Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!

"Thunder Mustang"  Update
--Reno '99-- Will We See Two Thunders?!?


Reno '97 marked the first competitive showing of the long awaited 3/4 scale offering from Nampa, Idaho's Papa 51. Looking very good and sounding even better, the airplane was entered into the only class (at that time) available to it.... Unlimited... Up against some very stiff competition from the hugely powerful veteran WWII fighter aircraft entered in the event, the "Thunder" posted a fast but not quite fast enough 338.271 mph and was not able to enter into the fray. But as we said.... She SURE looked and sounded good!

To those unfamiliar with this airplane, the Thunder Mustang is a three fourths scale, composite construction replica of the famous WWII fighter. Thought by many to be the sleekest, most beautiful propeller driven airplane in the long history of aviation, the P-51 Mustang most certainly has an enviable shape and begs reproduction. Few full-scale reproductions of the beautiful fighter have ever been completed. (notable exception: Miss Ashley II) Though several "midget mustangs" have been offered as kits or as plans over the years, nothing has ever approached the refinement and beauty of the airplane being built (in kit form) by Papa 51.

As with any new venture, there are constant improvements and changes in the initial design, such is the case with the Thunder Mustang. We reported here in an earlier update of the progress of the second airplane to be assembled by the factory. N7TR, actually a customer owned airplane, (Tommy Rose) has been used throughout its development as a factory prototype....In a statement issued to builders of the Thunder Mustang kit, Papa 51 spokesperson, Charles Denny said- "Using Tommy's Thunder Mustang as a #2 prototype, being the first production kit, has been very useful and will make building and fine tuning your Thunder Mustang a much easier job."

In a recent interview by AAFO.COM Papa 51 Spokesperson, Charles Denny, tells us of some of these changes and gives a bit of insight on the upcoming year for Papa 51 and the Thunder Mustang:

aafo:You have been using the #2 airplane (the Rose airplane) for "prototype" purposes, can you tell us some of the details that have been worked out on this airplane versus the first aircraft?

Denny: "There are only a few cosmetic changes such as additional inspection and access holes, fairings that are cleaner and more serviceable and an optional external access to the cargo area. We have made the fit-up and installation of parts easier for the builder and have lightened the entire aircraft considerably. The two biggest changes also made the Thunder Mustang stronger, lighter and easier handling. The engine mount that houses the powerful Falconer V-12 has been changed to a welded tube steel mount instead of the replica channel aluminum style. The new engine mount is stronger and lighter than the previous mount and allows much more access for maintenance. This new mount is similar to the welded steel mounts used by some of the Reno air racers in the Unlimited Class......The tailwheel has been changed to a simpler, lighter and less complex design. The retract mechanism is mounted further forward giving the airplane a better cg condition. With a bigger hydraulic actuator the extension of the tailwheel is now quicker and more precise. This new tailwheel system noticeably improves ground handling."

aafo: Much attention has gone into this (N7TR) airplane, has this hindered or helped the progress on the next "factory" airplane?

Denny: "N7TR has truly been a 2nd prototype and has helped the construction of the next factory demo along with the builders out in the field. Everything is tested and we have found ways to cut the build time."

aafo: Thousands of race fans are looking forward to seeing the beginnings of the "sky full of Thunders" this year ['99] at Reno. How is the work progressing on the next airplane and even a bigger question: Will we see the debut of the supercharged version of the Ryan Falconer V-12 in this airplane?

Denny: "Our goal is to have the next factory Thunder Mustang flying at Oshkosh. If that falls short; definitely at Reno. We hope to be flight testing the supercharger this summer."

aafo: Tommy Rose will be entering and flying his airplane in the "Sport Class" competition, are there plans to try to get the supercharged, factory airplane entered at Reno in the "Unlimited" class as well as the "Sport Class" ....will we see an airplane that is entered into two classes this year?

Denny: "Yes and yes."

aafo: Great! The paint schemes on the first two airplanes we've seen from your facility have been outstanding, now, about this time last year we got curious about the next "look" we would see on the "Thunder". Tommy's is a beautiful Red and White...... Any hint on what the factory "demo" will look like?

Denny: "That is a good question ............ What do you think, green like original or something new and racy? It will definitely not be military (there will be enough military paint schemes from builders)."

aafo: Hummn.... Now this certainly poses a thoughtful moment! Let me see..... Red is *always* faster <grin> but it's already flying..... Green is certainly nostalgic and also very fast..... Hummn.... Let's think about this one for a while!


Looking at the Thunder Mustang in its "stock" configuration, it is hard not to imagine that some of the kits will eventually be built from the "ground up" with racing in mind. There are several notable areas that receive speed gaining attention on the full size Mustang that could lend themselves to a "race prepped" T-Stang as well. Fertile imaginations around here see the future for this airplane to not only be quite fast, perhaps VERY fast indeed. There is no question that the Thunder Mustang will change the face of the competition seen annually at Reno. The extent of this change is hard to gauge at this juncture, but one thing is for sure.... It will, indeed, change! The "stock" engine, flown in the Rose Thunder Mustang, puts out a very respectable 650 HP and should easily sweep the "Sport Class" competition. Hang the 1000+hp supercharged version of the Ryan Falconer V-12 on the newly re-designed welded tube engine mount and you have one very light and powerful machine, still legal for "Sport Class" entry and likely powerful enough for a run at Unlimited as well! The thought of one airplane that meets the specs for two classes of racing is truly amazing and most likely will result in some measure of rule changes to keep the class competitive for other entry levels. There has been talk of this since the inception of the new category last year. AAFO.COM will be at the annual pilot qualifying seminar, held this year in June, we'll gather as much information on this and any other developments we can dig up. No doubt about it, 1999 will be one of the best in the history of the worlds fastest motor sport...... AIR RACING!

New entries, many modifications to several "old" favorites and upcoming contenders, will make this year one you should already have boldly marked on your calendar. If you don't have plans made yet, get cracking race fans! Hotel reservations are a must for this event and time is running short. If you are planning on attending, we strongly suggest making a week of it. The three qualifying days, prior to actual racing, see many more airplanes in the sky than during the actual events and make for some of the most exciting times of the entire week. As the teams ready for the competition during this time, the pits offer some of the most interesting viewing and off-course action you'll find anywhere in motorsports. Get those reservations and we'll see you there!

story by: Wayne Sagar

(more pictures of the Thunder Mustang)
(Thunder Mustang Website)
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The 1999 Reno National Championship Air Races Will Be Held September 16-19 At Stead Field, Reno Nevada. Qualifying and Practice Events Run September 13-15 And Offers Some Of The Most Exciting Action Of The Entire Week. For Ticket And Lodging Information go to

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