Friday, December 25, 2009

Betty Jo

The North American F-82 Twin Mustang was developed at the end of the prop-driven fighter era and at the dawn of the jet age. Its designed role as a long-range fighter escort was eliminated by the Atomic Bombing of Japan and the sudden end of World War II. With the rapid draw-down of the armed forces after the war, the newly established United States Air Force had little money for new prop-driven aircraft, especially since jets, such as the Messerschmitt Me 262 and other Luftwaffe fighters had been faster than P-51 Mustangs over the skies of Germany in early 1945. The completed airframes (less engines) of the P-82 pre-production aircraft already manufactured by North American were in storage with an uncertain future. However, during the 1947 Soviet Aviation Day display at Tushino Airport, a surprise appearance was put in by three four-engined long-range strategic bombers. They were early examples of the Tupolev Tu-4, which was a bolt-for-bolt copy of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, several examples of which had been interned in the Soviet Union after having been forced to land there during bombing raids against Japan. Since the USSR was expected soon to have nuclear weapons, the appearance of the Soviet TU-4 was a shock to US military planners, since it meant that the US mainland might soon be vulnerable to nuclear attack from the air. Until jet interceptors could be developed and put into service, the Twin Mustangs already built were seen as an interim solution to SAC's fighter escort mission for its strategic bomber force and also as an all-weather air defense interceptor. During the Korean War, Japan-based F-82s were among the first USAF aircraft to operate over Korea. The first three North Korean aircraft destroyed by U.S. forces were shot down by F-82s.

North American F-82B Twin Mustang

The F-82B on display, Betty-Jo, made history on 27 February 1947. Flown by Colonel Robert E. Thacker it flew nonstop from Hawaii to New York without refueling, a distance of 8,129 km in 14 hr 32 min (559.2 km/h). This flight tested the P-82's range. The aircraft carried a full internal fuel tank of 2,180 l, augmented by four 1,173 l tanks for a total of 6,874 l. To this day, it remains the longest nonstop flight ever made by a propeller-driven fighter, and the fastest such a distance has ever been covered in a piston-engined aircraft. The aircraft was powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

No comments: