P-51 Mustang Pilot Reports
|[ Report #1 by Dudley Henriques ]|
|[ Report #2 by Jim Harley ]|
|[ Report #3 by John "Skipper" Hyle ]|
The P-51D, which I flew, was a very straightforward airplane in every way. By that I mean it wasn't difficult to fly or hard to handle, as long as you remembered a few basic things. First and foremost, you never forgot for a minute that it could bite hard if you got careless. There are lots of airplanes that will let you have another chance if you get ham-handed. The -51, in certain areas of her envelope, wasn't one of them. I remember telling everyone I ever checked out in the Mustang to take it up high, lower the gear and flaps, then back it off to about 15 inches with the prop up to 3 grand... slow it down easy to about 130 mph... then SLAM in 61 inches fast. The resulting torque roll might have helped save a few lives on full power go-arounds. None of my guys ever "torqued one in" anyway...
The first thing you notice when you get in the -51 is that nose. It sticks out there a good way. I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall. Even with a seat chute and the seat all the way up (we had an adjustment mod put in), I was hard-pressed to see over the nose. You get used to keeping the taxi speed up a bit and the stick aft of neutral. This gives you a six-degree lock on the tailwheel so that you can "S" the bird without too much brake use (especially if it's YOU that's paying for the brakes).
Almost everything on the -51 is automatic after it's checked and set for flight. We had an electric primer that was VERY sensitive, instead of the old push-in-and-lock type. The Merlin will usually take only a few seconds of primer before it loads up. The mixture is automatic through a high altitude mixture aneroid through all flight ranges. You start the engine by using the five hands you immediately wish God had given you the instant you engage the starter. You hold the starter with your right hand...start counting six blades as they pass...at "six" you throw the mags to 'both' with your left hand...hit the fuel boost pump switch on the left of the starter with your right hand (this requires a finger shift while holding the starter engaged)...now hit the electric primer to the right of the starter with another finger switch of the right hand...NOW, remember not to over-prime the damned Merlin...and as it fires, reach and push the mixture up into "NORMAL."
Congratulations...you have now STARTED the
Taxi is normal "S-turn" with the tailwheel at a 6-degree lock. This gives you enough room to swing the nose without going forward on the stick and unlocking the tailwheel.
Engine checks are routine. I did them all at 2300 RPM. Mags and prop, a Simmonds regulator check, supercharger check... Of course there are other things to check, like carb air and radiator air switches...I won't go through the check list item by item....it's boring as hell anyway.
Now, takeoff in the Mustang is something else again. Don't get me wrong, it's easy if you do it right, but it can bite your butt if you don't. You line it up and "S" it a bit to straighten the tailwheel. Rudder trim should already be set at about 6 degrees right. You keep the stick aft of neutral to lock the tailwheel. Now you EEEEAAAASSSSEEEE in about 40 inches of manifold pressure (MP). As she begins to accelerate, you ease in the rest...all the way to 61 inches. [Editors Note: Many current operators use 55 inches as their maximum because of modern fuel octane limitations.]
At this point, you can stop talking to yourself because you can't hear anything else in the world but that Merlin up front. The exhaust stacks are lined up almost directly with your ears. You anticipate a left swing of the nose by easing in just short of what you need to keep it straight. This is very difficult to explain to people who have never done it. The last thing you need in the -51 on a full-power takeoff is to apply too much rudder correction for torque. You are better off easing it in just short, by watching the tendency of the nose, then making a slight final adjustment into the torque.You have to feel it out carefully. I ease the stick forward through the run to meet the rotation speed of about 100mph. As soon as she's clear and solidly in the air I start cleaning her up. Gear up and power back to METO (Maximum Except for Take Off). Now the MP goes to 46 inches and the prop comes back to 2700 RPM. She will climb all day at 170 mph at this setting. I find that 170 lets me see well over the nose.
Aerobatics are beautiful! I flew the -51 on the airshow circuit back in the sixties. It never gave me a problem -- not counting one mid-air with what we later decided was a large owl.
It will roll either way at a very respectful roll rate, depending on the entry speed. Naturally it rolls better to the torque side. I used 250 mph for most rolls, and about 275 mph for point rolls up to sixteen. Vertical maneuvers in the -51 are also easy if done right, but they can bite you if done wrong. There are heavy torque changes in the vertical plane as the airplane slows down, and also angle of attack changes. You use a lot of rudder to keep it straight over the top. I always lined up the wing tip on the horizon until almost on my back at the top before switching to the top of the canopy for the oncoming inverted horizon.
