Little information 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 particularly now.

P-51C Vertical

P-51D Vertical

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 radiators.

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.

We'll never 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.

Of equally 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.