P51 Mustang Reunion

To the readers of !TFAM, I would like to bring your attention to a series of events which took place in the United Kingdom several weeks ago and how it all came about. 

In February 2016 George Hardy was contacted by an individual in England who indicated his employer Mr. Peter Teichman who is the owner and Chief Pilot of the Hanger 11 Collection at North Weald Airfield which consists of a Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI, Canadian Hawker Hurricane IIB, Curtiss P-40M and the North American P-51D. He indicated that after tracing the serial number of their P-51D Mustang 44-72035 it was revealed that it was previously assigned to and flown by the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy during 1945 and the owner, Peter Teichman had decided he wanted to repaint his P-51 airplane in its former “Red Tail” markings. 

Hanger 11 initially consulted with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) for some assistance in making their decision. Someone in the Rise Above group, of the CAF, noticed that one of the airplanes was numbered “A33” with the name “Tall in the Saddle”. That individual also remembered that George Hardy flew most of his combat missions in A33, in March and April 1945. 

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Based on that information the decision was made to contact George Hardy and they asked him if he was willing to cooperate with them in making sure that the airplane was an accurate reproduction of, “Tall in the Saddle”. George readily agreed and right afterwards he contacted me knowing that I had black and white photographs of the original A33, Tall in the Saddle and shortly afterwards I was contacted by Alec Kinane of Hanger 11 and I agreed to supply Hanger 11 with copies of the only two know original photographs of A33, Tall In The Saddle.. 

Throughout the winter and spring of 2016, George and I worked diligently via email with Hanger 11. In April and May of this year Peter Teichman had his P-51 Mustang accurately repainted to represent A33 which concluded with a public unveiling in early June. At the unveiling the airplane was also flown for the public and Peter hinted at wanting to reunite George with A33 

The aircraft was featured on the cover of the September 2016 issue of Britain’s Top-Selling Aviation Monthly Magazine, Fly Past and in an in-depth on pages 58 to 64 which includes a 1944 photo of George and the original black and white photographs which were used to accurately recreate the markings of A33. In the article Peter stated “It is hoped that one day soon George Hardy could be brought over from his home in the US to visit his Mustang”. 

Peter Teichman planned a momentous a reunion of George Hardy with the A33 to coincide with the last air show of the 2016 season in the UK. Accordingly George Hardy and I flew to the UK on Wednesday, September 28 as guest of Peter Teichman and Hanger 11 and returned to the states on October 5. 

On Thursday September 29th after arriving at Gatwick Airport and being met by Steve Atkin and Alec Kinane of Hanger 11 we were driven to North Weald Airfield where the Hanger 11 collection is based to formally meet Peter Teichman and to privately reunite George with A33, Tall in the Saddle. 

As Peter opened the hanger doors and George and I got our first glimpse of the red nose and blue nose band of the A33 and I suddenly realized that I was no longer standing next to a 91 year old George Hardy, I was standing next to 19 year old George Hardy as he had immediately been transported back in time. 

Peter disclosed that he had a full schedule of events for us, however he reiterated several times that George was the boss and anytime George wanted to stop, rest, or whatever all he had to do was say so. 

Within minutes of our arrival at North Weald numerous photographers and journalist arrived which prompted Peter to tow A33 out of the hanger so that the novice and professional photographers could begin taking full advantage of the opportunity to photograph George with A33 as well as the BBC to interview George. 

The following days included a private tour of Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. The cemetery contains 3,809 headstones, with the remains of 3,812 servicemen which Include airmen who died over Europe and sailors from North Atlantic convoys. We also had a Private tour of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridge with a very good Yorkshire guide. 

On Saturday, October 1st Hanger 11 hosted an open house which featured George Hardy as the guest of honor. Once again the BBC was present as well as journalist and representatives from many other UK based aviation periodicals. George was well received, lots of hands were shook, lots pictures were taken and George openly shared various stories about his Air Force career from his training days as an Aviation Cadet at Tuskegee to flying night combat mission in C-119K gunships during the Vietnam war afterwards George and I enjoyed a lovely dinner as guest of Peter Teichman and his wife in Epping. 

On Sunday October 2nd George and I were the Guest of Honor at the Old Warden Air show which was the final air show of the season in the UK. George greeted the arrival of Peter Teichman in A33, Tall In The Saddle in front of the crowd and afterwards he willingly greeted the public by shaking hands and signing their programs as he was featured with a center spread in the program and just to show you how small the world is, George was surprisingly met at the airshow by the wife and children of his former pastor in Sarasota whom now reside in England. Ironically that same pastor presided over the funeral services for George’s wife Bonnie. 

Tuesday, October 4th was our final full day in England and it began with an early breakfast followed by me driving George to North Weald Airfield so that he could be strapped into the rear seat of A33 and flown to RAF Lakenheath where he would be hosted and the guest of honor of the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing known as the Grim Reapers. 

It was seen by all present that George arrived in style at RAF Lakenheath with a stunning low, high speed pass down the runway with Peter pulling A33 into a vertical to reduce speed for landing. It was breathtaking watching Peter taxied up with George riding shotgun in Tall In The Saddle. Everyone present knew they were watching something special, a once in a lifetime event an original 332nd FG P-51D, in the markings it wore 71 years ago with its pilot now 91 year old sitting in the back seat landing and taxiing in to an active USAF base. I must admit that I was touched and shed a few tears at what I was witnessing. 

Once out of the aircraft Peter and George were greeted by the Commanding Officer and Deputy Command Officer of the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. George was interviewed by the American Forces Network Europe (AFN) after which George willingly greeted the men and women of the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. George shared that he had flown A33 on many combat mission as a 19 year old 2nd Lt. while stationed at Ramitelli, Italy and it couldn’t get any better than that. He added at the time he hadn’t even driven a car by that time. The young F-15 Eagle pilots were amazed impressed with George and A33 and taken back by lack of modern instrumentation in the P-51 and the lack GPS. I overheard one young 1st Lt Say to another;”He had to navigate the hard way”. 

George, Peter, and I were each invited to take an orientation flight at the controls of the F-15 Eagle simulator. We closed out our visit to USAF Lakenheath by watching Peter strap on A33, fire up and take off in A33 for North Weald. 

In closing I’d like to say to date there are only 18 Red Tail pilots remaining and it was truly a privilege and honor to accompany George to the UK and to share this journey and momentous experience with him. 

Respectfully Submitted 

Craig Huntly