Wild Hair

 

Republic Aircraft P-47N Thunderbolt SN: 44-89425

 

The Real Story

 

By CMSGT Ernest Newman, USAF (Ret)

 

A

Peterson Air & Space Museum

Volunteer

 

The American aircraft industries — even our own Wild Hair — was a significant beneficiary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.  Professionals were at risk of extermination by Russian revolutionaries who wreaked havoc throughout the former Czar’s empire.  Thousands left their homelands by any possible means.  Two young Georgians, Alexander DeSeversky and Alexander Kartvell, fled to safety in America, where they pioneered innovative airplane designs, including the P-47.

 

Alexander DeSeversky, a renowned aero engineer, had been sent by his government to the United States to study the manufacturing and design of aircraft.   The Communist revolution, with escalating violence and the mass executions of friends and associates, made it impossible for him to return home.  He immediately applied for American citizenship.  During the ensuing years he founded the Seversky Aircraft Corporation.  Even though he had obtained many government contracts, he was never able to satisfy the Board of Directors, as losses were constant.  He was removed, and after reorganization, the Republic Aircraft Company was born; however, Alexander DeSeversky was not finished yet.

 

Alexander Kartveli would also come to be recognized as one of the greatest aircraft engineers of the twentieth century.  In 1919, prior to Georgia’s occupation by the Red Army, his government had sent him to Paris to expound upon his knowledge of artillery.  After the communist victory, he elected to remain in France and gained entrance to the “Ecole Superieure d’Aeronautique” in Paris.  For needed income, he gave private lessons in mathematics and performed as a trapeze artist.

 

Subsequent to graduation, the Bleriot Company employed Kartveli and while there he designed two aircraft - the “Bernard” and the “Ferbois.”  In 1924, one of his aircrafts became the fastest aircraft in the world by achieving a new speed record.  Kartveli’s life was about to change.

 

Charles Levine, an eccentric American millionaire, had visions of building an enormous transatlantic transport aircraft.  He brought Kartveli to New York in 1927.   Levine’s project failed and Kartveli found employment with the Fokker American Company, until it too went bankrupt in 1931.   It was at this time that Alexander Kartveli met Alexander DeSeversky; although both were from the capital, Tbilisi, in Georgia, their first meeting was in America.   Eventually, Kartveli would be appointed Chief Engineer for the P-47 Thunderbolt project.  

 

The meeting of these two giant aeronautical engineers resulted in designing one of the greatest airplanes of WWII. This aircraft had such a direct impact on so many lives and battles in WWII that its reputation will live on as long as there is a pilot or crew chief to tell their stories.   The P/F-47, Wild Hair, now displayed in the historic City Hangar does not have a combat record, but does have a story to tell!

 

Our aircraft is part of the last batch of P-47Ns produced by the Republic Aviation plant in Farmingdale, NY after the end of WWII.   It was assigned the identification P-47N-25-RE, SN:  44-89425.  It was made available on 5 October 1945 and delivered to the United States Army Air Force at Scott Army Air Field, Gary, Indiana on 11 October 1945.  For the next six years it meandered around the county with assignments at Independence, KS; Spokane, WA; Hill Army Air Field, UT; Dow AFB, ME; the Greater Pittsburgh Airport, PA and then it was placed in storage at Tinker AFB, OK on 10 December 1951.  Less than six months later, Wild Hair  was removed from storage and on 25 April 1952, it was assigned to the 198th Fighter Squadron, Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG).  Wild Hair remained there until December 1954, making PRANG the last USAF operational unit to fly the F-47. (NOTE:  The prefix “P” for Pursuit was changed to “F” for Fighter in July 1948.)  According to Maxwell AFB Research Center records, it went into storage again on 22 December 1954, without identifying the storage facility.  However, very interesting facts have now surfaced about Wild Hair, and this is the writer’s assumption of the “Real Story.”

