Note To the Air Force: Butt Out

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Every organization needs at least one. But it looks like the U.S. Air Force Museum is coming up one short. I'll get to the adult part in a moment, but first the reprise.

Earlier this week we reported that the Commemorative Air Force lost a court fight with the Air Force Museum over custody of one of the rarest of warbirds, an F-82 Twin Mustang. The CAF got its F-82 from the Air Force free and clear back in the 1960s and evidently had the paper work to prove it. But now the Air Force Museum wants the F-82 back. The CAF sued to keep it, but a district court in Ohio sided with the Air Force. During the court case, the CAF produced an unambiguous paper trail suggesting that all of this was legit. In other words, they didn't exactly swipe it in the middle of night from the pole on which it was perched at Lackland Air Force Base.

But the court didn't buy it. There's apparently a reversionary clause somewhere that says the government owns everything forever.

The CAF pledged to appeal the case, but in the meantime, they offered to drop the case if the Air Force would allow CAF to keep the F-82 as a static display. No deal, says the Air Force. Ship it back. So, at the moment, the CAF says it will comply, but it's pursuing the appeal.

Here's the adult part: Wasn't there someone—anyone—in the Air Force Museum who could hold both palms up and say not only is this not worth the expense of a court case, it is a PR disaster to boot. The irony is that the Air Force already has an F-82 in its collection. Here's a picture of it.

So what's going on here? Nothing but a bureaucratic turf war by the heavy hands of the Air Force museum. They can, so they are. Since they already have an F-82, they don't need two. There's no discernible national interest for the Air Force to waste taxpayer money on retrieving an airplane that they clearly transferred to private owners but now want back solely because they don't like former military airplanes to be flown out of their control.

The Air Force's position isn't entirely without merit. There's always a real risk that an irreplaceable military aircraft that flies could be lost in a crash. On the other hand, seeing an airplane actually fly rather than reposing in some dusty static display has a raw appeal and that's what the CAF is all about. Here, the Air Force seeks to deny the airplane-interested public the choice of seeing both—a museum piece and a flying example. More troubling, are they now going to go after every warbird owner out there with giveback claims?

So, I dunno…with my usual solomonic dispassion as a neutral bystander, I would just say this to the Air Force: Grow up. Get over it. Move on. Stop being a bully and wasting taxpayer money on stupid stuff like this. Let the CAF keep the F-82 and if they rebuild the thing and are unlikely enough to drive it into a smoking hole, that's their business. With reward comes risk.

It would be nice if the Air Force understood that.

Comments (22)

I've been through the USAF museum several times since I was a child and it is a national treasure for sure. I can understand the logic of not flying the only example of a historic aircraft, but I dreamed of seeing what some of those old aircraft sounded like when flying overhead. To me, it's absolutely awesome to see a group like CAF actually flying some of these historic aircraft. Without knowing all of the details, it sure seems like a dirty trick that the Air Force is pulling on the CAF. I'd hate to see them "demilitarize" all the privately owned warbirds out there - but there are those who are pushing for this to happen.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 13, 2009 7:49 PM    Report this comment

While I think the CAF is one of, if not the most, dedicated group to restoring and protecting WWII warbirds, this blog twists thing just a bit in the wrong direction.

What Paul fails to mention is that this whole thing started when CAF was trying to sell (actually trade) the airplane, not restore it to flying condition. That is what got the neck hairs standing at the USAF. I think that was even reported here on AVweb a few months ago.

That said, I agree that the whole mess is petty and juvenile, on USAF's part, considering the time the CAF has been in custody and maintaining it. However, the documents are reportedly opaque as to whether the USAF gave/donated the airplane or just loaned it. The courts sided with the USAF, unfortunately. Or is it.

Reports are that the F82 has sat in storage for most of the time the CAF has had custody. Little effort was expended to restore the aircraft to flying status, for whatever reason. Speculation was that it's unusual twin fusalage structure was too daunting to restore to flying condition, thus the reason to sell/trade.

Now for the "Adult" part? I whole heartedly agree with Paul. The USAF has spent a bunch of money stopping the CAF from making the transaction on a piece of property they had no interest in for 40 some-odd years, only to hang an albatros around our necks in taxpayer dollars.

