‘Twin Mustang,’ unlikely war hero, now starring at Titusville museum

A forgotten war hero has landed at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville – the world’s only flying North American P-82 Twin Mustang. Indialantic resident Norvin C. “Bud” Evans remembers the first time he met one of the unusual airplanes. “We kind of laughed at them when we saw them,” the former combat pilot said.

OK, it might not have been love at first sight for the retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, but the Twin Mustang would show its mettle when it counted most. On a June morning in 1950, North Korean military forces shot across the 38th parallel into South Korea. The world was startled. The South Korean military was overwhelmed. The American’s Korean Military Advisory Group and others were in danger. One of the few bright spots was that some Twin Mustangs were stationed in Japan. They rushed to the fight.

“They flew on the first day of the Korean War,” Evans, who witnessed the events, said. “They were the only ones that shot down North Korean airplanes that first day.”

On an otherwise gloomy day of defeat, “the 82s came in and did victory rolls to indicate they shot down North Korean airplanes,” Evans said.

That bought time for the Air Force to get the jet-powered F-80 Shooting Stars – the plane Evans flew – and others in the fight. The Twin Mustang was an aircraft born out of time. It was in military service from 1946 to 1953. In 1943, at the height of World War II, military planners figured the U.S. would be invading Japan, a country with a longstanding and storied warrior tradition. Good sense said the Army air forces needed to heavily bomb the island nation before the Marines and soldiers landed there. That meant sending the then-coming Boeing B-29 Superfortress from Pacific Islands to bomb Japan hard and often.

Ron Davis, the aircraft museum’s public relations director, said the problem with that plan was escort fighter planes to protect the bombers. Or, rather, the lack of any fighter planes that could cover those kinds of distances to escort the bombers. “North American came up with this idea of – we’ll take two (P-51 Mustang) fuselages and put in a center wing,” he said.

By making a sort of Siamese-twin Mustang, designers could add fuel and firepower to the proven fighter. The Twin Mustang could now fly up to 2,000 miles and had the concentrated firepower to give any Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien second thoughts. But, the two never met in battle. The fall of Germany, losses in China and, arguably above all, America’s use of the atomic bomb sapped Japan’s will to fight by August 1945. That was just two months after the Twin Mustang’s first flight. Japan officially surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.

But as World War II ended, the Cold War with the Soviet Union started. The U.S. figured it still needed a long-range interceptor. About 270 Twin Mustangs went into service starting in 1946. As the first generation of American jets were finding their legs, or wings rather, the twin-fuselage P-82 could do things they still couldn’t such as carry radar and operate safely in bad conditions.

“They did the all-weather and night alerts for us,” Evans said. “We did all the daytime alerts. When the weather was too bad for us to fly, the all-weather, they’d fly the bad weather and all night, because they had the radar set.”

Evans said the Twin Mustangs watched as their heirs, the Republic Aviation F-84F Thunderstreaks, arrived at bases. “That was a jet,” he said. “The Air Force and all aviation was going to the jets.”

The Korean War heroes stood down and headed to scrap. Davis said only three remain. Only one flies. That’s the one now on permanent display at the Titusville museum. The aircraft’s owner, legendary aircraft restoration expert Tom Riley of Douglas, Ga., has no plans to sell or move the plane. It arrived at the museum on Aug. 20. The Twin Mustang is now with about 50 other historic airplanes at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum.

“It’s unique, being the only (operational) one in the world,” Evans said. “If you want to see one, you’ve got to come to Brevard County.” Evans served in the Air Force until 1966 and never got the chance to fly a Twin Mustang. He’s the museum’s director emeritus.

The museum is at the Space Coast Regional Airport, 6600 Tico Rd., Titusville. It’s open daily at 9 a.m. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students 13 to 18, and $5 for those 5 to 12. There is a $2 discount for senior citizens and members of the military. For more, visit www.valiantaircommand.com.

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