 

The P/F-47s with PRANG were replaced by the F-86 in the mid-1950s and were dispersed around the world for static display and other uses.  The Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio received one, as did the Museum of Speed in Daytona Beach, Fl.  The CIA received a number of the aircraft for their secret activities.  Others ended up in Nicaragua.   An interesting side note here is taken from the P-47 Pilots Association Newsletter, August 1971.  “One was saved because one of the guard flyers was chief of maintenance, and also head of the aviation department at the local vocational school.  At the school he organized an airframe and power plant division, which, of course, needed material to work with. “So,” he explains reasonably, “I just turned one of the doomed airplanes over to myself.”  When the Puerto Rico Air National Guard celebrated its 20th Anniversary, it got this Jug back and began the project of putting it back in flying condition.”

 

The exact whereabouts of Wild Hair was a mystery from December 1954 to 1969.  We knew after 1969 it was at Stewart AFB, NY and Perrin AFB, TX, where it did “gate guard duty.” You are now going to travel through time and be with Wild Hair during those unknown years.

 

Wild Hair was an “N” model, modified to add additional fuel cells and other changes.  This added fuel capacity made this aircraft a “long-range” fighter aircraft.  In 1950, Sampson AFB, Geneva, NY, was opened as a basic training facility.  A new runway was completed in 1954.  Although the runway was referred to as Sampson, it was actually located on the Seneca Army Depot facility near Romulus, NY - across the road from Sampson.  At one time there were twenty-four aircraft on display around the base. The Peterson Air & Space Museum now has in its files, a picture of Wild Hair dated 1955 with a pilot on board  in operation on either a taxi way or runway.  The location depicted in the photograph is Isla Grande Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Also, the Sampson AFB Veterans Association has provided a photo of Wild Hair taken between 14 and 26 April 1955 showing Wild Hair on static display in area “H” on Sampson AFB.   This writer believes that in early 1955, Wild Hair filed a flight plan from San Juan, Puerto Rico with its destination being Sampson AFB with a fuel stop along the way. 

 

In 1956, Sampson AFB was selected for closure.  Auctions were held to remove the static displays around the base.  Some of the aircraft purchased by winning bidders  were dismantled on site and sold for scrap; fortunately, not Wild Hair.  We do not know the parties involved, nor the deals made; however, we do know that Wild Hair  was moved to a veterans’ organization located in Newark, NY (not New Jersey), where it became another static display.  Shortly after its arrival, the organization moved to another location that could not accommodate Wild Hair.  In less than a year, it was moved again.

 

The parties involved with this event are not known, but in late 1956 or early 1957, Wild Hair was at another veterans’ organization in Shortsville, NY.  We have been told that it was “in like new condition” when it arrived.  We also know during the ensuing years, a number of parties were interested in buying Wild Hair, but the owners would not budge.  While at this location it was displayed without any security protection and without cover from the elements.  With complete disregard of the historic value of this aircraft, vandalism and deterioration took its toll.

 

Kurt Muller was an aircraft enthusiast during his teenage years and the P/F-47 was his favorite aircraft.  In 1966, while his parents were taking his sister to college in upstate New York, their travels took them through Shortsville, New York, and by a decrepit and vandalized P/F-47.  He pleaded for his Dad to stop so he could inquire about the aircraft.  He was able to speak to someone inside the facility that owned the aircraft and to his dismay there were no plans of any kind to save it.  Immediately upon returning home he wrote to every museum he could locate in the area.  Few responded and those that did were not interested, as the aircraft was still owned by the U.S. government.  Kurt even had a short article describing the deterioration published in the aero magazine Air Classic.  Still, he received no response. 

 

A year or so later, Kurt received a letter, dated 13 Nov 1968, from the Smithsonian Museum which had been included in his mass mailing.  In that letter they stated that Stewart AFB, near Newburgh, NY was interested in a P/F-47 since their unit had flown this aircraft in WWII.  The Smithsonian suggested he contact a Captain Boswell, Aide-de-Camp to the Commander, First Air Force, at Stewart AFB, for possible negotiations with the veterans’ group that had the aircraft.  Kurt immediately contacted Captain Boswell and they began to discuss a trade that would give the veterans’ group an F-86 in exchange for the P/F-47.  As soon as the negotiations were finalized, Stewart AFB restored the P/F-47 and, on 9 October 1969, Major General Joseph L. Dickman, Commander, First Air Force, unveiled the restored P/F-47.  This dedication ceremony included Alexander Kartveli, designer of the P-47.  Kurt Muller was also invited to attend; however, he was in Florida attending college.  Shortly after this ceremony, Stewart AFB closed. 

