World-famous aerobatic pilot Eddie Andreini has a special surprise for the West Coast airshow circuit this year. Eddie is going to be performing an aerobatic routine in his new P-51D Mustang “Primo Branco”, which he has recently restored to tip-top condition. But this plane has an interesting and entertaining history that not many people know about, like how it has belonged to a famous football player, and a Korean War jet ace. It even went to England in WWII!
March 5th 1945 in Inglewood California was a nice 65° day, when 44-73079 was delivered to the USAAF. It was then shipped to Newark, New Jersey, where it went overseas to Liverpool as deck cargo to join the Eighth Air Force in the skies over Europe.
“Most of the 8th Air Force's P-51s were shipped into Liverpool as deck cargo and then trucked the seven miles out to Speke airport. They were then stripped of protective sealant, checked over and test flown. The work was done by the Lockheed Aircraft Overseas Corporation and they were then ferried to Base Air Depot No 2 at Warton, about 30 miles away. BAD 2 handled almost all P-51s before they were allocated to fighter groups.”1
44-73079 got there too late in the war to see combat action, or be assigned to a fighter squadron, because the war ended May 8th 1945. In July, 1945, it returned to the US for storage at Newark NJ for 18 months at the 4003th AAF Air Materiel Command, until December, 1946, when it went to Middletown Air Depot, Olmsted PA. After three months, it joined the 174th Fighter Squadron (Air National Guard) in Iowa, and was rechristened the F-51. In 1951 while now serving in the 148th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 113th Fighter Interceptor Group at Reading Pennsylvania in the PANG, an unfortunate crash happened to 1st Lt. David H. Morris.
This is his account:
“On 15 February 1951 around 0945 hours I took the active runway for take-off after thoroughly checking the airplane and finding it OK for flight. I applied 35 inches Hg. Holding brakes (Squadron SOP), released the brakes and applied full throttle. Approximately 3000 feet down the runway and at an altitude of 20 or 30 feet, the engine coughed twice and twisted violently. Knowing I had 2000 feet of open field off the end of the runway in addition to 2000 feet of runway remaining, I retarded the throttle and forced the airplane back on the runway with the purpose of bringing the airplane to a stop on the gear in the open field. I applied the hard brakes while on the runway resulting in very high tail altitude. I cut ignition and mixture controls to “off” and “idle cut off” respectively and on the main gear bouncing across the terrain requiring my full attention to maintain control. Applying brakes had little or no effect on stopping the airplane. I reached for the gear handle to retract the gear, but was so busy maintaining control, I abandoned the idea of retracting the gear. It seems I had difficulty reaching the gear handle. (I was told after the accident that the gear handle was found halfway between down and up positions). On seeing that I was approaching a bank (depression) and road, I believe that I released the brakes and pulled back on the stick hoping to hurdle the road. Shortly after that the airplane slid to a stop, I rolled open the canopy and crawled out.”2
Lt. Morris had done a run-up and checked the mags but didn't like something and brought the plane back to the flight line. His crew chief checked it out and had him do another mag check. They did and his crew chief told him it was OK and Lt. Morris proceeded to take off.
Witnesses found skid marks down the end of the runway, “the aircraft reached the airport boundary, went through a barbed wire fence, hurdled off the three foot embankment and over a country road, through another barbed wire fence and gate on the farm of Mr. Edward Hartman, Rural Road #2 Reading PA., tearing off left wing at a point 6 feet outboard of fuselage. The A/C tore down part of a snow fence and came to rest facing facing 45° left of it's original path.”
The rural road # 2 he bounded over is now known as Van Reed Road and the plane came to rest about where US Route 222 now is. Also, Reading Regional Airport, also known as Carl A. Spaatz Field, is the home of The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.
The base flight surgeon, 1st Lt. Jack Gehman, found Lt. Morris with a light bruise on his left upper arm and “very excited, blood pressure 154/82, pulse 142. Phenobarbital one (1) gr. given. 45 minutes later, he calmed considerably, BP 130/80; pulse 124.”2
He was allowed to return to flight duty.
Over the course of nine years, it served in the 148th Fighter Squadron, the 148th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 163rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 87th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and the 165th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Iowa, again Iowa and Kentucky, respectively.
It stayed in the Air National Guard until 1956, where it was shipped to McClellan AFB, California, for commercial sale. In February 1958, it was sold to someone, who I'm not sure of, and given the N number of N7716C. In 1963, Joseph Dangelo of Growers Frozen Foods bought it, and changed the N number to N576GF. He kept it until 1969, when he sold it to Jerry Brassfield, who kept it for four years, and then sold it in 1973 to WWII vet and Korean War F-86 ace Robert J. “Bob” Love.
Bob Love also performed at many airshows with 44-73079 until he passed away in 1986 and it was sold to famous San Francisco 49ers tight end Russ Francis in 1987. (How a 6'6” 242 lbs guy fit in it, I'll never know!) Russ sold the plane in 1991 to Bill Dause, who kept it until 2008, when he sold it to Ryan Costo, who started a ground-up restoration. The restoration ground to a halt, and in 2010, my good friend Eddie Andreini bought the project from the bank that had repossessed it.
Dave Teeters, of Airmotive Specialties in Salinas, CA, did an amazing and extensive two year restoration to turn the historic plane from a pile of parts into one of the most beautiful Mustangs on the West Coast. Mike Barrows, of Air Sparrow Merlin Services, has built Eddie a fantastic new engine.
1 Dave Smith - Warbirds Information Exchange
Very Special Thanks to:
- Archie DiFante of Air Force Historical Research Agency/RSA at Maxwell Air Force Base for info on the planes early years
- Dave Smith from Warbirds Information Exchange for helping me sort out it's short time in England
- Don “Bucky” Dawson for info about when Bob Love owned the plane.
And my dad Tim for being a great dad and helping me.
For more photos of the finished plane - go here
My dad took some of these and Eddie took the rest except for the last three that Dave Teeters took.