P-51D Mustang 'Miss Helen'
also known as: ‘Blue Noser’, ‘44-472216’ & ‘HO-M’
Built during 1944 by North American at their Inglewood, California plant, this Mustang was initially delivered to the United States Army Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base. In January 1945, the aircraft was shipped to the UK via Liverpool and following reassembly, was taken to Warton, Lancashire for pre-service checks.
On the 9th April 1945, the Mustang arrived at RAF Bodney in Norfolk. It was assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron of the 352nd Fighter Group, one of the most famous and successful Fighter Groups of the 8th Air Force. Four days later the Mustang was assigned to Captain Ray Littge, already an ace with 10 ½ aerial and ground victories to his name, including multiple aerial kills of BF109s, Fw190s and an advanced German jet aircraft, the Messerschmitt Me262. Littge would go on to refer to his new Mustang as Miss Helen in personal correspondence with his fiancé Helen Fischer.
On the 17th April 1945, Littge took off in Miss Helen as the leader of Red Flight on a ground attack operation from Bodney. Littge along with the rest of his flight, made several strafing passes on flak positions at the German airfield of Plattling, effectively silencing the enemy positions but taking severe damage to his Mustang in the process. Littge, in the damaged Miss Helen, proceeded to attack the airfield in seven strafing passes, destroying two Me262s and 4 BF109s. With 6 confirmed ground victories from the attack, Littge managed to get the damaged aircraft back to Bodney and would later receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
A couple of weeks later, Captain Ray Littge’s tour was over, and he returned to the United States credited with a total of 23½ air and ground victories, making him the 352nd Fighter Group’s third highest scoring ace of the war. Miss Helen was re-assigned to another pilot, Captain Russell Ross, who renamed the aircraft Miss Nita after his girlfriend and he proceeded to fly the Mustang until the end of the war. With the conflict over and the aircraft surplus to requirement, the Mustang was flown to Furth Nurnberg, Germany and entered storage.
Following 18 months in storage, ‘Miss Helen’ was transferred to the Royal Swedish Air Force on 13th June 1947, and given the serial number 26116. In April 1948, the aircraft was moved from Froson in Northern Sweden to the Flygflottilj 16 base at Uppsala where it adopted the code letter ‘Yellow F’ on its fin. Five years later the aircraft’s time in Swedish service was over and in 1953 the Mustang was one of 25 aircraft sold onto the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
During their service with the IDF, Mustangs transitioned from fighters to ground attack roles and by the end of the 1950s had been put to use as advanced trainers. ‘Miss Helen’, coded and known as ‘43’ at the time, was withdrawn from active service for the final time and found its way to the Ein Gedi Kibbutz. For a number of years the aircraft lay under the Israeli sun utilised as a children’s ‘plaything’, until British collector Robs Lamplough had the aircraft shipped back to the UK eventually arriving at Duxford in 1976.
The decision was made to begin a lengthy restoration project and during its early stages the former USAAF identify of the Mustang was discovered. Five years into the restoration the aircraft was moved to North Weald and in the early 1980s, the aircraft was given its British civilian registration G-BIXL. The Mustang returned to the sky on 5th May 1987 and following successful subsequent test flights, was repainted in her original 352nd Fighter Group scheme.
In 1989, the aircraft was one of five Mustangs to feature in the movie Memphis Belle, for which the aircraft was repainted in an olive green and grey colour scheme, featuring the codes ‘AJ-L’ and the nickname ‘Miss L’. For over a decade the Mustang was a regular airshow participant in her movie scheme, until she once again returned to her original wartime colours in the winter of 2000. In 2014, Robs Lamplough decided to part with the aircraft, at which point it was sold on to its current owners. ‘Miss Helen’ is now maintained by the Aircraft Restoration Company and remains a regular airshow favourite with one of the most incredible wartime Mustang pedigrees.