P-51 Collector Installs Authentic Machine Guns

Twilight Tear

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.


  1. Speaking of…

    Anyone know a good FAA examiner in San Antonio? Finished all the pre-reqs for the PPL ASEL, just need the check ride.

    1. scoolbubba

      Use a DPE.

      FAA inspectors have much lower pass rates, and both can give you the ride. Ask your flight school for a recommendation, or better yet, ask if they’ll see if any of their guys who recently took a check ride mind if you contact them. They can give you the best gouge for the who what and hows of their check ride.

    2. Don from CT

      A DPE is definitely your best bet. I didn’t care about pass rates. I was flying 3x per week and very proficient. I cared about wait times. I was able to schedule a DPE within a week. The FAA was scheduled out 2 months.


      p.s. I was among the last people to learn to fly without GPS. Oh the joys of a whiz wheel, VOR, sectional, compass and westbend kitchen timer.

  2. jwm

    I’m a bit of a history buff myself. Most die hard gun nuts are. Modern jet aircraft are cool. But the sound of a packard built merlin is something that has to be experienced. WW2 is a fascinating time in history. I’ve been studying it since I was a kid and still find stuff I didn’t know.

    1. mk10108

      Ditto…While eating breakfast at an airport a Spitfire roared over the runway. Nothing sounds like a Merlin…everyone stopped what they were doing and stood gob-smacked as the visual and audio assaulted their senses. The pilot landed, taxied up to the restaurant and walked casually over, sat outside and ordered a coffee and a breakfast burrito….made my day.

    2. jsallison

      A Mustang ‘rings’ when it goes by at speed. I’m told it’s due to airflow through the oil cooler. I prefer the twin Allisons in a Lightning, but Merlins will do. 😉

      1. jwm

        Never heard a P38. Have heard the single allison in a couple of p40s. Lots of fun.

        1. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

          Because of the turbos and piping in the P-38’s, they sound much more mellow as they fly by. The Merlin, with those short stacks right on the headers, has a ripping sound that leaves no doubt as to what it is.

          When a P-38 is up near full throttle and coming at you, you don’t hear much at all. The P-47 is a bit louder than the ’38, but again due to the turbo (clear back in the tail of the P-47), it is nothing like the P-51.

          The loudest airplanes on the Reno Air Race course aren’t the full-on warbirds, they’re the AT-6 “Texans.” Their prop tips are just barely supersonic, and they make a hell of a racket at only 200+ MPH.

      2. Geoff PR

        Pure P-51 Mustang Whistle Sounds ” Without annoying Music ”

        Flybys of Two Beautiful Restored WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightnings

        1. jwm

          Cool invasion stripes. I don’t care what the soundtrack is. I see Mustangs and Glen Miller music starts playing in my mind.

        2. IdahoPete

          Thank you. That was real music …

      3. Jason Lynch


        The Merlin installation in the P-51 is a thing of true engineering beauty, and I’m speaking as a Brit here – it’s deservedly one of the great aircraft. Where most engine installations accept drag from radiators and the like, in the P-51 the radiator duct actually generates thrust (Meredith effect, from memory).

        1. IdahoPete

          Credit where it is due – thanks, Rolls-Royce of Britain!

          “But almost every student of the war knows the decision to re-engine the P-51 Mustang with the British-designed Rolls-Royce Merlin was one of the era’s great flashes of genius.”

    3. Geoff PR

      ” Modern jet aircraft are cool. But the sound of a packard built merlin is something that has to be experienced.”

      Hell fvcking YES!

      I live 3 miles from the airport that hosts the EAA Sun-n-Fun annual spring fly-in. It’s a slightly downsized version of Oshkosh. In ’98 or ’99 the nearby town of Kissimme Fla hosted their “Mustang Roundup” at the same time as Sun-n-Fun.

      I was cutting the grass one day when the most gorgeous sound grew louder and louder, louder then the damn lawnmower. The Roundup had sent a flight of Mustangs to do a flyby at Sun-n-Fun. I only saw maybe 10 of them through the trees.

      But Oh, that Fvcking Beautiful Sound!!!

