“If you want a like-new P-51, just send me a damaged Mustang and we will do the rest,” says Art Teeters, president of Cal Pacific Airmotive of Salinas, California.
As owner of the original FAA Type Certificate for the Mustang, TC-11, plus the parts manufacturing approvals to go along with it, his company can build or rebuild most of the components of the famous World War II fighter.
“If we receive a P-51 wreck that has some usable parts, plus a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, prop, spinner, and landing gear assembly, Cal Pacific can build everything else,” added Teeters.
The valuable Mustang Type Certificate was originally owned by North American Aviation, which designed and built the fighter escort in record time. After the war, De Panti Aviation Company in Minnesota acquired the rights to the plane, which later went to Cavalier Aircraft Corporation, which completed many post-war Mustang rebuilds and TF-51 two-seat trainer conversions. Teeters bought the Type Certificate in 2007 from Lindair Inc., whose owners previously operated Cavalier.
The “limited” TC for the P-51 was followed in 2010 by parts manufacturing approval for Cal Pacific.
“This was a tremendous opportunity to be entrusted with preserving the legacy of this aircraft,” says Teeters, who built wings for many of the Reno racers back in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, Cal Pacific focuses on complete Mustang restorations and on fabricating new FAA-certified P-51 components for customers all over the world.
One of his best customers is NASCAR team owner Jack Roush, a longtime pilot, who came to Cal Pacific in 2006 when he wanted the wreck of a P-51B restored.
“Jack once told me that he never saw a Mustang he did not like, be it a horse, car, or airplane,” Teeters said.
Roush’s plane was in poor condition after being submerged in a Florida lake since 1944. The only components that could be re-used were the armor-plated steel firewall and the brass nameplate. Cal Pacific had to develop tooling to produce all new wing spars, wing ribs, cowlings, bulkheads, fittings, and the numerous other parts required.
Another challenge was recreating the “Malcolm Hood” canopy to match the one installed on the original World War II plane. The unique high visibility bubble canopy was developed in England to replace the standard North American cockpit enclosure.
“No drawings were anywhere to be found and we had to build it from pictures,” said Teeters.
Painted as “Old Crow” to honor triple ace Bud Anderson, the plane won the Reserve Grand Champion WWII Warbird and Golden Wrench Awards at Oshkosh in 2008.
Roush also hired Cal Pacific to restore a former P-51 Reno racer as “Glamorous Glennis” to honor General Chuck Yeager. That P-51 now flies as “Gentleman Jim” to honor Capt. Jim Browning, a good friend of Bud Anderson’s who did not make it home from the war.
Fantasy of Flight owner Kermit Weeks is also a Cal Pacific customer and Teeters and his crew have completed rebuilds of his Ford Tri-Motor and a Mustang called “Cripes A’ Mighty 3rd”, which was damaged in Hurricane Andrew.
Weeks’ P-51C, the former Paul Mantz Bendix Racer, was restored as “Ina the Macon Belle” to honor Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Lee Archer. Two more projects for Weeks, a P-51A and a Curtis P-40E, are currently pending completion.
In addition to aircraft restorations, dual control TF-51 Mustang conversions are one of Cal Pacific’s specialties because so many new parts are required, including an extensive list of fuselage structures and a new extended canopy.
“Restoring a Mustang takes three to five years if you really hit it hard,” explained Teeters. “We have a 10- to 15-year backlog, with four restorations in progress now and another three projects in other shops that we support with parts. In addition, we have our outside parts sales, with customers worldwide.
Teeters’ aviation history dates from decades before getting into the Mustang restoration business. He grew up as the son of a Kansas aviation pioneer and barnstormer who owned a Jenny until it crashed in 1926.
The Great Depression put a stop to Teeters’ father’s dreams of being an airmail pilot and the family eventually moved to Colorado, where Art Teeters Senior settled into a career selling life insurance. However, his love of aviation never died and he was eventually able to buy a 1947 Cessna 140, which Art Teeters Junior still owns today.
At age 13, the junior Teeters was hired to wash crop dusters at the airport in Greeley, Colorado, which soon led to a job helping convert Stearmans to dusters. He obtained his aircraft mechanics license soon after graduating from high school.
As a newlywed in 1956, Teeters was presented with an opportunity to earn some extra cash by recovering a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser after work hours. However, when he told his employer of this side project, he was given the option of turning the job over to his boss or quitting.
Teeters chose to quit and what he had just done started to sink in as he rolled his toolbox out the door.
“I had never been out of work since I was 10 years old and now I had been married for only two weeks and was out of a job,” wrote Teeters in his autobiography on Cal Pacific’s web site.
Fran, his 18-year-old bride, showed remarkable maturity and grit when she told him “you’re not out of a job … only between opportunities.”
That began a partnership between Art and Fran that has lasted over 60 years. And when a hail storm hit the area soon after the Super Cruiser project was completed, suddenly their new business, Art’s Aero Repair, had 14 more damaged aircraft to recover.
Teeters praises Fran for having each of their three children on weekends so he could be at work as usual on Monday morning. He would go on to become the first aircraft mechanic in Colorado to earn the Inspection Authorization (IA) designation.
The saga continues when Fran found a 16-room house to buy at a bargain because it had to be moved to make room for a business. She also found a deal on a vacant lot a few miles away, but it was a mud hole. Their solution was to put a full basement under the house and Fran filled the backyard one wheelbarrow at a time while continuing to help Art at the shop.
To generate extra income, they divided the house into several apartments to rent to students. Since they had no furniture and the front room of the house had a bay window large enough for a Stearman wing to pass through, that space was soon used to build and cover aircraft wings.
In 1966 Teeters moved his family from Colorado to the coast of central California to benefit the health of their oldest daughter, Christine. Because she had been born with a heart and lung condition, doctors recommended that she should live at sea level instead of “mile high” Colorado.
After working for a couple of Piper dealerships in California, in 1976 Teeters was able to obtain financing to build a 10,000-square-foot shop at the Salinas Municipal Airport, 15 miles north of Monterey. The hangar was built with the help of his son, David, who later started his own aircraft maintenance facility on the field.
The elder Teeters added another 10,000-square-foot hangar in 1996, which includes a large paint booth and a resistance spot welder capable of welding aluminum to aircraft specifications.
Daughter Lori Teeters Atkinson, who has worked at Cal Pacific since 1987, plays an important role in the business. One of her first accomplishments was computerizing the company’s inventory of more than 20,000 items. Today, in addition to being Parts Manager, she is Production Manager and Assistant Chief Inspector. Fran writes the required FAA manuals and manages the office.
Cal Pacific Airmotive continues to expand its manufacturing abilities. It recently gained FAA approvals for material substitutions that will allow the company to provide a good quality machined part to replace the original magnesium and aluminum alloy cast parts. All programming and machining is done in house, as is the case with about 95% of the parts manufactured.
“If we do the work in house, we can control the quality much better,” Art says.
“I’ve learned a greater appreciation for Fran and Lori, who have been by my side through the ups and downs,” Art says. “We have a great crew and we look forward to continuing to support the P-51 industry with their parts and restorations needs.”