not the QP- codes) of the 334th Fighter Squadron Fighting Eagles, 65th Fighter Wing, 4th Fighter Group, which were based at USAAF Station 356 (RAF Debden) as part of VIII Fighter Command. In July of 1945 the 334th FS moved to USAAF Station 122 (RAF Steeple Morden). 840 has been adorned with the names “Kiss Me Kate” (relating to his wife at the time Kate Holmes) and “Montana Miss” but most current images of the warbird show her sans any moniker or nose art.
A Rare Bird
Cruise’s Mustang is one of only two flyable F-6K Mustangs in the world out of the 164 F-6Ks built by North American Aviation. The other is registered as N357FG- also built at North American’s Dallas assembly plant as an F-6K-15-NT in 1944. Painted today as SN 44-13318- Frenisi, the aircraft was built with a CN of 111-36135 (12 airframes later than Cruise’s Mustang) and was given the serial number 44-12852. Both 840 and 852 were restored as P-51K Mustangs with the photo-reconnaissance equipment and rear fuselage apertures removed.