Test your P-51 memory, knowledge and research ability!
photo by Bill Green '68
Jim Church, William Yoak,
Although it could be any number of Cavalier modified Mustangs that appeared in similar paint schemes in the '60s, I'm pretty confident this is Dick Kestle's N6303T, 'Miss Diet Rite Cola/Miss Royal Crown Cola.' That would make it P-51D-20-NA s/n 44-63481, c/n 122-31207, and it had served in Canada as RCAF 9553. Kestle was killed in it at an airshow in Griffin, Georgia, in 1972.
William D. Yoak
This Mustang is identical to the one that was owned by the late Dick Kestle. I cannot see any hint of an "N-number" in the photo due to the angle from which it was taken. However, my photos of Kestle's aircraft show it to have been N6303T.
I must say that the paint scheme and color pattern on Kestle's aircraft was identical to the one in your photo. This aircraft was obviously a Cavalier version with the tall-tail conversion, as was Kestle's. The only thing missing in the photo representing Case# 44 is the Royal Crown Cola sponsorship painted on the top cowl and the race #13 painted on the vertical fin. Kestle used this sponsorship from 1968-1970 when he had been one of the top contenders in the Harold's Club Transontinental Trophy Dashes that were a part of the Reno Air Races (early in race week and prior to the closed course events) from 1964-1970. Kestle won in both 1969 and 1970.
I would say that there are two possibilities as to why your photo does not show the race "markings". First, it may have been taken in the months of '68 prior to when Kestle obtained his sponsorship and entered it as a racer. Second If it was taken after the time Kestle first entered N6303T, it's possible that the race number and sponsorship were displayed during the races only.
If case #44 is in fact N6303T, it was destroyed in an accident which claimed the life of Dick Kestle in either 1971 or 1972. I have heard two different accounts as to how the supposedly unwitnessed accident occurred. The first was that he had encountered a severe thunderstorm before the accident. The second was that he was believed to have had a heart attack or had become incapacitated in some other way prior to impact. I heard this second account several years ago from a fairly well known mustang pilot who was well acquainted with Kestle. He claimed that Kestle had a problem with high blood pressure prior to his accident, suggesting that the heart-attack story was likely.
My father, Dick Kestle, died in 1972 in his Mustang. They really do not know what happened. He was flying back from Washington, DC early, no one knew why. It was speculated that something like a heart attack did happen as the plane went down from lack of fuel, on auto pilot? I guess we will never know. I was 17 at the time. I do have photos of his plane without the Diet Rite Cola written on it. N6303T is correct. I only got to fly in this plane one time but flew with him many times in some of his other planes.
I just discovered this, I used to work for Dick and on several occasions we would go out to the airport and wax this mustang. I never got to fly in it, just his twin beech. Dick was a terrific fellow and a great boss. I'm grieved to hear of his loss.
A FAA inspector was walking around Fulton County Airport with a trim tab that a farmer had found, trying to figure out what type of airplane it had come from. Shortly afterwards, someone found the hole where the Mustang had gone in.