Posted by: Roger Dugan | March 13, 2009 8:41 PM    Report this comment

>>What Paul fails to mention is that this whole thing started when CAF was trying to sell (actually trade) the airplane, not restore it to flying condition. That is what got the neck hairs standing at the USAF. I think that was even reported here on AVweb a few months ago.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 14, 2009 5:59 AM    Report this comment

I'd like to start by saying that I agree that the USAF is handling this case very poorly. But, I also would like to say that before you post comments, you should research a little bit. I don't recall the site, but yes, the CAF's F-82 is and has been un-airworthy for quite some time. It had a landing gear failure (possibly pilot error, don't remember.) Bottom line, F-82 has one standard, and one counter rotating engine. The counter rotating prop was damaged beyond repair during the botched landing. They can not, and most likely will not be able to find a replacement. I believe it to be at least 10-20 yrs since this bird has flown. The last I heard they were going to restore the bird for static display but still no counter rotating prop. I wish that they could find or mfg. a prop but odds are slim. I just don't understand how the USAF is going to take possession with out paying a pretty penny for the work which the CAF has done to the bird....

Posted by: Josh Waddell | March 14, 2009 1:19 PM    Report this comment

Actually, I did research it. I read the trial record, all of CAF's correspondence and interviewed CAF. The airplane was damaged on landing and hasn't flown since 1986. CAF doesn't have the resources to restore it to flying condition, but they believe they've found an organization that can. So they negotiated a trade, which is how the Air Force learned of the F-82. In my view, it doesn't matter whether the Air Force is steamed about the airplane flying again, or if the idea of the trade irritates them or maybe they don't like the way they mow the lawn at CAF HQ. Any way you look at it, there's no public interest for the Air Force to take back an airplane they clearly gave away and forgot about 40 years ago. The service simply lacks the wisdom to do the right thing. And it's just dumb.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 14, 2009 7:31 PM    Report this comment

There are some people in the military....

I remember a few years back in TX the Texas Air gard asked the military for a plane they answer "we do not have that plane" the TAG said if we can find one can we keep it? they said yes and the found one, after truck it to the Vally some General wanted to cut the spar of the bird and the police had to intervene since the Texans pull their guns too. They kept it!

Posted by: Ivan Menchero | March 16, 2009 3:17 AM    Report this comment

Having been in the USAF I can assure you it's no bastion of bright, they couldn't locate even one of 4 hijacked large airliners on 9.11.01. Actually I'm pretty sure they are the agency responsible for the term "military intelligence" being one of the world's best-known oxymorons.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | March 16, 2009 8:18 AM    Report this comment

As I understand the military services have taken distinctly different approaches to ownership of retired, lost and loaned aircraft. The Navy has historically argued that they maintain ownership of all of their aircraft regardless of status. Could it be the Air Force is trying to shed its "Boy Scout Camp" image and show a tough side like the Navy? Heck of an arena to try it, though

Posted by: Unknown | March 16, 2009 10:11 AM    Report this comment

What really concerns me is that this could go far beyond the F-82. What is to stop the Air Force from next laying claim to a restored abandoned warbird, such as "Glacier Girl". If this possibility exists, it could put a real damper on the continued restoration of abandoned air craft. Who is going to invest large sums of money restoring an aircraft if the possibility of it being taken away exists? The Navy's current position that they own all abandoned Naval air craft is the main cause of the limited number of Navy air craft available for show at our air shows. Is this the way the Air Force is headed? I am afraid so.

Posted by: TERRU CARMINE | March 16, 2009 9:58 PM    Report this comment

What percentage of flying warbirds have been brought back here from other countries after doing service in their militaries? It seems like claiming those would be a little harder.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | March 17, 2009 4:48 PM    Report this comment

As a retired Army command Sergeant major I would like to remind all of you. The air force song which states-Nothing can stop the United States Air it seems true.

Posted by: william durham | March 18, 2009 6:54 AM    Report this comment

Hey! Can anyone give a little Twin Mustang History?
How Many? Why were they built? What was there intended mission? Actual Mission History?
Or Web Link to such Information

Posted by: Loren Bovee | March 19, 2009 7:22 AM    Report this comment

As a member of the CAF I would like to add a few comments. These are my personal observations and are not authorized by CAF HQ. The F-82 has not been flown for a number of years because it cannot be deemed airworthy. The CAF's goal is to "preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States ....for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans." Obviously, of the CAF 171 aircraft not all are in flying condition. With rare and antique aircraft such as these, it's not always possible, both logistically and financially. Some are being restored, and for various reasons, some will never be flown again . When an aircraft cannot be SAFELY flown, it goes on static display. Mr. Dugan stated we were trying to trade/sell the aircraft. Actually, it was an agreement with The Cavanaugh Flight Museum to preserve the aircraft and several others. Operating a museum such as this is an expensive endeavor in normal times. In economic conditions such as we have now, museums must co-op with each other in order to exist. The Cavanaugh Flight Museum is a great organization and we're thankful for their co-operation.
At any rate, The USAF is simply making maintaining the museum even tougher in already tough times. If allowed to do this to the CAF (which it looks like they will) who's next? Cavanaugh, Planes of Fame, Lone Star Flight Museum, or just anyone that owns a warbird?

