N251RJ Miss Velma
P-51D-25-NT N251RJ Miss Velma
Serial number
Construction n°
Paint Scheme

Based at
Miss Velma
Capt. Frank E. Birtciel
55th Fighter Group
343rd Fighter Squadron
The Fighter Collection
Cambridge, United Kingdom
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Airframe history

44-84847 is part of the latest batch of P-51s to be constructed from the NAA plant in Dallas, Texas. She was built too late to see any combat during WWII.

Unfortunately (and strangely), not much is known about the history of this particular Mustang. There is photographic evidence of her serving with the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Kimpo, South Korea in September of 1951 during the Korean War.

By then, the US military designation had changed from P-51D to F-51D.

She served as a non-camera equipped F-51D alongside dedicated RF-51D reconnaissance aircraft. The RD-51D aircraft were usually converted into photo-platforms locally in Japan prior to being sent into action, so it is possible she was equipped with camera's at some point.

By late 1951, the 45 th TRS Mustangs were being replaced by jet-powered RF-80 Shooting Stars.

44-84847 survived the Korean conflict and returned to the US where she presumably became part of the Air National Guard. The ANG retired its Mustangs in 1956 and 44-84847 disappeared under the radar since then.

It wasn't until 1999 that she appeared again in the hands of Bob Odegaard of Kindred, North Dakota. She was part of a restoration project there.
She was sold on to James Maloney of Fargo, North Dakota, early during the following year and was subsequently acquired by Stephen Grey's “The Fighter Collection”.

The P-51 was transferred to Fighter Rebuilders at Chino and the decision was made to modify the aircraft into a two-seat TF-51D configuration with full flying controls in both the front- and backseat.

After a six year restoration, she made her first post-restoration flight on May 28th , 2007, with Fighter Rebuilders' Steve Hinton at the controls.

Remarkably, she retains the standard P-51D tailfin and does not have the taller Cavalier tail associated with the two-seat executive Mustang conversion of the 1960s.It was the owner's choice to restore the Mustang to a production format
P-51D, rather then a TF-51D. This includes the smaller fin and rudder. She does have the large two-seat TF-51D canopy and full flying controls in both seats however.

As a paintscheme, Captain Frank E. Birtciel's P-51D “Miss Velma” was chosen. He flew “Miss Velma” while he was assigned to the 343rd FS, 55th FG, based at Wormingford, UK.
Stephen Grey explained that many restorers in the US got the 55th FG Mustangs paint wrong. They were able to contact Frank Birtciel and he proved to be a valuable source in helping out with the correct paintscheme.
The chequered nose band and rings on the spinner were painted in RAF issue Dark Green and Yellow, rather than the emerald green and primrose used by US restorers over the past 30 years.

The newly restored “Miss Velma” was to take part in “Operation Bolero II”, where she would participate in a trans-atlantic crossing, together with P-38 Glacier Girl, in order to take part in the 2007 Flying Legends airshow.

Sadly, P-38 Glacier Girl had to abort due to mechanical problems, but “Miss Velma”, piloted by Ed Shipley, made it to Duxford. She arrived at on July 4 th, just in time to be one of the showstoppers of the 2007 Flying Legends airshow.

Youtube video clips of N251RJ:

Displaying at Duxford
Duxford Mustangs
Operation Bolero II

Date Registry Owner




Built at NAA plant at Dallas, Texas
Saw no action during WWII
Served with the 45 th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Kimpo, South Korea during Korean War
Air National Guard?
Bob Odegaard, Kindred, North Dakota, US
James Maloney, Fargo, North Dakota, US
Stephen Grey, The Fighter Collection, Duxford, Cambrigde, UK
Underwent six year restoration with Fighter Rebuilders at Chino, California, US
First post restoration flight on May 28 th
Arrived at Duxford after a transatlantic crossing on July 4 th

Paintscheme information

44-8487 is painted as Captain Frank E. Birtciel's P-51D “Miss Velma”. Capt. Birtciel flew “Miss Velma” while he was assigned to the 343rd FS, 55th FG, based at Wormingford, UK.