      NOTHING else like it!

      1. Garrison Hall

        In WWII the Germans especially hated P51 “Jabos”, as much for their distinctive sound as for their destructiveness. Many contemporary accounts tell of the chilling high-pitched scream of the Merlin/Packard engine’s supercharger. Once at the races in California, I saw a 51 doing wing-overs and heard that sound. Having read the wartime accounts, I could easily understand how hearing that in ’44 or ’45 would mean one thing: RUN! Here’s what it sounds like.

        1. Tom in Oregon

          That is such a bitchen sound. Wow

        2. Zachary marrs

          “Jabos” were usually in reference to p47’s

    4. Matt G

      I heard an Allison W 24 once. Two V 12s siamesed to a common crank case. I was told it was an experimental engine that didn’t see combat before the end of the war. Guy by the name of EJ Potter here in Michigan had it in a pulling tractor.

      1. Geoff PR

        Nowadays the offshore unlimited hydroplane boats run those motors.

    5. DisThunder

      Last summer, while leaving for work, I caught sight of 2 P-51Ds flying in tandem. They were low and close enough I head them well before I saw them, and when I ran outside, I made it just in time to see them both break right in perfect tandem and rip right over my house.

      Tears ran down my face.

      1. bontai Joe

        I know the feeling. Some years back, I went to an air show in Scranton, PA and saw a P-51 flying “cover” over 2 B-17 bombers all in formation. I never ever thought I’d get to see one B-17 in flight, let alone 2 together and having a P-51 flying on top was a priceless moment. I cried too.All I could think of was the history behind that moment. And the sound of 8 big radial engines combined with the Merlin was beyond awesome!

        1. Garrison Hall

          Everytime I see one of those planes I think how they and the men who flew them saved the world. I think, “they saved us”. We should never forget our history.

        2. IdahoPete

          50% casualties for the 8th Air Force in Europe, in WWII. But they kept getting back in the planes.

          Heroes – every one of them.

        3. Thomas

          I can’t even explain it – just reading about your account and watching those planes do fly-bys and I’m tearing up too, and getting goosebumps. I don’t understand… I think part of it may be the incredible, over-whelming pride I feel and thinking of the sacrifice those who fought in that (or any) conflict made. Actually I feel that way about practically every piece of military hardware we’ve ever made in any conflict (love me those A-10’s).

  3. surlycmd

    Man, you could do some serious hog killing with that beautiful plane!

    1. TheBear

      That’s exactly what I thought too. It’s a shame he can’t fly it with the guns attached….

      Which is really stupid because it isn’t functionally any different than people shooting guns out of a helicopter.

      Then again, when have ATF regs had to make sense?

  4. Gov. William J. Le Petomane

    Well, we can’t have civilians in control of 70 year old military technology, now can we? That would be a threat to the glorious state.

    1. Pikes Pete

      All the more reason to get rid of the Constitution. The founding fathers never thought man would fly ,so therefore the C is hopelessly outdated … LOL

      1. jsallison

        Remember an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger where Norris’ I think Cessna twin was shot down by a Mustang. I was shocked, shocked I tell you, that he didn’t knock it out of the sky with a back kick.

    2. DisThunder

      Heh, you know, in this one instance, it absolutely would make the the statists piss their pants. 6 fiddies would make scrap metal out of all those fancy MRAPs, and there ain’t a Blackhawk on the planet that could outrun or out-turn a P-51.
      Man, I need to be more successful. I need a warbird, and a set of guns for it. THAT’S how you effectively defend against tyrants.

      1. Geoff PR

        And it’s good for the economy.

        Think of all those airframe/powerplant mechanics you would employ.

        Rebuilt engines gotta cost a couple hundred tho a pop…Avgas they inhale…

        Not your economy, everyone else’s.

  5. Tex300BLK

    Jeez, here I was thinking I had picked two of the worst hobbies on the wallet, guns and cars. This guy turned it up to 11. Thats 6 tax stamps, 6 registered 50 cal MG’s and just from the video clip about 10k in ammo. Oh and I heard they dont just give away those P51 thingy’s either.

    I cried a little bit just now.

