On a beautiful, sunny day in Bemidji, Minnesota, the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s Republic P-47D-23 Thunderbolt 42-27609 roared into the skies for the first time since its wartime accident at Dobodura airstrip in New Guinea on September 18th, 1944. The aircraft, magnificently restored over the past eight or so years by the master craftsmen at AirCorps Aviation, has been mechanically ready for this moment for some time now but, as is often the case with such endeavors, processing the veritable mountain of paperwork involved took the FAA quite a while to wade through before approvals could be granted.

Awaiting the first flight, the ‘factory-fresh’ Thunderbolt looks stunning in the sunlight on the date of its first post-restoration flight, May 15th, 2023. (Photo courtesy of AirCorps Aviation)

Highly experienced warbird pilot, Bernie Vasquez, was at the controls for the initial 35 minute test flight. This marks the second Thunderbolt Vasquez has flown in as many weeks, having delivered P-47D 44-32817 to the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, Minnesota on May 4th. Of course this flight, being a first flight, involved a little more mental preparation, with Vasquez making sure to review the appropriate checklists and emergency procedures with additional vigor. But everything went exceptionally well according to the pilot, Vasquez noting: “It is always so special to test fly a warbird, especially a rare one like this P-47 Thunderbolt. It flew amazingly. Hats off to the AirCorps Aviation crew. This is the 4th airplane we have test flown from their shop squawk free!”


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Adding to the joy which everyone at AirCorps Aviation must surely be feeling right now, Eric Trueblood, the company’s Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, noted: “It went awesome! There is always a unique feeling when you fly an airplane after a long restoration. We are extremely thankful to Bruce Eames and the Dakota Territory Air Museum for trusting us once again with such an important and rare airframe.”

Celebrating after the Thunderbolt’s first flight (l to r): Collector and sponsor Bruce Eames, Bernie Vasquez and Dakota Territory Air Museum’s Choef Pilot Warren Pietsch. (Photo courtesy of AirCorps Aviation)

This P-47 now becomes the sole, Republic-built ‘Razorback’ variant of the Thunderbolt flying anywhere in the world! Once the required hours are flown off on the airframe, it will head over to the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s home in Minot, North Dakota, where it will eventually begin taking part in the organization’s air show commitments. We here have been following this restoration since the early days, and it is so exciting to finally see this magnificent aircraft restored to where it belongs, in the skies! Bravo to everyone involved!

(Photo courtesy of AirCorps Aviation)