North American P-51D-30-NT Mustang (c/n 124-48248, OO-PSI, formerly NZ2406 of the Royal New Zealand Air Force), shortly after arrival to Hangar 3 / Classic Trainers association at Plzeň-Líně airfield, May 2023.
At the beginning of last year, collection of European warbirds was enriched by another, beautifully restored warbird – the North American P-51D Mustang ´Little Rebel´.
The aircraft was manufactured in 1945 (serial number 45-11495), however a bit too late to participate in the World War II. Therefore, the aeroplane was acquired by the Royal New Zealand Air Force and stored in dismantled condition until 1951.
In August of 1951, the 45-11495 was assembled, flown and then assigned to Central Flying School in Wigram. After one year spend there, the Mustang was reassigned to No. 75 Squadron RNZAF, for another year. In June of 1953, the aircraft was transferred to No. 2 Squadron RNZAF. The 45-11495 remained operational in the RNZAF reserve service for another two and a half years, then, in December of 1955, it was flown to Woodbourne airfield and stored.
In 1958, the aircraft was offered for sale and, in an incomplete state, was acquired by a British collector. Regrettably, few attempts to restore the Mustang failed and the aircraft stayed in the same incomplete condition until the 2000s. In the year 2000 it was reported as owned by Philip Warner from Cheltenham UK, as just fuselage with some parts and no wings.
Fortunately, in 2004 luck of the 45-11495 finally changed as the aircraft was bought by well-known American warbird collector and renovator Bob Baker from Alva, Oklahoma. His project to restore the 45-11495 was launched shortly thereafter but lasted almost nine years. As usually happens during such repairs, the second seat for passenger was added behind the pilot.
The restoration process was completed only in 2009. The 45-11495 was then registered as N5551D and became the third Mustang restored by Bob Baker (the first one was ´Oklahoma Miss´ in 2000, and the second was ´Sweet and Lovely´ in 2003). The livery chosen for the aircraft represented the P-51D Mustang ´Little Rebel´, 44-13737, flown by Lt. Charles ´Buck´ Pattillo from the 486th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group (more about the livery below).
In the same year 2009, the 45-11495 had its first public appearance at EAA Air Venture in Oshkosh, winning the ´Best P-51 Award´ there.
Nevertheless, it seemed that ´Little Rebel´ not flew very often from that moment. In 2021, the aircraft was offered for sale by Platinum Fighters, with only 88 flying hours clocked since its restoration.
At the beginning of next year, the aircraft was bought by Steven Stead, the well-known British warbird pilot and collector, linked to the Classic Trainers association from Plzeň, the Czech Republic. For more than ten years, Steven Stead was the owner of Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XVI that was based at Hangar 3 and participated at aviation events in the Czech Republic on regular basis.
On 6th May 2023, the ´Little Rebel´ arrived to Plzeň-Líně and was, for the first time, presented to Czech aviation enthusiasts during the open door day held at Hangar 3. On the next day, the aircraft participated in a flypast over Plzeň, performed on the occasion of Pilsen Liberation Festival (V-Day Europe anniversary).
In conclusion, it´s worth to add one interesting fact related to the aircraft livery. On 3rd June 1924, identical twin brothers Charles Curtis ´Buck´ Pattillo and Cuthbert Augustus ´Bill´ Pattillo were born. In November of 1942, they both enlisted the US Army Air Force and became fighter pilots. The Pattillo brothers started their fighter career with P-40 Warhawks, then flew the P-51 Mustangs. After the war, ´Bill´ and ´Buck´ stayed with the armed forces and made it to the top positions in the United States Air Force.
And it so happened that the second Mustang restored by Bob Baker was finally painted in the livery of ´Sweet and Lovely´, the aircraft 44-13905 flown by ´Bill´ Pattillo. Then, it was clear that the next aircraft should carry the ´Little Rebel´ livery, to represent ´Buck´s´ Mustang. At that time, the Pattillo brothers were already at their eighties, so Bob Baker did his best to finish the second aeroplane as soon as possible.
Finally in 2009, the Pattillo brothers could once again see their two P-51D Mustangs next to each other. It is also necessary to add, that ´Buck´ and ´Bill´ were the only twins to fly the Mustang fighters during the World War II.
Aviation enthusiasts will soon have another opportunity to see the P-51D Mustang ´Little Rebel´ in action again. This coming weekend, the aircraft will participate in the 31st edition of Aviation Fair air show in Pardubice, performing a flying display there.