The name

Frank named the aircraft after his future wife, Velma Randolph, whom he met during his R&R leave after his first combat tour.

The pilot

Frank joined the 343rd FS at McChord Field, Washington at August 11th , 1943. At the time, the unit was on the verge of leaving the USA for England and was flying the P-38 Lightning.

The 55th FG did not make the transfer to the P-51D Mustang until July of 1944. By this time, the group had also moved to Wormingford in Suffolk.

For Frank, this change came near the end of his first combat tour. He flew seven missions in the P-51D before his tour ended. He was so impressed by the new aircraft however, that he decided to sign up for a second tour.

While back home on a 30 day leave, he met Miss Velma Randolph. When he returned to Suffolk for his second tour, he knew that was the lady he would like to spend the rest of his life with and as a result, he named his newly assigned P-51D 44-14561 after her.

On lucrative business for the 55th FG was the destruction of locomotives during the war. In all, the Group destroyed no less than 940 locomotives, with the 343rd FS getting no fewer than 504 of them. The group's single best haul came on February 19th , 1945 when they set a USAAF record of 81 locomotives destroyed. This achievement was bettered 24 hours later when 89 locomotives went up in flames, earning the 55th FG a highly coveted Presidential Unit Citation.

On February 25th , 1945, Capt. Birtciel shared in the destruction of a German Me 262 jet:

“As we approached Giebelstadt airfield I observed two Me 262 jet fighters taking off and called for permission to bounce. My old classmate Maj. Don Penn had also spotted them as he led the 38th FS towards Giebelstadt, and he and his wingman, Lt. John O'Neil, and I were duly credited with one Me 262 shared destroyed.”

On April 9th , 1945, Capt. Birtciel became a strafing ace in a day when he destroyed two He-111s, two Ju-88s and a Bf-109.

Capt. Frank E. Birtciel flew his 121st and last combat sortie on April 17th , 1945, just four days prior to the 55th FG completing its final wartime mission.

The paint scheme

The 55th FG was assigned to the 8th AF on September 12th , 1943 and converted to the P-51 Mustang in July of 1944, making them the 8th Fighter Group to do so.

With the introduction of Group identification markings, the Group (flying P-38s at that time) used geometric symbols as a recognition aid, like the 20th FG the 361st FG and the 479th FG.

These were applied in white paint with a specified size of 30 inches at the greatest measure to the outward facing surfaces of both tail fins. This procedure obscured the original factory serial numbers and these were not reinstated on a number of the group's aircraft. In other instances these numbers were in fact repainted over the new symbols in either yellow or black.

The 343rd carried a square as a Squadron symbol.

In March of 1944, the Group also chose (not an 8th AF directive) to apply red paint to the engine cowlings in order to further enhance Group recognition. Since the Group already learned of the pending conversion to the P-51 Mustang at that time, the extra red paint did not last for very long.

While in transition training with their new P-51D Mustangs, the 55th FG made its first attempt at a Group colour recognition scheme. Without seeking higher approval, it began spraying the fins and rudders in a camouflage green (probably RAF Light Green). The radio call numbers were over-painted and the squadron symbols were applied in white paint, the diameter of the symbol at the widest point still being a standard 30-inches. Unlike the 20th FG, the 55th FG did not have their individual code letters painted on the geometric shape These were positioned as standard for P-51s, with the height being 24-inches. The standard black type identity nose markings were also retained.

Most P-51s also had the upper surface of the tailplane and about 24-inches of the fuselage decking just forward of the fin painted in the same green colour. The once black QIMs located on the upper surfaces of the stabilizers were all repainted white.

Although the same squadron codes from the group's P-38s were transferred to the new Mustangs, no such letter codes are known to have been applied during this period, which was to last just a little under 2 months

By the time the 55th FG had become combat operational with their new Mustangs, SHAEF had already proposed the gradual phasing out of Invasion Stripes. Consequently the “half-marker” post D-Day pattern was applied to virtually all the group's aircraft.

