‘Red Tail’ P-51 damaged in landing incident

A P-51C Mustang fighter with a rich Minnesota history, is heading for its third major repair/restoration after its pilot didn’t or couldn’t lower the landing gear during a flight at its new home in Dallas.

Photo: Commemorative Air Force.

The airplane, one of only three like it still flying, has been restored twice by volunteers in South St. Paul as a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen.

“I take full responsibility for what was simply a case of pilot error,” pilot Bill Shepard, wrote on the website of the Red Tail Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, which is trying to raise money for the repairs.

The Mustang was once a fixture in the skies over the Twin Cities. The Red Tail Squadron was started in Minnesota by Donald Hinz of Woodbury, who wanted to educate kids about the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black squadron in World War II that proved its ability fly as well as — possibly better than — white pilots of the day. Hinz’s group raised thousands to restore the plane, finishing it in 2003.

A year later, however, Hinz was the lone pilot when he reported engine problems after performing “fly-bys” for the “Wings of Freedom: Salute to Veterans” show at the airport in Red Wing. He avoided houses but crashed about 30 seconds later. Hinz, 60, died the next day.

As much as a tribute to him as the Tuskegee Airmen, local volunteers spent five years raising money and traveling to Wahpeton to work on the aircraft.

In August 2009, it returned to its “home,” the CAF’s Minnesota hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul.

By rights, it should have stayed in Minnesota. But the plane is expensive to operate, the local chapter lost some of its ability to raise funds, and not enough people purchased rides in it to support the plane. The national CAF organization moved the plane to Texas instead, leaving behind a B-25 bomber and a few smaller planes.