By: Norm Goyer
I was pleased when one of our readers requested a column on the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. It has always been a favorite of mine. This very unusual aircraft, and one of its pilots, have a very close personal tie, a special friend, Colonel Robert Thacker. Colonel Thacker is still with us and is a dedicated RC turbine pilot. I met with “the Old Colonel”, as he calls himself, a few months ago. He is in early 90s and still flies his jet models at speeds in excess of 200 mph, way beyond my capabilities. As a young Lieutenant, Colonel Thacker was at the controls of the B-17 that landed at Pearl Harbor during the attack on December 7, 1941. His was the B-17 with one landing gear stuck up. This clip is still seen very often in movies and on TV. See this week’s Bird of the Week for more on Colonel Thacker and Betty Jo.
The North American F-82 was too late to have seen any action during World War II..
On 27 February 1947, a P-82B named Betty Jo and flown by Colonel Robert E. Thacker made history when he flew nonstop from Hawaii to New York without refueling, a distance of 5,051 mi in 14 hr 32 min at an average speed of 347.5 mph. This flight tested the P-82’s range. The aircraft carried a full internal fuel tank of 576 gallons augmented by four 310 gallon tanks for a total of 1,816 gallons. This flight, to this day, remains the longest nonstop flight ever made by a propeller-driven fighter, and the fastest such a distance has ever been covered in a piston-engine aircraft. Of course you know the record for the longest nonstop flight by a propeller-driven aircraft of any type is held by the Rutan Voyager). “Betty Jo”, an early model F-82B, used two Rolls Royce Merlin engines. This aircraft is now in the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
The Twin Mustang was deployed to the Aleutian Islands in 1948 to replace war weary Northrop Black Widows.
This Twin Musang has more history than just about any other aircraft designed for World War II. Even though there were only 270 built by North American in Southern California, they proved themselves essential for a of special missions. There were many times that the Air Force wished they had 2,700 of them, rather than 270. Even though it was called the Twin Mustang, it was an entirely new aircraft which used parts of the P-51H which saw a very limited production. When the F-82s were finally retired in 1953, there were very few left flyable. Museums had a hard time acquiring parts, as most of the bases where they were deployed had to cannibalize damaged aircraft to keep their aircraft flying. The Air Force never expected them to be needed for so long and never produced enough spare parts for them.
During the Korean conflict, the F-82s were used for night fighter duties. Note the huge radar dome attached to the center section of the wing.
The P-82 was originally designed for World War II to escort B-29s in the intended invasion of Japan, of course the atom bombs negated any need for this invasion and the need for P-82 fighter escort. The Twin Mustang was the only aircraft that had the range and firepower to fly up to 2,000 miles without refueling. They could escort bombers at their altitude, fend off enemy fighters and escort the bombers back home. No other fighter was capable of performing this mission. Early models had dual controls in both fuselages so pilots could spell each other while on long missions. During the Korean war and night fighter duties, controls were removed from the second cockpit which was converted into a radar management control center. It was during the Korean conflict that the Twin Mustangs showed such great potential.
Mechanics are shown working on one of the engines during the harsh Alaska winters.
Before dawn, the 347th Provisional Group flying F-82 Twin Mustangs were in the air over Korea, with a mission to provide cover for the C-54 Skymaster transports flying out of Kimpo Airfield, who were evacuating civilians out of combat zones. Suddenly, a flight of five North Korean fighters (Soviet-built Yak-9s, Yak-11s and La-7s) appeared, heading for the F-82’s airfield. One of the Yak-11s immediately scored several hits on Lt. Charles Moran’s vertical stabilizer. Then Lt. William G. “Skeeter” Hudson flying wing man initiated a high-G turn to engage the Yak. When Hudson was in range. he fired a short burst at close range, scoring hits with his six .50 in machine guns. The Yak banked hard to the right, with the F-82G in close pursuit. A second burst hit the Yak’s right wing, setting the gas tank on fire and knocking off the right flap and aileron. The North Korean pilot bailed out, but his observer, who was either dead or badly wounded, remained in the doomed aircraft. Lt. William G. “Skeeter” Hudson, with his radar operator Lt. Carl Fraiser, had scored the first aerial “kill” of the Korean War. The F-82 gradually replaced the war weary Northrop Black Widow night fighter. But, the end of the line was rapidly approaching for the F-82 in Korea. By the end of August 1951, there were only eight operational F-82s left, and the Lockheed F-94 Starfire jet was arriving in Japan, taking over missions previously flown by the Twin Mustangs. While deployed to Korea, F-82s destroyed 20 enemy aircraft, four in the air and 16 on the ground during the conflict.
Twin Mustangs also saw duty in Alaska where they once again replaced the aging Black Widow, flying weather and reconnaissance patrols.
- Crew: 2
- Length: 42 ft 9 in
- Wingspan: 51 ft 3 in
- Height: 13 ft 10 in
- Wing area: 408 ft²
- Empty weight: 15,997 lb
- Max takeoff weight: 25,591 lb
- Powerplant: 2, Allison V-1710-143/145 counter-rotating
- liquid-cooled V12 engines, 1,380 hp takeoff each
The Twin Mustang has such a great history, I highly recommend interested readers Google “F-82 Twin Mustang”, and amaze yourself with its varied accomplishments during its short service life. Norm