Survivors
G-BIXL - Miss Helen
P-51D-25NA 44-72216 G-BIXL Miss Helen
Type
Serial number
Construction n°
Registry
Paint Scheme



Owner
Based at
P-51D-20-NA
44-72216
122-38675
G-BIXL
Miss Helen
Raymond H. Littge
352nd Fighter Group
487th Fighter Squadron
Robert Lamplough
Filton
Bristol
Avon, United Kingdom
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Airframe history

P-51D-20NA 44-72216 is a very special Mustang. She flew with the 487th FS, 352nd FG, during WWII as Capt. Raymond Littge's “Miss Helen” … today, she is still the same Mustang and again wears the same paint scheme as she did over 60 years ago. This makes her the last original 352nd FG P-51 known to exist.

The war was slowly coming to an end, but aircraft were still very much needed in Europe as the German Luftwaffe still proved to be a dangerous opponent and allied aircraft were still being shot out of the European skies.

44-72216 was delivered from the NAA production line (construction number 122-38675) in Inglewood to the USAAF, and was assigned to the “Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney”, the 352nd FG, 487th FS. The 352nd was based at Y-29 in Assche, Belgium since December, 1944, but returned to their permanent base on April 13th , 1945.

When she arrived in Bodney, she was assigned to Captain Raymond H. Littge as his personal mount. The individual code letter “M” was applied, but was underlined to indicate that this was one of two aircraft with the same code letter (the other being John C. Meyers' “Petie 3rd ”).

At the time Littge got 44-72216, his kill tally was already up to 10.5, one of which was a Me-262.

He had previously flown P-51 44-11330 which was named “E Pluribus Unum”. He named his new stallion “Miss Helen”, after his girlfriend (and later wife) Helen Fischer.

The exact number of missions flown by Capt. Littge in Miss Helen is somewhat a mystery, but he definitely flew her on April 17th , 1945, an escort mission for B-17s enroute to the marshalling yards in Dresden (south east Germany).

52 P-51s took off at 11:15, 18 of which belonged to the 487th FS, lead by Lt Col. W.T. Halton. Capt. Littge was leading “Red Flight”, flying Miss Helen. At 13:05, at 20,000ft, the bombers and their little friends were bounced by a group of Me-262s. The Me-262s usually made a head on pass, destroying as much bombers and fighters as they could and then disappeared. One Mustang was damaged in the attack.

When the flight reached the Filders area, 24 fighters lead by Mayden (Cmdr. of the 352nd FG) left the B-17s and swooped down to their briefed patrol areas to find enemy airfields. They came across the airfield at Platting in which 70 plus aircraft were parked. The first eight Mustangs made a low pass to draw the flak and eight others (including Capt. Littge's Red Flight) hit the flak positions, with the rest providing top cover.
For over half an hour, each flight took turns to make passes over the airfield after a left-right traffic pattern had been established. In total 66 aircraft were destroyed at the airfield and a further 24 were badly damaged. Six of the destroyed aircraft were claimed by Capt. Littge (4 Bf-109s and 2 Me-262s).

During the initial attack of the flak positions, Miss Helen was hit quite badly with the oil tank holed and almost emptied, the manifold pressure line and two electrical lines were also hit. In all, Capt. Littge made 7 passes and was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions.

It is unknown if Capt. Littge flew Miss Helen after she was downed for repairs. He returned to the USA on May 4th , 1945, four days before the German surrender. As a result, P-51 Miss Helen was passed onto Lt. Russel Ross, who had flown as wingman to Capt Littge on many occasions. Lt. Ross renamed the Mustang “Miss Nita” for the remainder of the war.

After the war, 44-72216 was put in storage for 18 months before officially being struck off USAAF inventory on June 13th , 1947.

On February 25th , 1948, she was one of many P-51s which were exported to foreign Air Forces, and was delivered to Sweden. All aircraft destined for Sweden were gathered at Metfield in Suffolk. As a part of the Royal Swedish Air Force, she was redesignated Fv26116 as a J26 (Jaktplan (fighter) 26) and flew with F4 (Flygflottilj 4), based at Froson in northern Sweden.
After a short period, she was relocated to Uppsala with F16.

All Swedish Mustangs were struck off charge with the Swedisch Air Force on March 19th , 1953.

The Mustang again escaped the scrap pile as she was overhauled and became part of a group of 25 P-51s sold to Israel. No documentation exists of her service with the Israeli Air Force other then the fact that she wore serial 2343 and code 43.
It is also unclear if she participated in Operation Kadesh (aka 100 Hour War) in which Israel occupated the Sinai Desert in October 1956. P-51s were used in the ground attack role and 10 Mustangs were lost in the operation. If in fact she did participate in this operation, she somehow managed to escape destruction once more.

