The Lone Star Flight Museum’s newest aircraft arrived Wednesday, March 9. The museum’s North American P-51 Mustang, which has undergone restoration work over the last year, has emerged as “Galveston Gal,” a P-51 flown by Galveston native Capt. Ray Lancaster. Museum officials will add the legendary fighter to its warbird flight experience program later this spring.
“We are very excited to add the P-51 Mustang to our collection of historically significant aircraft,” said museum president Larry Gregory. “It is one of the most successful fighter aircraft ever produced and serves as a tribute to America’s air power heritage.” More than 15,000 Mustangs were produced and approximately 150 are currently flying today.
The P-51 is regarded by many as the most effective fighter aircraft produced during World War II. Known for its maneuverability, speed and range, the P-51 quickly made an impact over the skies of Germany by providing essential fighter escort to American bombers along their entire route. Its sleek design and 1,695-horsepower Rolls Royce Merlin engine enabled the Mustang to achieve air superiority and drastically reduce the number of American bomber losses.
The museum’s P-51 was converted to a two-seat, dual control TF-51 while serving in the El Salvadoran Air Force in the 1960s. The aircraft was reportedly damaged in the “Soccer War” between Honduras and El Salvador in July 1969. Later, it was nearly destroyed when another El Salvadoran bomber undergoing maintenance collided with the Mustang. It was imported to the USA in 1974 when El Salvador retired its meager inventory of former World War II aircraft.
Once back in the states, the aircraft was restored to flying status in the late 1970s. It passed through several owners in the 1980s, one of which was the Lone Star Flight Museum. The museum sold it in 1988 and the new owner performed a major restoration of the cockpit during the 1990s.
Upon purchasing the P-51, the museum elected to perform some preventative maintenance and repaint the aircraft while it was disassembled. A priority for the museum is to focus on the local area and/or the state of Texas with regards to aircraft paint schemes. The museum chose to paint the P-51 in the colors of “Galveston Gal,” a Mustang flown by Galveston native Capt. Raymond B. Lancaster of the 359th Fighter Group. Lancaster flew over 60 missions and was credited with three aerial victories. Today, Lancaster resides in Galveston County and recently celebrated his 90th birthday.
While performing research on Lancaster’s aircraft and mission log, the museum discovered he flew at least a dozen missions in which he escorted a particular group of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that contained an aircraft named Thunderbird. The museum’s B-17 is painted to represent the original Thunderbird, a bomber that flew 112 missions over Europe. Soon, a scene from 1944 over Germany will be recreated over the skies of Galveston when these two airplanes take flight.
“The Lone Star Flight Museum is proud to pay tribute to Capt. Lancaster and our hometown by painting the Mustang as Galveston Gal,” said Gregory. “We certainly hope the Mustang will remind our visitors of the many sacrifices, past and present, made by people from our community to protect our freedom.”
The P-51 will join the Lone Star Flight Museum’s historic flight experience program allowing its passengers to feel the amazing power and agility of one of the world’s greatest fighters. “When the Merlin engine roars to life on takeoff, you’ll understand how the Mustang earned its reputation,” said Gregory. “It’s an exciting aircraft that will definitely peg your fun-meter.”
For more information: LSFM.org or 888-FLY-LSFM (359-5736)