I almost always used an initial with tactical pitchout when allowed. (You would be amazed at how many towers ASKED for this approach when landing me at a not-too-busy airport.) My airshow approach was NOT a normal approach. Initial at 300 mph at METO... pitch up into a set and three point hesitation roll opposite the downwind direction...break the roll at the third point with hard top rudder...and knife out to the downwind at 1500 feet. This approach not only looked good, it was tight in and circular, and flown at higher than normal power settings, which kept the Merlin happy and her platinum plugs un-fouled.
A normal approach in the Mustang could be flown with gear down at 170 mph or under. Flap limit speeds vary from 400 mph for 10 degrees down, to 165 mph for full down at 47 degrees (nominal 50 on the gauge). I always used 10 degrees at 'gear down' to see over the damned nose. Pilots can get into trouble very easily in this airplane by letting the airspeed bleed off below 135 mph on final. With those barn doors hanging off the trailing edges at 50 degrees, she can really slow down quickly as you begin to flare.
If a pilot is too high and cobs the throttle to correct the situation, he could become a statistic, especially if the Angle of Attack is high at that moment. The trick is to keep the speed up to a respectable 150 or so on final and don't dive on the runway. Ease it down and resolve the flare at about 120 mph. This gives the bird a chance to sit down gracefully on those wide feet of hers. I used wheel landings a great deal when I had the space and the runway.
The Flight of a
By Jim Harley
The P-51 officially entered my life and became an integral part of my daydreams in 1976 at the Rickenbacker AFB airshow. Reg Urschler was on-hand with the CAF Mustang Gunfighter. I vividly remember staring at this beautiful airplane in complete awe. As a 6 year old boy it was awe-inspiring to watch him beat up the field with this fast, great-sounding airplane. It sparked a life long love affair with this classic North American fighter.
As I grew older I began to realize what it would take to own and operate a Mustang. Being a realist it was clear this wasn't going to happen any time soon. Enter Tony Livick and John Oldham. John and Tony are two good friends and aviation enthusiasts who share my passion for the Mustang. Tony grew up in war-torn London and was fascinated with the Spitfires and Mustangs operating not far from his home. It was his dream to someday fly one of these birds. During 1994 he and John set off from our hometown of Akron, Ohio to Latrobe, Pennsylvania to fly Stallion 51's Mustang Crazy Horse. To make a long story short, they flew her...I had to fly now -- it was now or never. The stories they told of their flight sold me immediately. The three of us were soon off for Latrobe.
The Westmoreland County airport, near Latrobe, used to serve as the summer home to Crazy Horse and her master, Lee Lauderback. Lee has been flying Mustangs almost 20 years and he is a generous professional beyond compare. He feels that the Mustang, as a historical artifact, should be seen and experienced by all who appreciate her, and on that same note, Crazy Horse is one of the most meticulously maintained Mustangs flying.
The three of us were soon in Latrobe, bright and early on Sept. 25, 1994. Lee had already rolled Crazy Horse out of her hangar, and the morning sun was glinting beautifully off her flawless paint. Lee remembered us right away and ushered us to his office/briefing room. After swapping some quick flying stories it was right down to business. I told him that I had a few hours in full size aircraft but I have been flying aerobatics for the last ten years with radio controlled aircraft. He assured me that this was not a problem. The fact that I had flown models would help with visualizing what each maneuver would look like from the outside while executing it from inside the cockpit. Lee used a small plastic model of a P-51 to illustrate the flight maneuvers that we planned on executing, and he gave me the various power settings and airspeeds to accomplish them. Lee was also quick to point out the use of the trims during flight because every power change or flap setting requires re-trimming the airplane. After discussing a few more tips about flying the airplane we decided it was time to fly.
