exists on the history of the Beguine and of the
people involved in the creation of this singular beautiful
example and of its revolutionary concept in the air racer's
desire for more speed. More intrigue surrounds the story of
Beguine's conception than of its performance, though
it did win the 1949 SOHIO race with a speed of 388 MPH
flying a much longer course than its competitors because of
pilot technique it is purportedly reported.
In 1949, the presence of Beguine
on the tarmac at Cleveland must have been an imposing sight,
if nothing else it had to enhance the ego of J.D. Reed as he
stood around "learnedly" and proudly answering questions of
his contribution to this conceptually radical racer
concurrently questioning his own wisdom for selling this
airplane to Jacqueline Cochran. After all, it did make for
a good conversation piece and Texans did like to talk. Yet
indeed he was a vital contributor, for he was the financial
enabler in building up his racing stable to three aircraft,
any of which could have been a winner in any given race.
Exposure to the 1947 Miami and Cleveland air races just
whetted his appetite and the addiction to father a winner
was an impetus.
In 1947, a five foot two, 125-pounder
of boundless energies named Paul Penny Penrose
entered the lives of J.D. Reed and Charlie Walling, the
pilot who had flown Reed's modified F-5G (P38) racer, NX25Y
in Miami and the Thompson. His entrance was a high speed
pass in a black P-51 named Wrath at the Miami airport during
qualifications for the 1947 Miami All-American Air Races as
he let the competitors know he was the one they had to
contend with. Ultimately, he did win the race with Charlie
Walling placing second. This P-51 (N37492) was the same
aircraft flown by George Welch in the 1946 Thompson who
dropped out early in the race with mechanical problems.
While at the 1947 Cleveland Air Races,
Penrose made a proposition to J.D. Reed that if he bought a
P-51, he, Penrose, a former North American Aviation test
pilot and now an airline pilot with Western Air Lines, would
deliver the airplane to North American Aviation at
Inglewood, Mines Field, (now Los Angeles International
Airport) for the engineers to redesign and physically modify
the airplane for maximum speed -- at no charge. The
engineers and mechanics to be working for gratis on their
time off. Something totally unheard of then and
Even more conjecture exists that with
the installation of the radiator pods it was necessary to
cut up to 20% (not confirmed) of effective aileron surface
on each wing which would effect roll rate and recovery --
don't know! And there is another thought that lack of
fillets at the radiator pod/wing juncture might be a
contributor -- again, don't know! Though it isn't that
clear dimension-wise it is possible some aileron authority
may have been lost with the installation of the pod as noted
on the right.
It was to be of a radical design change
for the Mustang configuration with incorporation of the
glycol coolant and oil radiators installed in pods mounted
centreline off each wing tip and the removal of the
traditional coolant duct at the bottom of the aircraft.
Additionally, it was to incorporate the dorsal fin of the
P-51D for greater directional stability. Note the
difference between the "C" and "D" model verticals in the
above pictures. Of course it was understood Penrose would
be the pilot of this then radical aircraft. As a point of
interest Lockheed had modified two separate P-80As to test
different size ramjet engines (50-cm and 76 cm in diameter)
and one set of these pods was used as the housing for the
The financial arrangement for this
modification was intriguing and J.D., known to be the
ultimate penny pincher jumped at the chance, though
harbouring restraint on the precept nothing in life is for
free. On the other hand, the promise this would be the
fastest unlimited racer to compete in the Cleveland National
Air Races and particularly the Thompson was inviting. The
die was cast. And so, the celebrated portion of Beguine's
life began as an abandoned P-51C languishing in Wichita
Falls, Texas in the late '47 or early '48 time period,
awaiting its discovery and new found life.
After the Cleveland Air Races, J.D.
Reed was impressed with both Penrose's ability but as well
with the P-51 (N37492) Penrose competed in the 1947 Thompson
and negotiated with the owner of the aircraft and bought it,
renaming it "Jay Dee". Originally, it was his intent to
have two unlimited racers in his racing stable, the P-51 and
the converted F-5 (P-38) NX25Y, but now the possibility of
having three racers and three competent pilots was even more
enticing. Of course, ego always enters into the picture.
Life for J.D. Reed could not have been better.
After J.D. found the P-51C in Wichita
Falls, he called Penrose to pick it up declaring it was in
tip top condition, but for those knowing J. D., they rather
imagine he never saw the airplane and it most probably was
in sad shape. It was. Tires flat, hydraulic, coolant, oil
and perhaps even fuel leaks all over the place, and just
plain filthy from non-attention. Not a very auspicious
beginning for what was to be the most celebrated racer of
the forties and though its notoriety span was not long, it
was enduring that even today, a half a century later, the
mere mention of its name evokes dialogue.
Penny ultimately delivered it to North
American Aviation and one could just picture the NAA
engineers elation at having a "house mouse", as in their
parlance they referred to engineering test articles. They
at last had an example to verify their aerodynamic concept
postulations which in all probability was proposed to the
military during the war years and denied for a multitude of
reasons. Exact date of completion at these writings is not
known though it was believed to be a month or so before the
Cleveland Air Races in 1948, but after several test flights,
Penrose reported to Reed the airplane suffered from roll
instability problems and should not consider participation
in the 1948 Thompson. Penrose declared he was having
problems with rolls and roll rates. He said, "- - he'd
crank it over and it didn't want to correct, wanted to keep
rolling and he knew he had a problem."