At this time 44-72216 disappeared under the radar until Robert Lamplough became aware of a number of rare warbirds spread around Israel and recovered her from a playground at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz in 1976, where she had been left to the elements. The Mustang was shipped to the UK (along with 3 other P-51s, 3 Spitfires, a Yak C-11 and a Hawker Hurricane Mk. IV) were she was stored at Wycombe Air Park before arriving in Duxford.
Norman Chapman, who was also part of the team, told Robert that P-51 “43” was the best bet for restoration as she was the least corroded.

After cleaning all components and ascertaining what is recoverable and what needs to be replaced, it was found that the wings were the most affected. They were replaced with the wings of P-51 44-72770, a Mustang belonging to the Dutch Technical School at Delft, Netherlands.
Another Mustang that was brought back (44-72028) served in the Pacific Theatre with the 5th AF and is undergoing a rebuild using the original wings of 44-72770. Somehow you wonder if the wing sections will be swapped at some time in the future.

It wasn't until the team discovered the Mustang's original serial number upon restoration, that they knew they were dealing with a P-51 with a great historic significance.

5 years later, on July 3rd , 1981, the Mustang was moved to North Weald and was completed and entered under UK civil-registry as G-BIXL. The first post-restoration flight took place on May 5th , 1987, the Mustang still being in a bare metal finish.

Finally, the obvious decision was made to paint 44-72216 in her WWII colour scheme of 487th FS, 352nd FG “Miss Helen”.

In 1989 she starred in the motion picture “Memphis Belle”. For this occasion she was repainted in an olive drab colour scheme with a grey underside and named “Miss L”, with code AJ-L.

In the winter of 2000 she returned to her original markings of 472216/HO-M named "Miss Helen", albeit in a slightly lighter shade of blue (the correct shade of blue was obtained by removing layers of the same colour paint from a former toilet block at Bodney. This was matched and the recent re-paint saw the correct shade of blue applied).

After returning from her participation in the 2004 Royal International Air Tattoo, she suffered an unfortunate off-airport landing in which she was severely damaged. The repairs were finished in 2007 and she took to the sky again.

On July 13th , 2008 however, bad luck would strike again as she suffered a hard landing, just short of the grass runway after participating in the Flying Legends airshow “balbo” at Duxford. The engine had been running rough on finals and as a result she landed ahead of the taxiway and was catapulted back into the sky over the taxiway. The result was a second hard hit on the ground after which she spun around with the props hitting the ground. Thanks to her skilled pilot damage was held to the engine and landing gear.

You can read the official accident report here.

She is once more in for repairs and is currently under construction. Her history shows she's no quitter and there is no doubt she will be back once more where she belongs!

Date Registry Owner
1945

1947
1948
1953
1976
1981
1987
1987
1989
2000
2004
2007
2008
2009
44-72216


Fv26116
IDFAF 2343

G-BIXL


Delivered from the NAA production line in Inglewood to the USAAF. Assigned to 487th FS, 352nd FG. Named "Miss Helen" by Lt. Raymond H. Littge
Struck off USAAF inventory on June 13th
Sold to Swedish AF on February 25th. Coded 26116 F4, later F16 coded gF
Sold to Israeli AF
Recovered from Israel by Robert J. Lamplough
Entered under UK civil registration as G-BIXL on July 3rd
First post-restoration flight on May 5th
Repainted in the colors of 472216 HO-M "Miss Helen", 487th FS, 352nd FG
Starred in motion picture "Memphis Belle", painted as "Miss L" AJ-L
Returned in the colors of 472216 HO-M "Miss Helen", 487th FS, 352nd FG
Sufferend an off-airport landing accident, repairs started
Flew again after repairs
Crash landing at Flying Legends airshow in Duxford on July 13th
Undergoing repairs

Paintscheme information


G-BIXL is painted as Capt. Raymond H. Littge's P-51D, 44-72216 HO-M "Miss Helen" and served with the 487th FS, 352nd FG, also known as the "Blue nosed bastards of Bodney".

P-51 44-72216 was delivered from the NAA production line (construction number 122-38675) in Inglewood to the USAAF on September 1st , 1945.

The 352nd was based at Y-29 in Assche, Belgium, at that time, but returned to their permanent base on April 13th , 1945.

The name

Littge named his P-51 “Miss Helen” after his fiancée (and later his wife) Helen Fischer.

The pilot

Raymond H. Littge was born on October 18th , 1923, at Altenburg, Missouri. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the Army Air Corps on July 1st , 1942 and got his wings on December 5th , 1943.