Lee walked me around the airplane and pointed out such things as the 11-foot, 2-inch Hamilton Standard propeller, the taller fin modification, and the importance of the radiator system. For the sake of being nostalgic I donned my original 1944 USAAF flight suit and my trusty A-2 leather jacket. It was time to fly. I climbed up to the cockpit via kick-steps and handholds placed on the flap and in the fuselage side. Once on the wing I quickly noticed the 12 feet of nose in front of me and the seemingly stubby wings at my sides. Undaunted, I climbed into the back seat still in disbelief of what I was about to do. Lee began talking me through cockpit procedures and showing me all of the flight controls I would need to use. After getting me situated with the parachute and seatbelt harnesses, Lee started the onboard cameras and then climbed aboard. While Lee strapped himself in I used the time to survey my new surroundings. The rear cockpit is roomy and has the same "you just strapped on a Mustang" feel as the front seat. The aileron and rudder trim knobs were mounted on a pedestal on my left side, along with the flap handle mounted way back between the seat and fuselage wall. The elevator trim wheel was mounted vertically on the pedestal right next to my left knee and, the large throttle grip and quadrant assembly dominated the upper left portion of the cockpit. The right side was bare aside from radio gear that I would not have to worry about. The instrument panel was laid out so that all of the engine, flight, and navigational instruments are grouped together in relation to each other. Lee recommended that I learn the instrument panel but focus on the manifold pressure, (which would max out at 61 inches), coolant temps, and the airspeed indicator.
Lee's voice came through my headset as he went through his pre-start checklist. Outside, John and Tony were busily recording the event on film. All of the gauges checked good and Lee's voice came across the intercom: "Let's wake her up." He rolled the canopy forward to cut down on propwash, had me open the throttle about an inch and then he turned on the generator. The high-pitched whine that ensued was quickly replaced by the straining sound of the starter, which put the big prop in motion. Four blades passed by before the mag switch was set on Both and the airframe twisted and shuddered as the V-12 came to life. A white cloud of exhaust smoke and the beautiful sound of the Merlin filled the cockpit. The Merlin sounds much richer inside the cockpit and the smooth idle gently vibrates the airframe. A few seconds later the chocks were pulled and with a clunking sound much like a car, the parking brake was released and we were headed for the active runway. Lee demonstrated how to taxi -- forward stick releases the tailwheel for full swivel to coordinate with the toe brakes, and aft stick limits travel to six degrees left or right. Visibility is not that bad, but S-turning is the safest way to taxi the big fighter. With this in mind, he turned control over to me and I drove us about a quarter of a mile to the end of Runway 23. The airplane is not that hard to taxi, but it is easy to build up too much speed with that big fan out front. We stopped at the run-up line at the end of the runway and started our preflight checks.
The run-up phase is incredible! I could feel the airplane surge against the brakes as I opened the throttle up to 1500 RPM. At this point I adjusted the volume control on my headset to max because the noise level drowns out just about everything. Lee walked me through the checklist and had me make the necessary adjustments: Flaps up, oil temperature in the green, 9 degrees right rudder trim, mixture rich, and the prop forward. He then instructed me to open the throttle to 2300 RPM and pull the stick as far back as it would go. The airplane shook like it wanted to fly straight off. In quick succession I cycled the prop and he did the mag check. Before I throttled back I turned around to see that the tail was shaking vigorously and the grass next to the taxiway was laying flat from the propwash. Lee closed and locked the canopy and told me to put us on the centerline of the runway. From this point I would follow him through on the controls until we cleared the airport.
I have always heard that taking off in a Mustang was nothing short of spectacular, and I was not disappointed. We smoothly opened the throttle to 40 inches of manifold pressure and I was firmly pressed into the seat cushion. A few seconds later the tail was airborne and I felt the rudder pedals working swiftly at my feet as the torque tried to drive us off the left side of the runway. At 46 inches the airplane began feeling light and visibility was more than I ever expected. As the throttle crossed 55 inches the acceleration increased and my already tight harness felt loose. We began flying at 90 knots and Lee retracted the gear less than a prop-span from the runway, keeping the nose and altitude firmly locked on the centerline of the runway. By this time I was all grins and oozing with adrenaline. I saw John and Tony waving from the ground, for a second. We were doing about 170 knots when we reached the end of the runway and Lee pulled back on the stick to a near vertical climb. I turned around and watched the runway shrink as we clawed for altitude. We had just rolled left out of the pattern when Lee turned the airplane over to me, and had me set a course at cruise climb for a sparsely populated area east of the airport.
