Galloping Ghost - Cleveland

The Galloping Ghost---The Cleveland Year

By A. Kevin Grantham

The North American Aviation (NAA) P-51D Mustang known as The Galloping Ghost is a true racing thoroughbred. It’s racing career spans more than sixty years and along the way the Ghost has captured checkered flags at the post-war Cleveland National Air Races (1946 - 1949) and the more contemporary Reno National Championship Air Races.

The Galloping Ghost is one of nine hundred P-51-15-NA type Mustangs produced by NAA during World War II. It was originally delivered to the Army Air Forces (AAF) on 23 December 1944 and later was assigned to the Third Air Force before being declared surplus on 25 October 1945 and put in storage at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

In early 1946 future race pilots Bruce Raymond and Steve Beville began seriously thinking about buying a Mustang and entering it in the post-war Cleveland National Air Races. Raymond and Beville were fast friends long before they both went off to serve as ferry pilots during War World II. Occasionally, the two would meet at various bases along the Atlantic ferry route and it was during one of these meetings that the idea was born to compete in the post-war Bendix and Thompson Trophy Races. Beville had flown most of the American fighters and he suggested buying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning for cross country racing and a P-51 Mustang for the closed-course pylon events. In March 1946, Beville, who was still in the Air Force, stopped by the War Assets Administration (WAA) office in Washington, DC and inquired about purchasing a surplus Mustang. The officer in charge of the WAA informed Beville that the British Government had filed a complaint with the United States Department of State over the sale of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and, as a result, sales of P-51 type aircraft were to be terminated on 1 April 1946. "Colonel, there is no way I can get back to my base, arrange leave, and get down to Walnut Ridge with the $3,500 in two weeks," said Beville. The Colonel replied "I understand your position, so I'll tell what I will do. I'll call down to Walnut Ridge and have them reserve a P-51 for you. When you get there, just give them your name and pick up your airplane." Two weeks later Raymond and Beville flew into Walnut Ridge in a Vultee BT-13 and began looking over the available aircraft, and eventually settled on a P-51D that carried AAF Serial Number 44-15651 and registered it with the Civil Aeronautics Administration as N79111.

There was not much time to get the airplane ready for the Labor Day races, so Raymond and Beville stripped the aircraft of any components that added unnecessary weight to the racer. "We wrote to North American and asked what could be done in the gun bay areas to lighten the wings," said Beville. "We got a reply, but they only told us what we should not remove--- which was fine." Beville then remembered a time during the war when he ferried a fighter to Jackson, Michigan. "There was an outfit up there that was doing some wing work for the Air Force," recalled Beville. "They were stripping all paint and putty off the wings of the airplanes and then recoating and sanding them smooth. They told me that every little rivet leaves a dimple and the work they were doing really made a difference in the aircraft's performance. So, Bruce and I flew up there one day to see if they would do the same for our wing. Their asking price was $3,500, which is what we paid for the airplane --- so we decided to do it ourselves. We stripped the wings and covered every opening with putty and then sanded and painted the wings. We had a professional spray man apply the top coat of light grey paint and then we rubbed and polished it until it was smooth. When we finally finished, the wing was so slick that a dropped polish rag would immediately slide off and hit the ground.''

The aircraft was granted the use of the race number "77" by the National Aeronautics Association and was named The Galloping Ghost in honor of the University of Illinois and Chicago Bears football star Harold "Red" Grange.

Raymond and Beville arrived in Cleveland for the races in late August 1946 and quickly realized they were up against some very stiff competition. Steve Beville picks up the story: "We got to Cleveland and saw two P-39s from the Bell factory and a number-37 Mustang from the west coast. Big bucks! We didn't think we had a chance but went ahead and flipped a coin to decide who was actually going to flying the airplane."

Raymond won the coin toss and ran the Thompson competition from start to finish at full throttle. The stock Merlin proved to be very reliable although not as powerful as some of the engines in the other racers. Nevertheless, Raymond managed to finished fourth in the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race.

