The Story Behind the P-51 "Dakota Kid"

by Dr. Henry Reichert, Jr. M.D., Bismark, N.D., U.S.A.

The original “Dakota Kid” was born in March of 1944 at Steeple Morden, England. The first “Dakota Kid” was a P-51 C model, and was later replaced by a D model, flown by Lieutenant Noble Peterson, of North Dakota. Noble, later promoted to Captain, flew 106 combat missions over two tours of duty between March of 1944 and May of 1945. As a member of the 355th Fighter Group of the 358th Fighter Squadron, his major mission was that of bomber escort. Additionally, however, low level strafing was often a secondary mission, and the “Steeple Morden Strafers” had the honor of destroying more airplanes on the ground than any other fighter group in England. Captain Peterson was credited with three known kills, and four probable over his two tours of duty. He is still actively ranching in southwestern North Dakota. His crew chief, Robert Coleman, is a retired businessman living in Long Island, New York.

The re-born “Dakota Kid” is a “parts” airplane rebuilt from the ground up at Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton, North Dakota. The wings and flying surfaces were totally inspected and rebuilt by Bob Odegaard of Odegaard Aviation in Kindred, North Dakota, and the remainder of the total restoration project was undertaken by Jerry Beck and his able crew at Wahpeton, North Dakota. Both of these people along with their staffs are engineering geniuses and true artists. The final product shows their quality of work. It is noteworthy that re-born “Dakota Kid” is equipped with a modified dual control of Jerry Beck’s design.

When I first met Noble Peterson in the early 1990’s, acquisition of a P-51 was only a dream. He began to tell me some of his flying experiences, and when I acquired the project I kept him informed during the restoration project along with information and photographs. It seemed logical when the project was completed that this reincarnated P-51, the product of a North Dakota restoration, should indeed be painted in the colors of Captain Peterson’s “Dakota Kid”. In the process of the paint design, I took the liberty of adding the 358th Fighter Squadron’s insignia the “Angels” on the side. Captain Peterson and Sergeant Coleman’s name is listed on the side as per original. The “Dakota Kid” name was modified slightly moving it from above the exhaust stacks to below, and making it slightly larger so that it is more visible. I elected to delete the name “Long Island Kid” which appeared on the second D Model of Captain Peterson’s, since my crew chief from Wahpeton was bound to protest and I wanted to be sure to leave a spot for him!

The North American P-51 D is truly one of the greatest fighters even built. Its greatness in superiority is a testament to the design and industrial capabilities of the United States. It is a testament to the courage and sacrifice of all of those who served this country so well. It is a great privilege to honor Captain Peterson, Sergeant Coleman, and all the veterans of World War II and subsequent conflicts.

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