It took us about four minutes to reach our target altitude of 7500 feet. The controls felt incredibly smooth and I was holding constant right rudder to maintain our heading throughout the climb. I pushed the nose forward once we hit our target altitude and the airspeed jumped to 230 knots almost immediately. Next, Lee had me trim the airplane for level flight and this was a real eye opener. I relaxed my grip on the stick and began rolling in down elevator trim. The nose sank well below the horizon line before we leveled off. Although it initially gives you the feeling that you are descending, Lee said that North American designed her that way to make her a better gun platform and it is something that you just have to get used to while flying. After adjusting the rudder trim back to about 4 degrees right, the controls took almost no pressure to maintain level flight. As we continued to fly East I surveyed my surroundings. The large bubble canopy provides unparalleled visibility and gives one the feeling of sitting in an open cockpit. The view forward was slightly obscured by Lee's blue helmet but I could still see through the front gunsight glass without a problem.
Lee started me off with a series of roll exercises, first alternating between 20 degrees of left and right bank, right up to 90 degrees. He was allowing me to get the feel of the controls and teaching me to coordinate the rudder with the ailerons. We were still in cruise configuration, and had accelerated to about 250 knots. The ailerons and elevator felt comfortably stiff and very powerful. The airplane is not at all touchy, but every movement of the stick is noticed. The rudder pedals gave me the most trouble -- although I was pushing them fairly hard, it took some practice to get the aileron-rudder coordination right. After about ten minutes of playing, Lee instructed me to bump the power up to about 37 inches of manifold pressure and start a descending left turn. The slippery airframe accelerated to 300 knots and the stationary cloud base at 3000 feet quickly exaggerated the feeling of speed. Lee was preparing to show me the strong point of the Mustang as a combat airplane, the zoom climb. We had built up a tremendous amount of momentum in the dive and Lee instructed me to level the wings and smoothly pull back on the stick. The elevator felt a little stiffer at this speed but still comfortable. Everything felt heavy as the 2.5G pull to the vertical squashed me to my seat. The energy from the dive carried us vertical well past 8000 feet, before we slowed to about 100 knots. From here I pushed the nose down again and let the speed build back to about 240 knots. Lee had me bring the nose back up to about 20 degrees above the horizon, and with full left aileron the airplane performed the sweetest roll I have ever experienced. The cockpit became incredibly dark as we effortlessly swirled through the inverted position, and as we rolled wings level Lee joked about how I must "really hate flying airplanes" because at this point I couldn't stop smiling.
Over the years the Mustang has gained a reputation of being unstable and dangerous at slow speeds. This is something that Lee likes to prove wrong, and he had me put the airplane in a stall configuration. With the nose once again coming up and the power off we quickly slowed to about 100 knots. As I continued to pull, the airframe began to shake and buffet at about 90 knots. Lee had me hold this airspeed with the elevator, and then, steering with the rudder pedals only, I could easily, and with full control, bank the airplane left and right. After a few of these exercises he had me pull the nose up even farther for a full stall. The airplane broke amazingly clean and with plenty of warning. With the application of a little right rudder, forward stick, and power, we were comfortably flying well over 100 knots. The pre-stall buffet is a little unnerving at first but as long as you stay within the power curve the Mustang stalls much like a Piper Cub.
Wingovers were next on the agenda, and I pushed the stick and throttle forward to once again gain some speed. Pulling through to the vertical, I fed in right rudder and the horizon slid by the nose. After another wingover, this time to the left, Lee suggested we try a loop. After accelerating back up to 300 knots, I began a 3G pull through the vertical. As we crossed the inverted position I relaxed some of the back pressure and floated across the top, simultaneously squaring the wings with the horizon. The loop is spectacular in the Mustang because both the speed and the ground come up rather quickly on the backside of the maneuver. After recovering from the loop we both decided we wanted to do some low level flying so he had me set course for a ridgeline that lead back towards the airport. We dropped down to about 500 feet above the trees and followed the terrain for about ten miles. The feeling of speed and power is breathtaking, not to mention the view. More than once I could see our distinct shadow racing along the trees.
To our left, Lee pointed out a break in the mountains and he had me execute a hard left turn to line it up on the horizon. We passed between and slightly above two smokestacks situated about a mile apart, they were both billowing smoke and could have easily passed for a scene right out of Germany 50 years ago. A river soon appeared off the nose and Lee instructed me to center the nose on it and follow it through the break in the mountains. He bumped the power up and told me to drop down as low as I felt comfortable. As we entered the pass I could see white caps forming in the river below and the mountains grew higher on each side of us. A slight turn to the right and quickly back to the left cleared us around the first hill, however, the river changed heading 90 degrees, and I felt the throttle move forward under my left hand as Lee prepared us for the next turn. I quickly realized that this alone was worth the price of admission. The mountain ahead us loomed closer and Lee told me to execute a hard right turn. I banked the airplane over 90 degrees and pulled back hard on the stick and after a few milliseconds of knife edge flight I rolled wings level. We popped out of the small canyon doing about 300 knots and I felt a rush like I had never felt before. The end of the runway was soon visible and Lee suggested we try a couple of touch and goes.
