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Saying “So Long” To An Old Friend

Paul Poberezny retires Paul I to the Eagle Hangar

February 6, 2003 - Framed by a replica of his first aircraft—a Waco primary glider—and one of his dear favorites—the P-51D Mustang—EAA Founder and Chairman Paul Poberezny eloquently enshrined the noble warbird, Paul 1, to the EAA AirVenture Museum at a special event February 5 at Museum’s Eagle Hangar.

Click image for larger view
Paul and Paul I:  Paul Poberezny committed the P-51D to posterity on February 5. 
(Photo by Jim Koepnick)

Paul’s son, EAA President Tom Poberezny, gave a heartfelt introduction in which he expressed pride that the airplane, as well as the Wright Memorial Award his dad received two months ago, would be shared in perpetuity with the tens of thousands of EAAers and others visiting the museum.

Paul walked to the podium, turned slowly to his left, and said softly to the vintage World War II fighter, “You’ve been a close friend for 25 years.” Paul then faced the 350 people on hand for the special occasion (including one who drove 500 miles to attend) and said, “I’m gonna miss her.” Several nodded appreciably, no doubt recalling the time they sat behind Paul during the most thrilling airplane ride of their lives. He gladly provided a lot of rides in N3451D, serial No. 44-75007.

The epitome of American piston-powered fighters, or pursuit planes as they were called back then, the North American P-51 was designed from paper to prototype in a mere 117 days. Originally called the Apache, the British, the airplane’s first customer, renamed it Mustang. At the peak of production, a new P-51 rolled off a North American assembly line every 66 minutes.

Paul’s love affair with the P-51 began as a flight student at Pursuit School in Brownsville, Texas, during the war. Along with Mustangs, he flew P-39s, P-47s, P-63s, and P-40s there. Paul is thought to be the only living pilot to have flown every P-51 model, from the XP-51, which watched the proceedings from the back of the EAA AirVenture Museum’s Eagle Hangar, to the P-51H. Paul I, which received a Cavalier Aircraft conversion in 1966, was acquired from racer Jerry Brassfield in 1977.

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Three hundred fifty people packed EAA's living tribute to World War II military aviation, Eagle Hangar.
(Photo by Jim Koepnick)

In the early 1980s, EAA traded one of the museum’s Northrop Alphas for the rare XP-51 prototype, which was in storage at the Smithsonian's Silver Hill facility. EAA restored the airplane to flying condition, and Paul and Gene Chase, a World War II naval aviator, flew it on special occasions, including EAA conventions. A sputtering engine on what would be its last flight on August 2, 1982, convinced Paul that the aircraft was just too valuable to fly. “I figured I’d have to belly the thing, but I made it back to the airport,” he said. “That was it.”

Same goes for Paul I, which assumes permanent display in the Eagle Hangar along with the only restored Mustang prototype. These two important aircraft create an important and unique exhibit for all to enjoy in perpetuity.
Like the Wright Memorial Award he received in December, positioned next to Paul I for the evening, Paul wanted to share the airplane with his EAA family. “It (Paul I) belongs to the people, like this wonderful award,” he said. “It belongs here.”

Paul concluded the evening with a favorite story, about seeing a man examining the XP-51 at an EAA convention in the 1980s. Always eager to promote an interest in aviation, Paul started telling the gentleman about the airplane. None needed, the man said. His name was Edgar Schmued, the man who led the P-51 design team.

Warm Messages From Attendees

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