    1. jsallison

      I helped provide a tank and set up a range so one of Cap Weinberger’s buds could get a bit of training on the care and feeding of the M1 Abrams MBT he had recently purchased. I was sorely tempted to ask for a job. 😉

  6. Tom in Oregon

    Holy crap!!!!
    That whole plane was a Rockin’ with those bad boys.
    Dude has some serious disposable income.

  7. Gunr

    Really neat shoot! Wonder who ended up with all that brass?

  8. There’s a phrase that my buddy and I use in situations like this, when almost inconceivable amounts of money are involved…

    You ever think maybe there’s another world out there that we just know nothing about?

    1. Gunr

      Oh, we know about it alright! Most of us can’t touch it! It’s called “tax write off”, and “off shore business office” etc.

      1. doesky2

        America grows millionaires (4 million+) like no other country in the world. Just another aspect of American exceptionalism that the Left is trying to destroy.

        1. beeskee

          The owner of this plane is from a small town in Minnesota, owns a contracting/construction company, and has built a large number of industrial plants around the country. Started as a small family-owned business with one dump truck.

  9. I do wonder if it is simply a security issue at Airventure.

    1. Geoff PR

      Kinda wondering the same thing.

      I was picturing a hanger-sized gun safe…

  10. LCB

    I once saw a Mustang doing low flybys at the airport in Hamilton, Ohio. The thing that struck me was I didn’t hear the plane until it was almost on top of me. If it had been on a strafing run the first I would have known about it was when the .50 cal bullets were chewing us up. No wonder the Germans had someone riding on the outside of tanks watching the sky.

    1. jug

      And the Warthog that they want to drop, is even better at “sneak up on them” attacks.

      1. jsallison

        The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds both have a point in their show where all attention is focused on the multi-plane formation in front of us and a solo pile-it blows through from nowhere. Never see him coming and scares the crap out of pretty much everyone there. Love it.

        1. Geoff PR

          YouTube has some vid of a B-1 supersonic low flyby in Afghanistan.

          You hear ZERO before the “BOOM”

  11. Too cool. WWII anything is beyond fascinating. That whole era and generation is something that will never ever be seen again. Not even close.

  12. Sixpack70

    I grew up being in love with the P-51 and nothings has changed all of these years later. Seeing all six .50s firing at once was really neat. Now we need to get rid of those pesky rules so he can go do some pig strafing runs in Texas.

  13. JohnF

    The P-51 is one of those technological marvels. It combined beauty, innovation, almost perfect utility for what was needed at the time and an actual high level of mission success. It has to be one of the few combat aircraft ever to hit all those sweet spots quite so neatly. It is so important to completely preserve at least one.

    1. jwm

      At the risk of starting a whole other version of caliber wars I respect the Mustang, it’s a beuaty. But the Corsair was a war winning beast.

      1. Geoff PR

        Old saying in England –

        “”The Hawker Hurricanes won the Battle of Britain, and the Spitfires got all the credit.”

        1. jwm

          I’ve seen more than one reference in history articles that claim the Hurricane shot down more Axis aircraft than all other British aircraft types combined. I’ve always been a little skeptical of this claim, but it’s cool none the less.

        2. jsallison

          The Hurris were supposed to go after the bombers while the Spits kept the 109’s off their butts. Didn’t always work but was good enough.

        3. DisThunder

          Don’t forget the Mosquito! Decent fighter, fast bomber, good with torpedos, great with intercepting, and pretty much sexy and slick with every job it was given. Made fatty Goering shit himself when the RAF used them to interrupt his speech in Berlin.

      2. jsallison

        And while I’m a confirmed Lightning fan, it was the Jug (P-47 Thunderbolt) that broke the back of the Luftwaffe. The Mustang was the coupe d’gras.

        1. Timmy!

          A) I totally agree on the Lightning.

          2) I have also heard a WWII pilot say something to the effect of, “Going into battle, you want a ‘Jug,’ but you stand next to a ‘Mustang’ for the picture you send home to your girlfriend!”