On July 15th , 1944, 8th Fighter Command devised a new Group marking for the 55th FG, in line with the other 66th Fighter Wing units. A checkerboard nose marking was applied using yellow and green colours. The spinner was divided into three bands of equal widths (green/yellow/green). The first 12-inches of the cowling band were divided into 6-inch yellow and green squares which made up the checkerboard.

While the yellow used was either Identification Yellow or the British shade, the green was a camouflage shade, Medium Green 42 or a closely matching British colour, possibly Light Green. The result was that at just a few hundred yards and in bright conditions, the green appeared as a dark shade and was easily mistaken for black.

Nevertheless, the 55th continued with this medium green throughout its use of Mustangs. With the introduction of the new Group nose colours the use of geometric symbols on tails was abandoned and those aircraft already so marked had these painted out with dark green.

In late July of 1944, an artist at 8th Fighter Command HD devised a paint scheme for the 55th FG that was more a form of artwork. This was partially adopted and only applied to some of the Groups P-51s. It consisted of spraying the upper surface of the empennage and rear fuselage with camouflage green. The fuselage paintwork was extended forward to the trailing edge of the wing ans was then swept up to merge with the anti-glare panel in front of the cockpit. A 6-inch wide red of yellow band edged the dark green to provide a border between the camouflage and the natural metal finish. On the tail, the QIMs and code letters were reinstated in white, while the QIMs on the wings were black.

Frank Birtciel has confirmed that his P-51 “Miss Velma” had indeed a yellow line, not red. There had been some debate in several books and website about this, but below is evidence that in some cases the dividing 6-inch line was red and in some cases yellow (picture by Frank Birtciel).

In October of 1944, the 8th AF issued an order for additional squadron identification by means of coloured rudders. The 55th Fighter Group consisted of the following Fighter Squadrons:

  • The 38th FS (unit code “CG”) applied no rudder colour
  • the 338th FS (unit code “CL”) applied green to their rudders (same green colour as in the nose checkerboard)
  • the 343rd FS (unit code “CY”) applied Identification Yellow to their rudders.

As of November, an extra 343rd FS embellishment appeared on their aircraft. Some P-51s featured a rearing mustang silhouette on the rudder in red. A red line, 4-6in wide and similar to that bordering the camouflage on the 343rd's aircraft, was applied along the anti-glare panel on some of the squadron's aircraft and in March 1945 this feature was added to all the Group's aircraft.

The 338th also started applying a 6-inch wide green band, backing the green and yellow checkerboard motif.

As of May 7th , 1945, the 38th FS started painting their rudders in red.

Tail numbers began to appear again on 55th FG aircraft with the adoption of the coloured rudders. A few of the groups aircraft continued to display the black QIM markings until the cessation of hostilities.

The 6-inch border dividing the camouflage green and natural metal was soon expanded upon and ultimately framed in the anti-glare panel and entire canopy structure. This configuration was later adopted as a group identification element and by the end of March, 1945, had been applied to all 55th FG combat Mustangs.

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

The original “Miss Velma” did not display any kill markings.

We can thus assume that the timeframe for the paint scheme of N251RJ is situated later than November of 1944 because the rampant mustang silhouette is used, along with the coloured rudder.

Pictures of N251RJ Miss Velma



Walkaround pictures of N251RJ Miss Velma



Contributor pictures of N251RJ Miss Velma


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

1, 2
5, 6
10, 11
© David Alfred
© Karl Drage
© Art Brett photovation images
© Rob Feeley
© Antonio Doblado
© ViperUK
© Stephen Huntley
© Hubert De Sousa
© James Vaitkevicius

Pictures of the original "Miss Velma


© Frank Birtciel - the original Miss Velma of the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group

If you have any high-quality photographs of N251RJ you would like to share on this website, please contact us.

Usefull links

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