On a beautiful, sunny day in Bemidji, Minnesota, the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s Republic P-47D-23 Thunderbolt 42-27609 roared into the skies for the first time since its wartime accident at Dobodura airstrip in New Guinea on September 18th, 1944. The aircraft, magnificently restored over the past eight or so years by the master craftsmen at AirCorps Aviation, has been mechanically ready for this moment for some time now but, as is often the case with such endeavors, processing the veritable mountain of paperwork involved took the FAA quite a while to wade through before approvals could be granted.
Highly experienced warbird pilot, Bernie Vasquez, was at the controls for the initial 35 minute test flight. This marks the second Thunderbolt Vasquez has flown in as many weeks, having delivered P-47D 44-32817 to the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, Minnesota on May 4th. Of course this flight, being a first flight, involved a little more mental preparation, with Vasquez making sure to review the appropriate checklists and emergency procedures with additional vigor. But everything went exceptionally well according to the pilot, Vasquez noting: “It is always so special to test fly a warbird, especially a rare one like this P-47 Thunderbolt. It flew amazingly. Hats off to the AirCorps Aviation crew. This is the 4th airplane we have test flown from their shop squawk free!”
Warren Pietsch was also on hand to witness the P-47’s initial test flight on behalf of the museum. Indeed, he was in the air to witness it, noting: “Ben Redman and myself were in the P-51 ‘Miss Kitty’ flying chase on the first flight of the P-47 flown by Bernie Vasquez. The P-47 will be painted in the colors of ‘Bonnie’. ‘Bonnie’ was Brigadier General Dunham’s mount in WWII in the Pacific theater. Both the P-47 and P-51 were restored by AirCorps Aviation of Bemidji, Minnesota. Bernie said the flight was flawless and the airplane performed better than expected.”
Adding to the joy which everyone at AirCorps Aviation must surely be feeling right now, Eric Trueblood, the company’s Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, noted: “It went awesome! There is always a unique feeling when you fly an airplane after a long restoration. We are extremely thankful to Bruce Eames and the Dakota Territory Air Museum for trusting us once again with such an important and rare airframe.”
This P-47 now becomes the sole, Republic-built ‘Razorback’ variant of the Thunderbolt flying anywhere in the world! Test flights will continue all week, and once the required hours are flown off on the airframe, it will head over to the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s home in Minot, North Dakota, where it will eventually begin taking part in the organization’s air show commitments. The aircraft is already scheduled for a Warbirds in Review session at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023, by which point it should have received its formal livery as P-47D-23 42-27884 – better known as Bonnie – the regular mount of William Douglas Dunham during his time with the 348th FG in New Guinea. With sixteen aerial victories, Dunham was the 348th’s second highest scoring ace, and the second highest scoring P-47 ace in the Pacific Theatre; he later became a Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force.
We here have been following this restoration since the early days, and it is so exciting to finally see this magnificent aircraft restored to where it belongs, in the skies! Bravo to everyone involved!