 

In November 1969, our P/F-47 found its way to Perrin AFB, Sherman, Texas, the F-102 flying training base for the Air Defense Command.  Our plane was on display near the main gate, but it no longer was identified as Wild Hair.  Instead, TSGT Richard R. Sherry, USAF Retired, writes, “18 June 1970.  Aircraft observed and photographed as “Gate Guard” at Perrin AFB, TX.  Aircraft was painted olive drab with a yellow checker nose and tail and carried Unit Code of S*AF, implying that the aircraft had served in WWII combat, which it had not.  It incorrectly carried post 1947 national insignia (star and bar) with the earlier WWII Unit code.  The Unit Code cannot be found in available historical records.”   Wild Hair had been at Perrin AFB almost a year when there was a familiar announcement - Perrin AFB was selected for closure. 

 

Wild Hair arrived at Peterson AFB from Perrin on 18 February 1971.  Restoration activity began shortly thereafter, and the aircraft was eventually mounted on a pylon near the main gate.    A dedication ceremony was held 3 May 1971, with many dignitaries including members of the P-47 Pilots’ Association.  After 30 years at this location, structural fatigue, atmospheric conditions, bird nests and vermin required it to be moved to a friendlier environment – The Historic City Hangar.

 

During the past four years, many museum volunteers have pampered this aircraft as if it was their own.  These volunteers have dedicated approximately 4,500 hours on this restoration project.  Other base activities, too many to list; have unhesitatingly been there when needed.  To all those great people, the Peterson Air & Space Museum extends a big THANK YOU for another job well done.

 

Lastly, the name Wild Hair is the correct spelling.  Its origin was unknown until the Peterson Air and Space Museum was provided with this beautiful and heart warming story. 

 

Fernando E. Daleccio is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant.  His father was one of the first fifty enlisted members to be assigned to the Puerto Rico Air National Guard in 1947.  His Dad was, to say the least, “madly in love with the P-47”.  He related to Fernando many stories about his “Thunderbolt days” in the Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG) and the one Fernando always remembered was the story about how Wild Hair got its name.

 

It seems that this airplane had a vibration that failed to be corrected after multiple engine and propeller changes.  The vibration would not disappear, but it was considered manageable.  One day one of the pilots in the unit came down to the flight line, and after discussing maintenance matters said, “it seems like this thing has a wild hair somewhere” and the name stuck.

 

Then Fernando tells his Dad’s story as to how the name became “nose art.”

 

His Dad missed being in WWII by just two years and in keeping with the glamour of the war days, “B” flight decided to paint names and “nose art” on the cowlings, although strictly prohibited by the Maintenance Officer.  So, in good old enlisted fashion, both he and Sergeant Hipolit o Cuestas (nose art artist) went to supply and signed out an extra set of cowlings.  The planes’ original cowlings were removed and taken to a back room in the supply building for artwork.  After a few days, a miraculous thing happened.  A set of cowlings with name and nose art appeared on the airplane.  It wasn’t long until the other pilots got their orders in and the rest is history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as his Dad could remember, the vibration problem was never corrected and Wild Hair left Puerto Rico with the same “insidious” vibration.  Fernando tells us his Dad and Sgt Cuestas are no longer with us, yet, being the best of friends, they are still crewing.

 

Now, you know the Real Story.

(Revised July 2008)

 

Declaration:  Information for this story was gathered from files within the Peterson A&SM, museum volunteers, various web sites, the P-47 Pilots Association News Letter, the Sampson AFB Veterans’ Association, Tim Savage and Kurt Muller.  The last portion telling the stories about Wild Hair getting its name and the art work on the engine cowling was provided by MSgt Fernando Daleccio, USAF (Ret), son of CMSGT Daleccio, USAF (Ret), formerly with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

 

NOTE:  Should the reader know of any information contained in this story that is not correct, PLEASE let us know at the email address below.  Provide the correct information and any backup documents, if available.

 

colorockymthi@comcast.net