It takes a lot more than a coat of paint to restore a vintage warbird to award-winning status.
According to Eric Hokuf, owner of Aircorps Aviation in Bemidji Minnesota, it’s important to transport people back to the time of the aircraft’s heyday. Hokuf’s shop did the restoration work on “Twilight Tear,” the P-51D that is the latest addition to the stable of warbirds owned by Ron and Diane Fagen of Minnesota.
You couldn’t miss “Twilight Tear” during this summer’s AirVenture. It was the parked on metal strips as if it was in a full-sized diorama, complete with extra drop tanks.
“Twilight Tear” came home from AirVenture with the award for Grand Champion, and Aircorps Aviation received the Golden Wrench award for the restoration.
There’s a lot more to aircraft restoration than pounding out the dents, replacing parts, and paint, according to Hokuf.
“The idea is to bring people back to that time period and to show exactly how the airplanes were back then,” he said. “That’s the idea of doing an original restoration.”
THE REAL DEAL
“Twilight Tear” rolled out of the factory late in World War II, according to Hokuf.
“The airplane was sent to Duxford, England, in January of 1945 so it got there at the end of the war,” he recounted. “It was a low-time airframe when the Swedish military bought it, and it spent a year or so in Sweden, then it was sold to Israel.”
It’s Hokuf’s understanding that the airplane was flown by the Israeli military until 1958 when it was released as surplus.
“Bill Lear of Lear Jet fame was head of operations in Europe in Switzerland and he went to Israel and picked out the lowest-time, cleanest airplane and had it painted white, gave it tip tanks and orange stripes, and he flew around Europe and Switzerland. He wrote about it in his book, ‘Fly Fast, Sin Boldly.’ There is an entire chapter on it.”
Lear sold the airplane in 1961 to someone living in the United States. The P-51 was outfitted to be ferried back to the U.S., but crashed in Iceland.
“The pilot who was hired to ferry it had never flown a Mustang before,” said Hokuf, noting that the pilot died of his injuries and the airplane remained wrecked in Reykjavik for the better part of 30 years.
In 1990 another warbird-owner wannabe purchased the wreckage from the Icelandic government. In 2005 Ron and Diane Fagen bought the project and the restoration of “Twilight Tear” began.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Hokuf describes a mad dash to get the airplane ready for AirVenture, noting that just a a few days before the show the .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the wings were actually fired for the first time in more than 50 years.
“The ammunition had to be manufactured for it,” said Hokuf, noting that the firing test was digitally recorded and was played on a video monitor as part of a presentation during AirVenture.
Ever the showman, Hokuf included a finishing aspect of the restoration as part of the presentation. His brother Shawn, wearing period correct clothing, applied the paint to put the name “Twilight Tear” on the nose.
Shawn Hokuf’s work was filmed during Oshkosh as part of a documentary that’s in the works about the warbird.
DOWN TO THE DETAILS
“Twilight Tear” is a very clean airplane. Many people squatted down to look into the pristine wheel wells, noting the metal stamp from the original aircraft manufacturer, and the cleanliness of the lines.
Another unusual aspect of “Twilight Tear” are the drop tanks placed around the airplane. They held more than fuel, said Hokuf.
“The drop tanks contained a chemical that when it reacted with air created smoke. There was a glass disk in front of the tank. When the pilot hit a switch, a squib broke the glass and allowed the smoke out. The pilot could lay down a 2,000-foot long smoke screen,” said Hokuf.
For more information: AircorpsAviation.com