John Muszala eased the throttle forwards on a cool November day in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Merlin engine built into a throaty roar as the P-51B Mustang accelerated down the runway, and lifted into the sky again for the first time in seventy years. The restored fighter is based around the remains of P-51B 43-24837. This Mustang flew with the 9th Air Force’s 363rd FG out of RAF Staplehurst in Kent, England. It crashed in Beckley after the pilot was forced to bail out during a training exercise on June 10th, 1944.
Pacific Fighters has a stellar reputation as a world class warbird restoration shop, but they are fast becoming noted for their prowess with high-back Mustangs. This is the fourth such example to roll out of their hangar, with the prospect of at least two more in the wings. Sporting a “Malcolm Hood” canopy and wearing the markings for “Berlin Express”, Pacific Fighter’s newest Mustang is dressed exactly like the 357th FG Mustang which the legendary American ace Bill Overstreet flew under the Eiffel tower while successfully shooting down a Messerschmitt Me-109 in 1944. Sadly Bill Overstreet passed away roughly about a year ago, and never got to see the finished aircraft, however he did see pictures of its progress and signed one of the gun bay doors for the project after Pacific Fighters sent it out to him.
Max Chapman is the proud owner of the new Mustang, and given his previous long association with the two seat TP-51C “Betty Jane”, it’s likely that “Berlin Express” will make her presence felt on the air show circuit. Interestingly, “Betty Jane” is also a product of the Pacific Fighters workshop. She is now owned by the Collings Foundation of course, and has been touring the country far and wide with the organization’s B-17 and B-24. It is good to see a new crop of early-model Mustangs flying again, and long may they continue to do so.
Here is a short clip of the first take off.
Considered by many a legend for his incredible maneuver, Overstreet’s most famous flight came while in solo pursuit of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109G flying into Nazi-occupied Paris. He maneuvered his plane beneath the arches of the Eiffel Tower, re-igniting the motivations of the French Resistance troops on the ground.Warbirds News had the honor to meet Bil during the last Warbirds Over The Beach, the full interview can be read here. Bill was active and enjoying air shows and gatherings of WWII veterans through his long retirement, and we were honored that he took the time to sit down and talk to us about his experiences.Overstreet was honored in 2009 for his World War Two heroics. The French Ambassador presented him the “Legion of Honor,” France’s highest award.
His tour of duty ended in October, 1944 and Bill returned to the states. His next assignment was to teach at the gunnery school in Pinellas, Florida. Overstreet was released from active duty, but kept in Reserves. So, he returned to Charleston, West Virginia where he worked as General Manager of Charleston Aviation. Overstreet eventually moved to Roanoke, Virginia in 1950 and worked for a CPA firm, before striking out on his own, retiring in 1984. Bill has been active and enjoying air shows and gatherings of WWII veterans through his long retirement, and we were honored that he took the time to sit down and talk to us about his experiences. Following is an incredible video interview realized by our partner Aerocinema.Click on the image to watch the interview.