After getting settled down and re-trimmed we prepared to enter the landing pattern. I throttled back to 26 inches of manifold pressure and prepared for the mid-field break. We crossed the end of the runway doing about 180 knots and I executed a left turn to put us in the downwind position. Lee dropped the gear and the first notch of flaps while I was busy re-trimming the airplane. Visibility remained excellent right down through final and Lee leaned to the side to help me see even better. With full flaps down we crossed the runway threshold at 90 knots, and although I flared a little high we still touched down doing 90 knots. Lee brought the flaps up and he instructed me to bring the power in gradually. At 46 inches and a lot of right rudder I rotated and we were headed back around. To save wear and tear on the gear, Lee keeps it down during touch and goes, which means a close eye must be kept on the airspeed indicator, not letting it exceed 150 knots.
We did two more landings after that and Lee progressively gave me more responsibilities. My left hand became very busy shuffling power settings, trim, and squeezing between the seat and fuselage to get to the flap handle, not to mention just flying the airplane. I gained an immediate respect for the throttle after watching the effects of torque try to drag us off the left side of the runway. As the power and stick came back for the last landing I was feeling really comfortable. The tires squeaked onto the pavement and Lee told me to ease the tail down to the runway and work the rudder pedals to keep us straight. He cracked the canopy open and the blast of cool air made me realize how hot and sweaty I'd become. John and Tony were waiting on the taxiway as we rolled past.
I took my headphones off and I could clearly hear the crackle of the Merlin bellowing a few feet away. As we came to a stop on the ramp, Lee began his shutdown procedures and the big prop slowed to a stop. After climbing out and getting cleaned up, we headed back to his office. Lee presented me with a photo of Crazy Horse, a certificate of proof, and the coveted video of my ride. Lee is by far the best instructor I've ever flown with and his love for flying, and for the Mustang, is something to be admired. I can also say that without a doubt, he gave me the most complete hour of Mustang time that I could ever ask for. On the way home the three of us compared notes and we all agreed that we needed to save our money to do this again.
The Mustang exceeded all of my expectations and it was an incredible feeling to actually be on the inside looking out. It is a neat feeling to look at a Mustang and not wonder what it would be like to fly one. North American built close to 15,000 Mustangs during the war and fewer than 150 remain active today. The rising cost of fuel, parts (if available), and insurance may one day shut down operations, and it is companies like Stallion 51 that should be commended for making opportunities like this available. If you have ever dreamed of flying the Mustang and you don't have US $1,500,000+ to buy your own, I urge you to contact Stallion 51 for current prices and availability. I guarantee you will not regret it.
Additional Link: P-51 Pilot Report, by Jeff Ethell
Flying the P-51 Mustang "Red Nose"
Years ago, when I was about 8 years old, I was at Shannon Airport in Fredericksburg, Virginia, watching the annual Father's Day airshow. The star performer that day was Bob Hoover. This, of course, was before today's high security, when kids were still welcome. I was standing at the rope, about 6 feet away from the rudder when Bob fired up the Merlin. Smoked rolled down the fuselage, and I was hooked on warbirds.
A long time after that, I found myself having to make a decision about joining the military -- not because of a draft or a war, but because I wanted to fly the best airplanes I could find. I spoke to a retired 3-Star General, LtGen Gordon, USAF (Ret.), who had flown Mustangs in the ETO (European Theater of Operations), and he asked me what kind of pilot I wanted to be, and what I wanted to fly. I never hesitated when I said “Fighter Pilot.” He grinned at that. A few days later, when the recruiting Captain called me and said to pack my bags, I asked if I was "in." He replied, "No board of Colonels in the world is going to look at a letter like that from a 3-Star and say 'no.'" To this day, I don’t know what he wrote, but I know it got me to Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT).
