(Last week, I had a picture in the paper of an old P-51 Mustang. I received several calls from people with questions about the plane. I recalled that Don Johnson was a member of the class that took an aviation course back in 1946, so I gave him a call. Here, in his own words, is Don’s story of the P-51 and the men who took the aviation class.)
“In the fall 1946, when I was a junior, I signed up for a typing class at Sandpoint High. In about a week after school started, Mr. L.V. Hughes, who was superintendent of schools, had gotten together with O.B. Parker and they found an old P-51 fighter plane in Portland, Ore.
“The plane was surplus and was being sold for $500.
There were five businessmen who put in $100 each for the P-51: O.B. Parker, Superintendent Hughes, Clyde Fox, and the other two were possibly Cliff Patton and Jim Brown.”
“Hughes was a licensed pilot and he got permission to get the surplus plane and he started an aviation class. I quit typing and jumped into that aviation class. Gene James was working for O.B. Parker as a parts man and he was a P-51 pilot during World War II.
“Gene went to Portland and picked up the plane and flew it back to Sandpoint. The plane was licensed for one flight only, for educational purposes.
“When James reached Sandpoint he flew the plane very low right down First Avenue. He buzzed Sandpoint and there was quite a stink over that.
Gene James was not a certified teacher but he was qualified because he was a P-51 pilot. He taught aviation for one semester.
“We pulled the altimeter out of the plane and we took it back to the classroom. We used it to predict the weather and wind directions and he taught us about cloud formations and navigation.
“A mechanic out at the airport taught the second semester.
“The school only had the plane for one year. After the classes, it was parked out at the airport, where it sat for years. No one is quite sure what happened to the plane but rumor had it that it crashed.
Don suggested that I call Roger King as he might know the history of the P-51. The call paid off and Roger gave the following history of the Mustang:
“I used to have a video tape of Don Kramer who used to be the airport manager at Sandpoint. Don was there when the plane was taken away. We did a whole video story about him and he told us what happened to the P-51 Mustang. Unfortunately, in the process of duplication the tape we made was erased, but I remember his story real well.
“Don said that there were two men that came up from Arizona and when they saw the plane, they bought it. They said they would be back in a few days to pick it up. After a time, three flatbed trailers and a boom truck showed up at the airport.
“They took the propeller off in one piece and made a big crate for it. The wings and then the fuselage were put in huge wooden crates. They wrapped all the crates in tarpaper and then wrapped them again in another material. They told Don that they used the heavy duty crates because the weather got pretty bad in some of the places on their way back to Arizona.
“Some time later, Don Kramer got a call from the customs office in New York City. He was told that the two men who had purchased the P-51 had tried to ship the plane to Israel listed as, ‘farm equipment’ and that it had been confiscated.
“Don learned that the old plane that had “attacked” Sandpoint had been put back in service and sent to Korea.”