RANTOUL, Ill. (AP) — It's almost back to its glory, the yellow-painted classic fighter modeled on ones a World War II ace used to fly.
The P-51H Mustang, restored in honor of Louisiana's Lt. Col. Claude Crenshaw, is "the belle of the ball" at the newly revived Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, said curator Mark Hanson.
The elegant and deadly 1945 model's restoration will be finished soon after years of work. Some minor paint work will have to wait for spring.
Along with a new, modular timeline that won't be damaged if walls get wet in the leaky building, a "Dream of Flight" exhibit featuring Leonardo da Vinci courtesy of Rantoul's Taylor Studios and some classic simulators with a lot of help from Frasca Aviation, it's another sign of the museum's recent renaissance.
Nancy Kobel, president of the museum's governing board, was staffing the ticket center on a recent weekday.
"We're on the upswing," she said. "We've learned how to get more done by using our money efficiently."
It doesn't get cheaper than free, so there are plenty of volunteers, including two restoration buffs.
Norm Meyers, aka "Mustanger," said "the restoration effort is actually nearing completion. We are doing some final touches, but will have to wait until spring before we can complete some remaining exterior paint work," he said.
The yellow nose and "Louisiana Heatwave" logo match one of Crenshaw's P51Ds before he started flying P51Hs after the war.
The restoration done by Meyers and Curt Arseneau of Champaign began Oct. 1, 2003, on the plane, which is on loan indefinitely from the Air Force Museum, Hanson said.
The bright paint matches that carried on two P-51Ds Crenshaw flew in the 369th Fighter Squadron/359th Fighter Group in the fall and winter of 1944, Arseneau and Meyers said.
During his tour, Crenshaw became an ace with seven air victories and 3.3 ground victories, the restorers said.
All of the funding for the restoration has been from donations to the project via the website http://p51h.home.comcast.net/~p51h/ or by Meyers' employer, Best Buy, which offers donations for community volunteer service.
"So the museum hasn't had to pay anything for the restoration," Arseneau said. "We have spent a little bit of our own money, but not lately since volunteers stepped up."