He was assigned to the 352nd FG, 487th FS in England on May 3rd , 1943, where he completed his P-51 Mustang training.

Littge was the 352nd's third high scoring ace with 23.5 kills (10.5 in the air and 13 strafing kills). At the time Littge got
44-72216, his kill tally was already up to 10.5, one of which was a Me-262.

Name
Rank
Unit
Date
Credits
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 11-27-1944 2
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 12-26-1944 1
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 12-27-1944 3
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 01-01-1945 2
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 01-24-1945 1
Littge, Raymond H. 1st Lieutenant 487th FS 03-18-1945 0.5
Littge, Raymond H. Captain 487th FS 03-25-1945 1
      Total credits 10.5

You can read more about Raymond H. Littge here.

The paint scheme

The 352nd FG was assigned to the 8th AF on July 6th , 1943, and was stationed at Bodney in Norfolk, UK. They converted to the P-51 Mustang at the end of March, 1944. It was at that time that all units in the 8th AF were assigned different Group colours.

The 352nd FG applied a bright sky blue shade to the noses of their P-51s, which were B- and C-models at that time and which were all delivered in the two-colour camouflage paint scheme of Olive Drab and Neutral Grey. However, the light blue coloured spinner and 12-inch wide nose band provided insufficient contrast with the camouflage finish, so the blue paintwork was extended back to a point approximately halfway below the exhaust stacks and then swept up and back to the windshield.

The following month, the 328th and 487th FS began receiving their replacement Mustangs, all in a natural metal finish.

For a very brief period the 352nd FG attempted to identify its new aircraft by replacing the white QIM cowlings with a substitute application of a medium blue paint. This particular procedure was quickly abandoned when it was determined that there was insufficient contrast between either finish to be functional as a group marker.

In May of 1944 the 352nd FG selected an RAF Azure Blue shade of paint to replace the original Medium Blue Group colour. The distinct blue colour earned them the name “Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney”.

On June 3rd , SHAEF issued an order for the application of the infamous D-Day stripes (aka Invasion Stripes). With the hastily application of the stripes on all operational aircraft, the second unit code letter was almost completely over painted, as was the unit call letter. The 328th FS and 487th FS elected to relocate the call letter to the tail fin, while the 486th FS chose to reposition it just above the wing root and slightly back from the exhaust cut-out. This was short lived however and by late June the 486th FS also repositioned the letter to the tail fin.

In October of 1944, the 8th AF issued an order for additional squadron identification by means of coloured rudders. The 328th FS (unit code “PE”) was assigned Insignia Red as a rudder colour, the 486th FS (unit code “PZ”) wore Identification Yellow and the 487th FS (unit code “HO”) adopted the same shade of blue as that used for the Group nose marker for their rudders.

As the war progressed some unit markings and colours changed slightly, some to offer better visibilty, others for a more esthetic reason. Starting in the summer of 1944, the 352nd applied a slightly darker shade of blue as they started receiving bare metal finished P-51Ds. The shade used was probably British Deep Sky Blue, which was similar to Insignia Blue.

The name “Miss Helen ” was white with red outlining and is displayed on the port side of the cowling only. Remarkable, Littge's name was not displayed on his Mustang. The canopy of the Mustang displays 23 black swastika kill markings, 13 on the port side (indicating the strafing kills) and 10 on the starboard side (indicating the air-to-air kills).
The serial number is also included in small block numbers under the kill markings on the port side of the canopy and at the wing root on the port side (beneath the "H"). The individual code letter "M" is underlined, indicating that this was one of two aircraft with the same “plane-in-squadron” code letter (the other being John C. Meyers' “Petie 3rd ”).

For more information on the following general P-51 markings, please click their appropriate links:
D-Day markings
US National Insignia markings
General P-51 markings

If we were to put a timeframe on G-BIXL we could assume that it was situated later than March of 1945, given the fact that she allready displays the 10 kill markings.

Pictures of G-BIXL Miss Helen

   

 

Contributor pictures of G-BIXL Miss Helen

   

Contributor image copyright (left to right, top to bottom):

1
2
3
4,5
6
7
8

© George Canciani
© Stephen Fox
© Michael J. Freer - Touchdown-aviation
© Jean-Marie Hanon
© Simon Thomas
© Miquel
© Rob Feeley

Pictures of the original "Miss Helen"

   

All three images are © 352nd FG Association Archive

If you have any high-quality photographs of G-BIXL you would like to share on this website, please contact us.

Usefull links

352nd Fighter Group Association

Copyright © Christophe Haentjens - http://www.crazyhorseap.be