Not a lot is known about its history prior to the 1960s, other than that it was probably built somewhere in 1944. What makes this Mustang really special though is that it is probably the only Cavalier F-51D Mustang II conversion still flying today.
The Cavalier Mustang project was the idea of newspaper publisher David Lindsay, who established Trans Florida Aviation in 1957, with the intention of refurbishing ex-military P-51s into well-equipped civilian business aircraft. You can read more about the Cavalier Mustang here.
Most notable differences of a Cavalier conversion included a second seat, larger tailfin and fixed wingtip fuel tanks on some models. It was such a success that David Lindsay decided to rename the company to Cavalier Aircraft Corporation in 1967, at which time the company also purchased the rights of the P-51 Mustang design from NAA.
In 1967, the USAF contracted Cavalier to produce the F-51D for export to South America under the Military Assistance Program (MAP). These converted Mustangs were given new serial numbers starting with 67-14862 and were named “Mustang II”. They were designed for close air support and counterinsurgency operations. A total of 9 aircraft were built, who all received the taller tail modification, removable wingtip-tanks, strengthened wings with the ability to carry six 0.50 caliber machine guns and eight underwing hardpoints which could carry a total of 4,000lbs of ordnance.
Two batches of Mustang IIs were built: the first group was built for El Salvador in 1968 and the second group was constructed for export to Indonesia in 1972 an 1973.
A total of five F-51Ds and one TF-51D were sold to the El Salvador Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Salvadoreña or FAS) and SE-BIL was one of them. This is also where this Mustang lost all of its original identity.
Once in service with the FAS, her registration changed to FAS405. During her service with the FAS, this Mustang participated in the so-called “Soccer war” or “100-hours war” between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969.
In the late sixties, the FAS operated mainly Corsairs, but not a lot of them were left due to a high degree of cannibalization. Thus, the FAS began looking for some kind of replacement. As mentioned above, the answer came in the form of several Cavalier Mustangs. The batch, acquired under a special provision of the MSP program in September of 1968, included a Cavalier Mustang TF-51D (FAS 400), five Cavalier Mustang IIs (FAS 401 through 405) and one Cavalier Mustang 750 (FAS 406).
Above: images of SE-BIL whilst in service with the Fuerza Aérea Salvadorena (FAS), registred FAS405 at the time.
During the middle of 1969, tension ran high between El Salvador and Honduras. A lot of Salvadorian peasants were migrating across the Honduras border and were reportedly mistreated. The FAS, foreseeing an imminent war, and aware of its disadvantage against the Honduran Air Force, began a desperate search for any additional fighter aircraft to complement the Mustang acquired earlier in 1968.
Days before the outbreak of hostilities, the FAS had been able to gather 18 Mustangs, including the Cavalier examples, acquired in 1968. The first Mustang loss occurred on October 8th , 1968, when FAS 402 crashed during the take-off run at Ilopango airport.
The immediate cause for the beginning of hostilities, was the violence that developed in both countries, during the qualifying round for the 1970 World Soccer Cup. Both parties won their home games, but fans being mistreated after the games and the anti-Salvadorion propaganda led to the inevitable.
The Salvadorian Government declared a state of emergency on June 26th and so the war was on. The Salvadorian Army managed to occupy the city of Nueva Ocotepeque on July 17th , forcing the Honduran Army to flee. At that time, two Mustangs were deployed to support the Salvadorian troops, but they were intercepted by two FAH F4U-5N Corsairs. During this encounter, Capitán Humberto Varela's Mustang is shot down by Mayor Fernando Soto, becoming the last Mustang to be shot down in an air-to-air action in history.
The FAS had some problems to deal with their fleet: a lack of trained pilots which eventually even led to the hiring of mercenary pilots, the lack of fuel and also the lack of maneuverability of the Cavalier aircraft. This eventually led to the wingtip fuel tanks to be removed.
By the end of the conflict, in October of 1969, the FAS still had 13 Mustangs, of which 10 were operational, from the total of 18 acquired.
In 1974, this Mustang returned to the USA when it was acquired by Jack Flaherty, who registered her as N31FF and painted her with the serial number of a scrapped Mustang: 44-10753.
In 1978, she was sold again to Wilson Edwards. During the next ten years, she was stored in Texas In 1998, she was bought by Heber Costello, who had been dreaming about owning a Mustang for a long time, so no wonder he'd named her “It's About Time”. At this time she was also reregistered as N405HC.
