The moment which every WarbirdsNews reader will have eagerly anticipated since we first started reporting on the project five years ago finally arrived with the first “official” post-restoration flight of Tom Reilly’s North American XP-82 Twin Mustang 44-83887 yesterday in Douglas, Georgia.
This of course follows the brief unplanned first flight on New Years’ Eve, 2018, the details of which are perhaps best left to Tom Reilly who described it in a phone interview with Warbird Digest’s Moreno Aguiari back in early January as follows, “The aircraft wasn’t supposed to fly that day…” In Fact the original plan was to clear the last FAA mandated high-speed taxi test, rotate for a second or two, touch back down, deploy full flaps, and brake to a stop. However, during our phone interview Reilly related that, “It accelerated so fast after the planned liftoff that test pilot Ray Fowler realized that getting it back down and stopping it in the remaining runway would be risky. So, he pushed the power back up and flew for about five minutes.” Nevertheless, the aircraft performed beautifully and “flew hands-off on the first flight with trim at almost zero degrees.”
As most readers will remember, yesterday’s flight had originally been mooted for July last year, but the team were not quite able to get the final paperwork signatures sorted in time to fly before EAA Oshkosh AirVenture2018. As it happened, an incident at Oshkosh involving a wheel failure on a Grumman F7F Tigercat prompted Reilly to further delay the first flight in order to have some brand new wheel rims manufactured rather than risk the XP-82 on her original magnesium-alloy castings. Chuck Wahl’s Vulture’s Row Aviation machined Reilly a replacement set of wheel rims from billet aluminum which, while adding $36,000 to the restoration cost, will provide extra peace-of-mind that a newly-made part usually offers.
Experienced warbird pilot Ray Fowler was at the controls again yesterday as the dual seat, dual fuselage fighter roared down the runway, its two Merlin engines powering counter-rotating propellers which beat the air in the quest for flight. Lift off was smooth as this unique aircraft took to the skies. A small crowd gathered to witness this historic event, chief among them Tom Reilly and his restoration crew who had performed a minor miracle in resurrecting this long-forgotten warbird which sat for decades as a collection of parts on Walt Soplata’s farm in Newbury, Ohio. Great credit must be shown to Soplata and his family for preserving the aircraft, not to mention Tom Reilly and his investors for having the vision – and the fortitude – to restore this magnificent aircraft back to where she belongs.
In a recent phone interview, Tom Reilly told your editor that following the aircraft’s return to flight, Ray Fowler will fly off fifteen hours in the XP-82 to both satisfy the FAA requirements for the airframe’s airworthiness and also for the pilot to qualify for his Twin Mustang type rating. Fowler will become the world’s only currently certified Twin Mustang pilot as a result.
When asked whether he will fly the aircraft himself, Reilly stated that he’s not sure whether he will or not. “I’m a bomber guy, not a fighter guy,” he stated. If he does fly the Twin Mustang, it will only be from the right seat. “It’s been a very fun job,” Reilly continues, ” a team effort, not a Tom Reilly effort.” So after more than ten years, and 207,000 “man and woman hours” as Reilly mentioned, the world finally has a Twin Mustang flying again, and long may it continue to be so. Reilly wouldn’t say exactly what the aircraft’s future will hold, noting it isn’t for sale, although there’s always a “right price” should one be offered.
Click HERE to read our previous articles about this amazing restoration. Check out below the video montage from iPhone clips.
Many thanks to those who supplied us with the images and video clips in this piece.