April 11th marks a significant anniversary in the world of warbirds. It is the 70th birthday of perhaps the most important warbird of them all, the P-51D Mustang known as ‘Old Red Nose’. Many consider her as the aircraft that started the warbird movement. This iconic P-51D Mustang is the aircraft which forged the mighty Confederate Air Force, now known more properly as the Commemorative Air Force. Red Nose rolled off the North American Aviation production line in Inglewood, California on April 11th, 1945. She soon joined the United States Army Air Force as serial number 44-73843, and later that month flew to her first posting with the 388th AAF Base Unit, Third Air Force at Page Field Army Air Field near Fort Myers, Florida.
Little is known of Red Nose’ service there, but she most likely served in the training role. Following Page Field’s closure in September, 1945 the aircraft moved to Sarasota, Florida to join the 336th Base Unit. This proved just temporary for Red Nose, for that November she moved again; this time for storage at Hobbs AAF in Hobbs, New Mexico. Her only other activity in the next six years was in 1947 when she transferred to the Air Material Center at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Though in storage for six years, her military career was far from over. She was now known as an F-51D of course, following the US Air Force becoming an independent air arm in 1947. The US Government sold her to Canada, along with 99 other examples, as a stop-gap fighter under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. The Royal Canadian Air Force officially accepted her on January 11th, 1951 and temporarily placed the fighter in reserve storage in Trenton, Ontario. By February 26th, Red Nose was flying again. She then joined 416 ‘Lynx’ Squadron when the unit reformed at RCAF Uplands in Ottawa, Ontario.
Red Nose served with 416 Squadron for just over a year before moving to 10 Technical Services Unit in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on March 28th, 1952. Here the Mustang stayed until receiving assignment to 420 ‘Snowy Owls’ Squadron (Auxiliary) in London, Ontario. Its tenure with this unit lasted until July 19th, 1956, after which the fighter went into storage pending disposal. A US company soon bought the Mustang, moving her back to San Antonio, Texas under the ownership of Stinson Field Aircraft.
On October 17th, 1957, Lloyd P. Nolen and three friends bought the tired fighter for $2,500, under the banner of what was known then as “Mustang and Company”. A short while later, someone painted “Confederate Air Force” on the Mustang’s tail and the name stuck… The Confederate Air Force was born! That December the Mustang received new paintwork complete with D-Day invasion stripes and coded VF*G, and at this time the members referred to the aircraft as ‘Old Red Nose’. Although the founding aircraft in the Confederate Air Force, as was, she didn’t officially become CAF property until 1977, following her donation. She became part of the CAF’s American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum in 1991, and received a thorough restoration in 1993. “Old Red Nose” moved to the CAF’s Dixie Wing in Peachtree City, Georgia in November, 2002 where she is very well tended to and flown frequently before thousands of people every year. Perhaps more importantly though, so many vintage WWII aircraft now survive as a direct result of a few WWII-veteran Texans coming together to save a Mustang back in 1957. That Mustang’s birthday is worth remembering…
As a marker for this major milestone in the history of warbirds, the CAF has designed a celebratory T-shirt, the design of which you can see below.