After Costello was killed in a plane crash, the Mustang was acquired by HEC Equipment. In 2005, she again changed owners, this time to Paul Besterveld of Denver, Colorado.
In 2006, Bertil Gerhardt flew to the US to inspect the Mustang. Biltema, a Swedish wholesale dealer network, decided to purchase her, and so she was shipped to Sweden in complete secrecy and reassembled in May 2007. Later that month, she made her first flight.
Biltema had her reregistered SE-BIL. The rare Cavalier Mustang II is regularly seen on displays across Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
|Manufactured somewhere in 1944?
Rebuilt by Cavalier Aircraft Company
From September 1968, served with the Fuerza Aérea Salvadoreña (Salvadorian Air Force), participated in the “soccer war” between El Salvador and Honduras Acquired by Jack Flaherty of Flaherty Factors, Inc. of Monterey, California on November 1st
Adopted false ID 44-10753 on return to the USA
Wilson C. Edwards, Big Springs, Texas, stored
Heber Costello, HEC Equipment, Oak Grove, LA on March 13th. Heber Costello was killed on November 15th , 2000 when his C-185 crashed on landing
HEC Equipment LLC, Oak Grove, LA from February
To Paul Besterveld, Denver, Colorado
Biltema Corporation, Sweden
This Cavalier Mustang II was repainted by Heber Costello as 405/”It's About Time”. Although this paint scheme resembles the scheme adopted by the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, it is incorrect.
The 118th TRS was a Connecticut National Guard unit that was federalized for national service in 1941. Re-designated the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in August of 1943, they were assigned to the CBI (China, Burma, India) Theatre of Operations in October of 1943, with its ultimate assignment to the 23rd Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force.
Through various transitions they ended up flying P-40N and P-51B/C Mustangs and the F-6 recon variant of that airplane with the 23rd FG, 14th AF in China from June, 1944, through September of 1945. Their first combat base was Kweilin, China where they operated against the Japanese until the 23rd FG was forced out by the Japanese Ichi-go campaign to remove the 14th AF from its eastern bases.
118th TRS flightline in China, 1945, courtesey of Robert Bourlier.
Upon returning to Chengkung in October 1944 the squadron had some time to recuperate from combat. At this time Major Edward O. McComas, the CO, asked Lt. Phil Dickey, the squadron armaments officer and artist, to design distinctive markings for the squadron airplanes. When the squadron had been based in India, Phil had painted nose art on some of the
P-40Ns, including McComas' "Kansas Reaper". He reasoned that with McComas being from Kansas in tornado alley of the US that a lightning bolt down the side of the fuselage would be distinctive. Airplane #599, an F-6, was so painted and became the first "Black Lightning".
Major Edward O. McComas in his P-51D, courtesey of Robert Bourlier
After a short time it was felt that the markings did not stand out enough on the Olive Drab painted airplanes so some yellow paint was located and the lightning bolt was outlined in yellow.
The “Black Lightning” Squadron was involved in a number of missions against Japanese positions and airfields in China.
In Steven Spielberg's movie “Empire of the Sun”, there is a scene where pilots of the Black Lightning Squadron attack the Japanese airfield at Lunghua, China. In the scene at the end of the airfield attack, a P-51 Mustang flies by, filmed in slow motion, and shows the markings of the Black Lightning Sqn.
Also worth noting is that, during this airfield attack, a Mustang drops a bomb that blows up the hangar on the airfield. Back in 1944, it was 118th pilot 2nd Lt. Al Cardelli, who dropped that bomb on that airfield.
Due to the high tempo of combat operations, most of the airplanes were not painted until the squadron was pulled from combat at the end of January 1945 and returned to their rear base area at Chengkung, about 30 miles south of Kunming.
The 118th served in China for only fifteen and one-half months and was actively engaged in combat for about six months. During this time, three of the squadron's pilots achieved “ace” status:
- Ed McComas – 14 destroyed in the air and 4 on the ground
- Oran S. Watts – 5 destroyed in the air and 1 on the ground
- Russel D. Williams - 5 destroyed in the air and 1 on the ground
To conclude: the Black Lightning Squadron only had the lightning on the fuselage outlined in yellow, never in red or any other color, so although SE-BIL resembles a 118th TRS Mustang, it is not entirely accurate.
A big thanks to Robert Bourlier, Lt. Phil Dickey's nephew, for his help on this article.
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