A friend who has an interest in the 352nd Fighter Squadron recently reminded me about the excellent Flying Heritage Collection P51-D-20-NA (A/C 44-723364) SX-L “Upupa Epops.” Now I know this breaks the historical sequence of my blog and I have said elsewhere on this site I’m interested in the historical record and not heritage, but I think I can justify breaking my rule. Firstly, it is a rare survivor – it actually flew from Raydon during WWII and is not, like most, just painted to represent a 353rd aircraft. Secondly, they have gone to immense effort to restore the aircraft as authentically as possible – the detail is incredible. If you check out the Flying Heritage website on the above link they also have some nice wartime pictures of the aircraft – so that covers the historical record. Oh, and I just love Mustangs.
The aircraft was flown by Capt. Harrison “Bud” Tordoff and was his second Mustang to carry the name “Upupa Epops.” Tordoff got the name from the Latin for the Hoopoe bird – noted for its ungainly flight. This certainly wasn’t the case with Tordoff whose career with the 352nd included shooting down an Me262 on March 31, 1945. Sadly Tordoff passed away July 23, 2008, but I was lucky to correspond with him and learn more about his time with the Squadron (which I’ll detail when I get to it chronologically) and of his important work at the University of Minnesota to restore the devastated Peregrine Falcon population.
If it’s possible to give the Flying Heritage Collection a negative review in any sense it has to be on some of their focus. As with a lot of heritage (which is not history) there is a tendency to cherry pick topics and avoid awkward questions and aspects of the air war. There are clear dangers for institutions here of getting too far ahead of the public – as the Smithsonian Institute found to their cost with the Enola Gay controversy of the 1990s. Clearly much sensitivity is required in dealing with emotive topics and this does mean sometimes not all aspects of the air war are covered by organisations. To their credit, Flying Heritage, on their website, try to set the aircraft in the context of developments in “airframe, power, weaponry, means and capacity, support technology and political will.” Political will aside, to my mind, this rather ignores a large part of the human element of the story. While it is important to know about Bud Tordoff and his aircraft, we also need the wider context of how these aircraft were operated in new and innovative ways. Technological development went hand in hand with tactical and strategic development. The website, at least, leaves the non-specialist wondering what, for instance, the 352nd Fighter Squadron or 353rd Fighter Group actually were – how were they constituted, how did they operate, what part did organisation play in bringing the Mustang to bear? This is clearly not just a question of the arrival of the Mustang with superior performance and range. It’s a question of human trial and error in the development of command and control tactics to deploy airpower effectively. I have not visited the museum so maybe they cover these aspects further there, but the website, at least, misses a big part of the story which is disappointing for such a well-funded organisation.
Getting back to “Upupa Epops,” there are some really nice videos posted on the internet by the Flying Heritage Collection that I link at the bottom of this post. Note that the aircraft name artwork was originally incorrectly painted in yellow – now changed to the correct red. Enjoy…