Nick and I are the resident TTAG aviation geeks. Nick’s actually doing something about it by getting his pilot’s license, while I stare longingly at the skies, reading every aviation publication I can find. I regularly check out Foxtrot Alpha as part of that search which is how I happened along the story of Twilight Tear, a P-51 Mustang with six real-life, functional machine guns mounted in the wings . . .
According to the EAA article on the plane, owner and warbird collector Ron Fagen wasn’t just satisfied to have a restored P-51. I mean, with so many out there, how’s a guy supposed to differentiate himself? And given the illustrious pedigree of Twilight Tear, I understand Ron’s desire to restore it to functional condition. From EAA’s report on it
Fagan jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops needed to acquire a license from the ATF as a machine gun manufacturer so he could restore a set of six Browning .50-caliber guns. With help from a Minnesota National Guard expert and cooperation from local law enforcement, they jacked up the Mustang’s tail and fired the guns into a berm at 75 yards on a range built by Fagen’s excavation company. You can watch the video on a screen alongside the airplane here at AirVenture.
It looks just like the old films of boresighting Mustang guns during the war, only in color. The banner “target” is also on display next to Twilight Tear, complete with all the half-inch bullet holes.
But the guns you see here in Twilight Tear’s wings are not the real ones. ATF rules are much stricter once the airplane leaves the ground. So Fagen has aluminum replica Brownings installed in the wings, and the real .50 calibers stayed home in Minnesota under lock and key.
In discussions with non gun and non aviation folks, I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions that being an airplane guy is not for the meek of heart or the light of wallet. If being a gun collector is a sickness, being an airplane collector is a disease. If you met a guy who spent a million dollars on a gun collection, he’d have a pretty serious collection. The same money wouldn’t even buy half of a P-51. Not to mention the fact that hourly operating costs are in excess of several thousand dollars per hour.
All that said, I guess it isn’t really that hard to imagine that with several million dollars sunk in the project, Mr. Fagen wouldn’t pop the extra couple hundred thousand to get six real machine guns, the food to feed them, and file the necessary paperwork with the ATF to manufacture machine guns. All that work, and he can’t even take the guns up in the air. Which is a damn shame because I can think of one person offhand with a couple sections of land in West Texas that would gladly let him do some strafing runs with those big guns a blazing.
I’m super jealous of this whole project. Everything I love wrapped up in one neat, tidy, fast, soaring package. My hat’s off to you Mr. Fagen. I hope you get to show off your plane to as many WWII vets as time and money allow. I imagine seeing those six guns humming would surely bring a tear to the eyes of a few crusty vets.