Posted by: Col Glenn Larson | March 19, 2009 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Guess the Soviets (Russians) ought to ask for their SU 29 Back from the AF museum as well. Ain't bureaucracy wonderful. After all is isn't theirs. A crying insult to the CAF.

Posted by: Jim Bruchas | April 2, 2009 8:36 AM    Report this comment

I have no problem with privately owned warbirds and I do believe that the CAF is a dedicated group, but I'm for the courts ruling on this one. My first and foremost concern is for the P-82 and its survival. There's a laundry list of crash warbirds the CAF can claim credit for and the P-82 is one of them. Thank God it was only a landing accident and not a total loss which the CAF (sorry to say this) is famous for.
How many airplanes does the CAF need to crash before a few standards are put in place...especially with pilot qualifications. In the last 15 years, the CAF has managed to completely destroy a B-26, a A-20 Havoc, an HE-111,P-51C, and a P-38. The P-82 accident was the result of poor judgment on landing during an airshow. My question is: how the heck do these accidents continue to happen? Most air museums around the world have no where near the accident rate the CAF has. So what is the CAF doing wrong?
The B-26 accident was the result of a stall series that went wrong.
The Heinkle (ONLY ONE FLYING AT THE TIME!!!) was totally destroyed because of a failed engine on approach.
The A-20 Havoc (another on one that flies) was obliterated because the pilot had a heart attack.
The P-38 crashed at Breckenridge TX, as a result of a duel engine failure on take off.
The P-51C crashed (and killed the pilot) because of an engine failure during a low pass debacle.
How many airplanes do they need to destroy before some kind of pilot proficiency standards are put in place?

Posted by: Bob Smith | November 12, 2009 2:58 PM    Report this comment

Organizations such as the CAF do good work. They also do VERY bad work when flying really truly virtually extinct aircraft. It is one thing to fly old aircraft, BUT not when there is only one or two remaining examples. When they fly "super-rare" aircraft the CAF cease to be a museum and become not more than a bunch of "cowboys" masquerading as "professionals". If they "found" a prop they would probably fly the aircraft.
THIS time I will side with the Air Force.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | November 13, 2009 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Not me.

The Air Force already has one nicely restored twin Mustang at the Dayton Museum. It will never fly and is thus restored for posterity to see.

If this were the only example of the airplane, I could see the point. But to me, it's one of those rare instances where the risk of seeing it fly might just be worth it.

You could apply the same logic to all of the Mustangs flying. At what point are there too few of them to allow the remainders to fly?

Not an easy question to answer.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 13, 2009 10:39 AM    Report this comment

The United States is a fairly large country. It would be best if aviation aficianodos did not have to travel almost all(in many cases)the way across the continent to view the sole remaining aircraft. For many, the costs of such travel is just too much...while to others with deeper pockets... it is easy. One aeroplane preserved is good, but not necessarily enough.

I suggest that to fly something so very rare is decidedly contrary to the interests of future generations.

The roar and beauty of such war machines tugs at our heartstrings -but might not reflect wisdom.

Perhaps this laying claim is the birth of wisdom on the part of the USAF.

(This is decidedly NOT the same thing as laying claim to all the Mustangs still flying. To assume such is to enrich an unworthy climate of fear. There might however, be wisdom if a formal policy was established as to when aircraft become too rare to fly)

Posted by: Charles Elliot | November 13, 2009 11:46 AM    Report this comment

All the more reason, in my view, for the government to butt out and let civilians fly these things if they can. If they crash it, they crash it and so it goes. There are enough others to represent the type.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 14, 2009 6:49 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps a few top-notch examples should be set aside first...certainly more than just one....and then the civilians can have a go at the remainder. The top-notch examples should be preserved static bvefore they are no longer top-notch.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | November 14, 2009 6:54 AM    Report this comment

This isn't a "civilian vs government" thing. The Air Force loaned this aircraft to the CAF. The CAF did not buy it nor was it donated. So civilians can buy and fly all they want...this does not effect them.
I do,however, find the "crash all they want- there's more" attitude disturbing. 5 or 6 P-82's in existence does not mean plentiful by any means. That means super-rare. The parts are non-existent for the P-82....thank God because the CAF would have gotten it back in the air and crashed it by now.

Posted by: Bob Smith | November 14, 2009 12:01 PM    Report this comment


The attitude that there will be others "later" is both narrow and disturbing. It is like saying we are going to have OUR fun NOW and leave the pieces to others to worry about.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | November 14, 2009 3:36 PM    Report this comment

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