    2. JohnF

      I think the great contribution of the P-51 was that as an escort, it allowed strategic bombing of Germany. Bombing of the “Motherland” had to be halted in 1944 because the bombers were getting swept out of the skies by German aircraft. The P-51 changed all that and enabled the air superiority that was a major factor in the end of the war. Also, when not doing escort duty, the P-51 was an excellent general purpose fighter and ground attack aircraft. It’s hard to argue which aircraft was most important, but the P-51 has to be somewhere in every credible “Top Aircraft of WWII” lists.

      Add to that the non-combat attributes of its unique, innovative design and the fact that it is arguably the coolest looking aircraft of the war, and you have a very memorable plane.

  14. Javier

    OUTSTANDING !!!!!! Reminds me of the first model plane but this much more fun. ENJOY

  15. former water walker

    Seriously cool. How many people could afford to be machine gun manufacturers:-)

    1. Tyler Kee

      I sometimes wish we could all collectively vote and say, “yeah this guy doesn’t pay taxes anymore. He’s got more important things to do with the money.”

      This guy would be top of my list for a lifetime tax holiday. You know he’s just gonna spend it on planes and guns and explosions.

    2. AR-PRO

      As a manufacturer I can tell you that it’s not so much the cost of the licenses that get you, it’s all the toys you accumulate when you get them! And FYI, manufacturers don’t have to get a stamp for each firearm.

  16. Felix

    I watched an F-14 make a visit to the Reno air races one year. I find it hard to even credit my own memory, but I swear he made faster laps and sharper turns with his wings wide than the P-51s and Bearcats.

    As for on-topic, I’ve always liked the radials better. A Corsair looks and sounds better than a P-51 or Spitfire. But they are all good.

    1. jsallison

      I got no beefs with round engines. There’s a T28C Trojan locally that turns heads whenever it flies. The AT6 Texan II’s don’t hold a candle,

  17. Jerry R

    The good news about flying is it makes boating look cheap…. Guns, cars, airplanes, motorcycles, fast boats, and the list could go on. I hope to grow up some day, but at 66, it doesn’t look very likely.
    All interested in flying should spend some time on a realistic computer flight simulator. Many exist and it allows you to learn a lot about flying without incurring the cost of an instructor and airplane rent. When you get around to the real thing, you will be very familiar with a lot of the necessary skills and will be on your way to your private ticket.

    1. Geoff PR

      You can also pick up some bad habits your actual instructor will have to squash.

  18. PavePusher

    Feral hog-hunting comes to mind…

    Screw your helicopter shoots.

  19. David

    This is very cool. Loved the TV show “The Black Sheep Squadron” which highlighted the P-51. I’m sure this gentleman could find a way to shoot those guns from the air as Mike Dillon of Dillon Precision has a little jet with which he does strafing runs out in the desert. I believe he was profiled on American Shooter doing it.

    1. Felix

      Black Sheep squadron flew Corsairs in the south Pacific.

  20. KCK

    I live in SE Wisconsin in a town that happens to be on the flyway to the annual EAA extravaganza in Oshkosh. Many different air craft fly over my house but when a formation of War Birds fly by, they have such a distinctive RPM and prop sound that I can imagine my self to be Brit in the village of Dover watching a bunch of brave men going to do what had to be done. It is not an echo of 70 years ago, it is the real thing.
    I salute and shed a tear or two. We all go to the cemetery on Memorial Day to honor the dead but when I hear those planes, the men that flew them over the Channel, live on.

  21. Don Davis

    In my former life as a newspaper photographer, I was asked by Mustang pilot at airshow if I wanted to fly “backseat” in his 51 during the show. Crammed my 6’3″ and cameras in and off we went, along with Corsair and Avenger. If you think that a Merlin sounds great from outside, you have NO IDEA what it is like at 300 indicated in a low level flyby formation.
    Talk about addiction, the pilot has an airstrip and hangar at his home for his AT-6. Keeps the P51 at rented hangar at local airport facility. His fuel credit card statement must be interesting!

  22. Patrick

    Does anyone know how to get rid of these new ads? Adblock doesn’t work. Should I just try ad block extensions until one works?

