Tom Reilly is no stranger to warbird restoration; he owned the Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum in Kissimmee, Florida, before Hurricane Charlie destroyed the facility in 2004. He presently heads The B-25 Group, which specializes in restoring old warbirds to flight. He is also called upon for warbird appraisals and that’s how he came to own the Twin Mustang.
While Tom had never been particularly interested in fighter planes, while visiting inveterate collector of anything with wings, Walter A. Soplata to assist with valuation of his collection of planes for IRS purposes in the early 90′s, Tom stumbled across a North American F-82 Twin Mustang which he instantly fell in love with. He mentioned he would be interested in purchasing the plane to Walter, but in reality he didn’t have the money at the moment anyway. In 1997 Tom sold a flying B-25 and flush with cash, gave Walter a call inquiring about the F-82, only to learn the plane had been sold two days before.
Itch unscratched, Reilly resigned himself to the fact that he would never possess this plane of his dreams. Tom continued to do appraisal work for the Soplatas and in 1997 was once again at their home in Ohio to appraise a Republic F-84 Thnuderstreak while stomping around in the snow Tom spied what appeared to be a Mustang fuselage buried under some corrugated metal sheeting, when he said to Walter, “I didn’t know that you had another Mustang,” Walter informed him that what he was looking at was the actually a prototype for the Twin Mustang. Reilly was unable to convince Walter to sell it to him, but got an agreement that when it was time to sell, he would get first option.
With visions of Twin Mustangs flying ’round his head, Reilly started searching for parts and investors for what would necessarily be a very expensive restoration project. The ‘XP’ #44-83887 was one of two prototype planes for the series and early production planes, which had dual controls were vanishingly rare as after only 20 production planes the switch was made to single-cockpit pilot controls with weapons and radar control in the second cockpit as the needs of the military and the intended utilization of the planes had changed as a result of the war’s end.
Not actually having a deal on the plane, nor knowledge of what it would cost, Reilly nonetheless scoured the globe searching for parts that would fit this very special plane. Drawing on his extensive network of contacts within the warbird restoration community, He located a had-crashed F-82 in Alaska as well as several pieces from multiple planes in South Florida. Tom put a conditional agreement together to hold these parts, so that if he was able to purchase the fuselage and all of the other P-82 parts that the Soplatas had, he would have almost a complete P-82.
In April 2008 the Soplatas called, Reilly raced up to Ohio and negotiated the purchase and the restoration project got going in earnest by July. one of the biggest problems that emerged early on was finding a left-hand turning Merlin engine and a left-hand turning prop for the second fuselage. Miraculously a brand-new engine was found in Mexico City of all places, and Tom contracted Vintage V-12s of Tehachapi, California to rebuild both a right hand and left hand turning engine for the project and hired MT Propeller of Germany to build two composite pros for the project, one left and one right.
Finding the second cockpit with flight controls proved to be quite challenging, but piece by little piece Tom has been finding what’s needed, though it has been difficult and through sheer luck that some of the pieces have come into his possession. In the past few years Tom and his crew have made significant progress in bringing the XP-82 to flying condition, fabricating parts from scratch when necessary and brining a collection of parts and a pile of scrap to what is destined to be a pristine example of a plane many said couldn’t be done, done.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of this ambitious and impressive project. More information is available at www.XP-82TwinMustangProject.com.