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When it comes to restoring North American’s P-51 Mustang, the results land all over the board. There are solid airframes out there that aren’t pretty, there are top quality restorations where time and money have been lavished on the fighter, and there are some fliers out there that you wouldn’t even want to look inside of; they are scary.

This P-51D is not one of the latter.

If Kimberly Kaye were lined up with other Mustangs that have won awards for quality restorations, she certainly would place among the top contenders. She’s pretty but not flashy; the perfect date. Her ‘dress’ is a polished mirror finished with 8th Air Force markings. She is a flying airframe, not pampered and flown on rare occasions. She also has to compete for attention with five other warbirds owned by Tony Banta, a California business executive.

The Search

Back in 1999, Banta started looking for a Mustang to rebuild to zero time condition. While searching for a suitable project, Banta met Simon Brown and hired him as the Project Manager for the Mustang rebuild. Brown has been involved with restoring numerous warbirds over the years including P-51's, TF-51's, an F8F Bearcat, and a P-63 Kingcobra. Banta wanted to find a suitable P-51 airframe and have it restored to better than new condition. Brown would manage the restoration while specialty shops were subcontracted to do the work.

After considering a number of projects and their associated value, it was decided that an airframe held by Dennis Shoenfelter’s B&D Enterprises fit the bill. Already on its landing gear, the airframe was structurally complete but lacked systems and finishing details. The fuselage, basically an empty shell, had been rebuilt by Bob Carr and Phil Greenberg at Van Nuys, while the wings had been rebuilt by Cal-Pacific Airmotive. Banta acquired the project in May 2000. The idea was to have the fighter airborne in 12 months.

The Airframe

Like so many other flying P-51's, this Mustang’s actual history is a mystery. The basis for the airframe is Indonesian Air Force TNI-AU, one of three P-51s recovered from there in 1985. This airframe acquired the paperwork for 44-11153, a Mustang named Dolly that had crashed in 1988.

Two years after the project began, there was still much work to do on the restoration. A decision was made in April of 2002 to move the project from Van Nuys and deliver it to Airmotive Specialties in Salinas, California, for completion. Once there, everything came together nicely and on time. Seeing the Mustang up close in sunshine is almost a painful experience; it is polished to a mirror and attention to detail has been precise.

Early on, Banta had decided he wanted a black and yellow checkerboard nose of the 353rd Fighter Group. The aircraft had been totally re-skinned with new aluminum during the rebuild, so the combination of polished metal with black and yellow trim would offer a stunning sight. Banta also decided that a black rudder would complement the polished skin, so a paint scheme from the 352nd Fighter Squadron was chosen. The scheme is accurate, but does not recreate any specific wartime paint scheme. The SX codes are original for the 352nd, but the individual code A is fictitious. The name Kimberly Kaye was inspired by Tony's girlfriend.

Powering the Stallion

"The engine is about as brand new a Merlin as you can find," says Brown. "It is a V-1650-7 with Rolls Royce 500 series heads and banks. Rick Shanholtzer of Frontier Aviation in McKinney, Texas, built up the engine with heads, banks, cams, valves and a crankshaft right out of original, sealed Rolls Royce boxes. It’s probably one of the few brand new Merlins flying at this time."

As various components of the Mustang were completed, they were mated to the airframe along with the engine and systems. Once everything was together, Dave Teeter’s crew polished the airframe and sent it over to T&P Aero Refinishers for paint and markings. The Mustang was licensed N451TB, and test flown for the first time on March 22, 2003.

Dan Martin, a long time Mustang owner and pilot, as well as a successful Reno racer, put the first ten hours of test flying on the Mustang before turning it over to Banta. "That airplane has one of the smoothest engine and propeller combinations I’ve ever flown," Martin said. Only some minor squawks were found, and quickly rectified. "It’s a first class P-51."

The Mustang was fitted with modern avionics, a rear seat, a dual oxygen system, and new radios.

Banta went to Stallion 51 in Florida for his Mustang checkout earned his Letter of Authorization. His first flight in Kimberly Kaye occurred in May 2003. Since then, he has based the Mustang at Livermore airport in California, and has flown 110 trouble free hours. Over the past year, numerous warbird fans have been able to see the fighter up close at various airshows. The airplane even won Best Fighter at the 2003 Watsonville Fly In. Banta will continue to visit airshows around California and share his warbirds with the public.

Story by Scott Germain - WarbirdAeroPress.com. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Tony Banta, camera plane pilot Dick Fields, and Simon Brown.

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