Every now and then, as many warbird enthusiasts will know for a certainty, one can get lucky by unexpectedly witnessing a priceless warbird being driven on the back of a flatbed truck down the highway. Such was the case for the multiple sightings across the southeast of a P-47D Thunderbolt seen being driven on I-75 last week, which was previously displayed at the National Museum of the USAF but will soon find itself a new home.
The Collings Foundation confirmed with us that the aircraft is now on its way to American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and will eventually become part of the Collings Foundation, in light of the recent trade between the two organizations over a Boeing-Stearman PT-17 with ties to the Tuskegee Airmen – see our article on this acquisition here: National Museum of The USAF Welcomes PT-17 to Its Collection (warbirdsnews.com).
Additionally, Hunter Chaney, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Collings Foundation and the American Heritage Museum, told us. “This was an exchange for our Tuskegee PT-17 Stearman. The P-47 will go to American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach for restoration review. Gary Norville will give it a look over and assess how much work is needed to restore it to flying condition. We would love to restore to flying – but short on the most important ingredient. We’ll need to produce a large capital campaign to get the fighter in the air. If that does not work we will have it on display at the American Heritage Museum in the near future.”
Constructed at Republic’s Evansville, Indiana plant as P-47D-40-RA c/n 399-55706, this Thunderbolt was accepted into the USAAF as serial number 45-49167 on May 29, 1945. The aircraft went through several assignments in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In 1952, the aircraft was contracted to TEMCO Aircraft as a test airframe through the Reimbursable Aid Program at Hensley Field (now Grand Prairie Armed Forces Reserve Complex) near Dallas, Texas.
Its final assignment with the USAF was with the Caribbean Air Command at Albrook AFB in the Panama Canal Zone before being officially stricken from the USAF to be reassigned to the Fuerza Aérea del Perú (Peruvian Air Force) as serial number FAP 540 on March 16, 1953. From there, FAP 540 would later be issued the second serial number of FAPe 116 before eventually being placed into storage by 1963.
In 1969, warbird pilot, television writer and producer Ed Jurist of Vintage Aircraft International Ltd in Nyack, NY acquired six surplus P-47s from the Peruvian Air Force, including 45-49167, and had them shipped to Brownsville, Texas aboard the freighter S.S. Rosaldina, which arrived on September 5, 1969.
Once it was made airworthy with the CAF at Harlingen, Texas, Marvin “Lefty” Gardner flew the aircraft at the 1974 Reno Air Races as Race #13 with the colors of the 353rd Fighter Group. A year later, aircraft collector and restaurateur David Tallichet acquired the aircraft and had it displayed at a themed restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida. Unfortunately, in 1979, the aircraft was damaged in a storm, and it was soon brought to Chino, California for repairs. Around this time, the USAF Museum was looking for a bubble-top variant of the P-47, and in 1981, the aircraft was flown into retirement with the USAF Museum.
In 2018 it was externally refurbished and painted as P-47D-30 Five by Five flown by Col. Joseph Laughlin, commander of the 362nd Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, in early 1945.
This work was undertaken by the museum restoration specialists seen in the image above, (L-R) Nick Almeter, Casey Simmons, Chase Meredith, and Brian Lindamood, who also worked on the North American P-51D Mustang. As the museum stated at the time; “They are well versed in a variety of skills ranging from machine and woodworking expertise to precision craftsmanship in sheet metal and painting. Their knowledge of aircraft spans years of technology — from World War I fabric covered aircraft to the elite fighters of today’s Air Force.“
To hear the latest developments on this P-47, stay tuned for our next update when new information is made available. We would also like to thank Hunter Chaney for his contributions to this article, and Honey Osborn for sharing the in transit photographs with us.