Raymond and Beville figured they had done as much as they could to the Ghost's airframe, so in 1947 they turned their attention to developing more horsepower. First objective, add water injection to their Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. "You have to remember, Bruce and I were small time operators and if we didn't do things for free or next to free---they didn't get done," said Beville. "We knew the local high school had a fuselage of a P-47 that they used in the technical courses. We talked to the school and they agreed to give us the water injection system that was installed on the P-47s R-2800 engine. We ended up getting two boxes of stuff but had no idea of how to make it all work with a Merlin." Eventually, they found a guy who did the engineering for the system and also received some free carburetor help from the Bendix corporation; however, the system really didn't work all that well. "Hell, with no water injection we were pulling sixty inches of manifold pressure with no detonation," said Beville. "Now with water injection we could barely pull forty inches and we were prematurely detonating. Good engine or bad engine --- it was time to go to Cleveland."

The National Air Races was full of vendors willing to give the race competitors free fuel and oil in exchange for advertising their products. In 1947 the SOHIO oil company offered a new high octane fuel. They also suggested using a special anti-detonate injection (ADI) fluid that was properly balanced for their new aviation gasoline. All one had to do to get these free goodies was display the company's logo on his/her racer. Beville thought this was a good deal, so he gladly accepted the free gas and ADI liquid. On his first qualifying run Beville was very surprised to see a twenty knot increase in speed with the engine running at eighty inches of manifold pressure. He then rode the Ghost to a first place finish in the Kendall Trophy Race with an average speed of 384.602 MPH. The following day he, along with thirteen other racers, was positioned on the ramp for the stat of the Thompson Trophy event. Beville's Mustang pulled at the breaks as his engine temperature began to run hot and steam emerged from the cowling just as the starting flag was dropped. Beville got 77 airborne and spent the first two laps cooling the engine. In the meantime, Jack Hardwick crashed landed his P-51C shortly after takeoff, and later Tony Janazzo was killed in his Goodyear F2G after being overcome by exhaust fumes. All in all, thirteen air-racers started the 1947 Thompson but only six finished the race. Beville came in fourth and collected $3,000 for his effort.

It was Bruce Raymond's turn to fly 77 in the 1948. During the off season Raymond and Beville failed to properly take care of the water injection system which was now corroded. The engine's and water delivery apparatus performed intermittently throughout the 1948 races, but Raymond, in spite of a less than perfect engine, won the Tinnerman Trophy Race. The outcome of 1948 Thompson was more or a less a repeat of the previous year with only three airplanes finishing out a field of twelve. Raymond had no idea of what place he finished after landing. When he was told that he came in second behind Anson Johnson's blue Mustang, Raymond replied "You've got to be kidding." Sometimes it IS better to lucky than good.

Raymond and Beville brought a smooth running Ghost to Cleveland in 1949. The Merlin engine was easily delivering 2200 horsepower, thanks to an improved water injection system and exotic SOHIO fuel. Beville qualified fourth and went on to finish fourth in both the SOHIO and Thompson Trophy races. Sadly, the Ghost's success was marred by the loss of race pilot Bill Odom during the Thompson event.
Bill Odom made a name for himself in the late 1940s by setting long distance speed records. In 1947 he established a new record for solo flying around the world in 73 hours and 5 minutes. Two years later he was hired by Jackie Cochran to fly a highly modified Mustang known as the "Beguine." Odom had little to no real racing experience and he sadly lost control of his Mustang during the Thompson Trophy Race and crashed into a house, killing a young woman and her infant child. Steve Beville watched the entire scene from the air as it developed.
"Odom pulled up alongside of me shortly after we started the second lap of the race," recalled Beville. "He looked over at me as if asking me to let him pass. He then dropped down and passed me from below as we approached pylon two. Coming out of the turn it appeared he lined up on pylon four instead of three. His airplane then rolled to the right and went down. I saw smoke coming from the ground on the next lap."  Odom's accident outraged the public and eventually influenced the decision to cancel the National Air Races in Cleveland.
Before he passed in 2000 Steve Beville reflected on The Galloping Ghost's accomplishments during the Cleveland racing era. "We raced in every race we could and finished every race we started. We came to the party to dance and danced with what we brung. We finished no worse than fourth and even won a couple of races along the way. Not too bad for two farm boys from Indiana."

The Cleveland air races helped Beville and Raymond pay the expenses of race number 77. But with no more races The Galloping Ghost became more of a liability than an asset. In 1950 it was sold to former race pilot and airplane dealer Jack Hardwick. Over the next several years the plane bounced from one owner after another before finally ending up with Cliff Cummins who would play an important role in bringing the Ghost back to air racing in the late 1960s.