Ever the opportunist for a bit
of press and publicity, J.D. still wanted the airplane to
show off in Cleveland and serve notice to all, this was the
one to keep an eye on in the '49 Thompson. Unfortunately,
Paul Penrose had contracted with Art Chester to fly Sweet
Pea and had to be in Cleveland right that instant and would
be unable to ferry Beguine. With Charlie Walling
present in J.D.'s hotel room as he spoke with Penny,
J.D. was heard to emphatically say, "- - - if you can't fly
the airplane back here, don't let anybody else bring it."
However, Penny had other thoughts; he as well wanted to
see it back in Cleveland for after all it was his baby as
well. Arrangements were made with North American and it is
not clear if they recommended Joe Howard to ferry it back.
Joe Howard had lots of P-51 experience and was a fighter
pilot and had also competed as a lieutenant in the 1947
Thompson (Jet Division) Trophy Race, placing second in a
P-80A. So, despite J.D.'s declaration Joe Howard departed
Los Angeles, landed in Phoenix and it is assumed he
refuelled and for one reason or another somewhere over
Oklahoma he ran out of gas and bellied it in.
Walling thought J.D. was going to kill Penrose when they
found out about it. He was upset to say the least. J.D.
set in motion its recovery and sent some people up there,
they jacked it up, put the gear down, installed another
prop and flew it to Houston. The airplane never returned
to North American Aviation. In Charlie's words, "- - -
that's when he started talking about me flying it." The
Penrose/Reed relationship had indeed come to an end.
Surprisingly, damage incurred by the
fuselage and wings was minimal and in a short period was
structurally sound and painted a dark green, some say almost
with a bluish tinge. J. D. Reed's wife, Jackie an
aficionado of Artie Shaw's rendition of Beguine, insisted
the airplane be named Beguine with a musical score
painted on the fuselage and radiator pods.
And then it sat for months in J.D.'s
Beechcraft hangar. Today, fifty years later it is difficult
to resurrect what activity surrounded the life of Beguine.
Some Superior Oil pilots who had the hangar next door say
it flew infrequently. No records nor recollection exists
to confirm the problems Penrose experienced with the
airplane were corrected prior to the Thompson or if the
North American Aviation engineers were ever consulted.
Considering Penrose was now out of the picture to test fly
and ramrod the necessary changes, speculation abounds after
all these years that nothing was done, period. Now the
prime candidate to fly the airplane, Walling was on the West
Coast immersed with his flying commitments for the Superior
Oil Company and was unable to maintain close contact with
the mechanical status of Beguine.
Walling, J.D.'s primary pilot to fly
Beguine had to withdraw from racing competition when his
employer, Bill Keck, Jr., of the Superior Oil Company said,
" - - - do you want to make your living flying racers, or do
you want to be our corporate pilot?" Short and to the point
the message got through particularly in considering the
earnings realized for his effort. J.D. wouldn't even pick
up the hotel or meal bills.
And so the racing alliance of
Reed/Walling dissolved, though Reed stayed in the racing
game through the 1949 races with pilots James Hagerstrom
(later to be a jet-ace) flying P-38 NX25Y in the Tinnerman
Race where he placed 5th and later flew P-51D N37492 Jay
Dee in the 1949 Thompson where he placed 6th and Ken
Cooley, who in the SOHIO, placing 5th in Jay Dee.
As a point of interest and further
substantiation of Penrose's report of instability,
Hagerstrom made a high speed pass down the runway at Houston
Municipal Airport (now Hobby), pulled up and started a
climbing turn to the left and the airplane kept rolling --
he reported he could not stop it so he just let it continue
through a complete roll and recovered. Pictured on the
right is J.D. Reed and James Hagerstrom after one of his
Beguine test flights. Note the musical score to
"Beguine" on the fuselage.
J.D. was soon to succumb to the
overbearing pressures from Jacqueline Cochran to sell this
airplane she fell in love with, particularly when Walling
pulled out of contention as the prime pilot. On the other
hand, stories abound his compensation was probably five
times what the aircraft's value was at the time considering
its unproven performance. And those in Houston knew J.D.
was financially astute so it is with certainty he was well
rewarded for his brief association with this airplane. And
then of course there is much verbal criticism of the pilot
selected to fly Beguine, Bill Odom. Indeed a noted aviator,
several experienced racing pilots state he was not a fighter
pilot but a bomber/transport pilot who built up a reputation
for long distance flying. It's not the purpose of this web
page in hind sight to challenge Odom's capabilities but to
share all the facts, unfounded or not. Charlie Walling said
that Herman Fish Salmon, in conversing about the
SOHIO race which Odom won handily said - - - he wasn't
down amongst the pylons but instead flew on the outside and
over half of Ohio but still won the race. That's how fast
that airplane was.
As best as their recollections provide
them, some Houston aviators of that era believe this picture
was taken upon Bill Odom's acceptance of Beguine
prior to the 1949 Thompson. Pictured in front of J.D. Reed's
Beechraft distributorship hangar in Houston are Walter
Beech, J.D. Reed, and Bill Odom. Certainly Bill Odom must
have flown the airplane at least once before ferrying it to
Cleveland, but no verification of that fact has been
established. For that matter, if he even ferried the
airplane himself to Cleveland.
know the real reason for Odom's fatal crash and it's a
tragedy that took a promising life and marred the racing
community's reputation -- yet, Penrose's test flight
prognosis states this airplane had a serious instability
problem in roll which was substantiated by Hagerstrom;
circumstantially signifying it to be the most probable
contributor for the accident.
great interest to those technically inclined -- and what of
the performance figures; all the V-speeds, oil and glycol
coolant temperatures, other axes stability, and what not ---
? No indication exists that the North American Aviation
engineers ever received any inclination of what the
airplane's performance had been after Beguine
departed Los Angeles prematurely, particularly with Penrose
now out of the picture.