  23. Jim W.

    When I was at the Springfield Armory Museum in the early 80’s, one of the displays they had were the six Browning .50’s from the Mustang that shot down the last Zero downed in WWII. They were displayed next to a 20mm Vulcan and a couple of mini-guns. Quite a place to visit if you get the chance.

  24. The P-51 is the most beautiful thing ever to fly. The sound does something to my heart and guts that makes me proud and long to have been born in time fly one against the Third Reich.
    A Pox on the FAA and their stupid regs! All WWII warbirds should have their full complement of machine guns, ’cause, MURICA!

  25. Tominator

    A little factoid about the .50 Browning…

    Late in the war they rounds were loaded so as to create a 3FT cone at 1000 yards.

    Years ago I read this in an encyclopedia I think. It had a half page color picture of ammo being loaded into a Thunderbolt. The bullets were all color coded.

    I’ve looked all over for verification on the ‘net.

    My Father was a crew chief on B29’s during the Korean Conflict and I had showen him that article back then and he nodded in agreement but it was hard to drag any stories from him. When around other aviators he opened up and most of his history was overheard during these conversations.

    Anyone ever runs onto this info please post up!

    1. jwm

      Tominator. It wasn’t the ammo. The guns were “harmonised” by the ground crews. The wing mounted guns on the fighters had to have their guns adjusted, which is what the ground crews were doing when they fired the guns into the berms, so that instead of spreading rounds all over creation they came together in one destructive mass at a pre set distance. Nose mounted guns like the P38 carried didn’t need much tweaking. The real challenge with the P38 was getting the 4 .50’s and the single 20mm to harmonise.

      As for the coloroded ammo. That’s a common trait with military ammo. Different colors denote different types of projectil. Armor piercing, explosive and my favorite, armor piercing incindiery.

      1. Tominator

        I am familiar with this practice, but this concerned the ammo.

        Harmonizing was always a problem with multiple gun mounting on all aircraft and includes multiple guns on the same mounting.

        Thanks for chiming in though! Most do not understand just how advanced the aircraft got in WWII and the maintenance required.

  26. KingSarc48265

    Fagen should have called Guinness up before he sighted in the guns. He would have easily broke the world record for biggest sh!t eating grin when he fired 6 .50cals while sitting in a P-51. I know I would.

  27. Jonathan - Houston

    Pure awesome.

  28. PeterK

    This is the coolest thing I’ve read in a long time. Very very awesome.

  29. Tom in Maryland

    As a lifelong shooter and a former Marine F-4 pilot, I can say that air-to-air gunnery is great fun. My air-to-air gunnery with the M2 Browning .50s was in the T-2, which is a small training jet (this was 40 yrs ago.) Air-to-air in the F-4 was with a MK IV 20mm gun. Great fun! I knew a bunch of WWII pilots when I was growing up, but I was so young I didn’t even know what questions to ask.

  30. JT

    I really don’t see how ATF rules are preventing him from flying with the guns in and firing them at targets on the ground. There are a few places where you can fire an MG from a helicopter I can see state laws preventing him, but not ATF rules.

  31. That is out-by-God-standing!

    I just ripped off the link to post over at my site, the PilotsPub.org.

    I am sure the aero-geeks over there will get a kick out of it, like I did.

    Oh, to have that kind of fun-money!

  32. joshua shaw

    Ship it to the UAE, and start flying sorties with it against Islamic State targets. Can you imagine how awesome that would be? What a morale boost!

    1. Tominator

      As cool as the WWII fighters are, the A1E Skyraider is twice the aircraft if we stick to prop jobs.

  33. Sheriff

    Of course the FAA and ATF make things near impossible. It’s the federal government out of control. The FAA refused to renew my Helicopter CFII even though I completed the renewal course on time, and thought I had submitted the paperwork, but inadvertently forgot to get the paperwork in on time- BECAUSE I’M A BUSY FULL TIME WORKING PROFESSIONAL MEDEVAC PILOT!!! So a kid with 400 hours of flight time can get renewed if he gets his paperwork in “on time”, but a full time professional with 4,000+ hours of flight time gets punitive treatment for an honest paperwork timing mistake!

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