Some time after that, at a tremendous party in the O’Club at Reese AFB, I was assigned the F-16 -- the "Fighting Falcon" to the PR types, "Viper" to those of us who flew it. Single seat, single engine. Before that was the Thud, the Hun, the Sabre, the Mustang, a lineage that goes all the way back to Captain Eddie over France at eighteen thousand feet in an open cockpit in February with no heat. I ended up at Misawa, Japan. The base hospital’s cornerstone was laid in 1937 by the Imperial Japanese Navy. There were two civilians working in base liaison who had trained at Misawa as Kamikaze pilots during the war. From 10,000 feet at High Key (entry into the flame-out pattern in a Viper), you could look down on the U.S. Army Field Station and see the terraced outline of an Arizona class battleship, the buildings in line to represent a superstructure and forecastle. In the Philippines, the white crosses are still there at Camp John Hay, formerly Cabanatuan.
After the USAF, I went to the airlines and settled down to fly. In order to keep the fun alive, I bought a Harvard Mk IV which I flew in airshows and at formation clinics and on Sunday mornings when I needed to go upside down. Fast-forward now to the opportunity of opportunities. I’m in Peachtree City, Georgia, being asked if I’d like to sponsor the Commemorative Air Force (CAF's) P-51 Red Nose. That was a stupid question -- who’s going to say 'no' to a Mustang?
After a short summer spent putting her back in flying trim after a few years of sitting out in the west Texas desert, I got a voice mail message one day. When I finally had time to listen to it, there were no words -- just the sound a Merlin engine cranking and running. It was music to my ears, and to the ears of a lot of other guys that worked harder than I did getting her running.
The CAF's checkout process is very specific. Since Red Nose was a Limited category airplane, no Letter of Authorization was required but I still had to accomplish the checkout process. I accomplished two back-seat check rides in T-6s, the second in July in Midland, Texas, where we had 102 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer and twenty-five knots of wind. I had to meet and be interviewed by the CAF's General Staff before I was allowed to progress to actually flying the Mustang. P-51 Ground school was taught by Dr. Stan Musik, the CAF check pilot, and on January 2, 2004, I made my first flight.
After reading a bunch of stories and articles about how easy the airplane was to fly, I was skeptical at best. But compared to my Harvard, they’re right! Thinking back to my USAF Viper time, this makes sense. The mission of the Fighter Pilot, to paraphrase von Richthofen, is to find the enemy and shoot him down; everything else is rubbish. Well, you can’t shoot many guys down if you’re busy flying the airplane.
After strapping in, Stan climbed on the wing to go through an engine-start with me. The procedure, while not complicated, would be easier if both arms were on the same side of your body. Boost on, prime, count 4 blades and make it hot. If you haven’t over-primed (you’ll know because of the soft flame coming out of the stacks) she’ll fire, and as she does, the mixture goes to auto-rich. Then you wait for the fluids, including the coolant, to get up to temperature for your taxi and run-up. The run-up is performed at 2300 RPM with the stick full back. All the books warn of her going over on her nose. I’ve never tried to find out, but she sure feels like she’ll go over, so you must keep that stick back. Canopy closed and it’s time to roll.
Out on to the runway and slowly push the throttle up. "Slowly" not because everybody warns of the torque (well, that too), but because my grandfather taught me to never jam a throttle anywhere unless I really needed to. Coming through about 35 inches we’re moving pretty well already, then smoothly up to 55 inches. Red Nose is limited, to save the engine a little. In the last 5 inches of Manifold Pressure, there’s a different acceleration. The only thing I’ve ever felt that comes close is the afterburner light in the Viper. By the time you feel all that, you’re flying. And frankly, no, there was no great rudder input -- she goes exactly where she is pointed. Hopefully, that means straight down the runway. Gear up and I entered the pattern for the three full-stop landings I needed to do this day.
My first time rolling off the perch and I thought, “Wow, this is gonna be fast.” Full flaps and she slowed fairly well with no large trim changes. Touchdown was smooth, with the tail a little high. She tracked straight with that big wide gear, and we rolled to the end. The second one had a little bounce, and the third one was the best of all. Time to taxi back and give the other guys a chance.
Later, with more time and better weather it’s time to go to the practice area and see what she’ll do. Here was the most interesting part, especially for an airplane that you’re suppose to shoot in: The rudder trim! My God! I have never flown any other airplane that was so speed sensitive. Change the airspeed only 10-15 knots and you’re playing with the rudder. I can only imagine what a guns-track must have been like trying to keep everything lined up during a dogfight. Aerobatics are sweet, although you do have to keep telling her what to do. In the T-6, once over the top, I always have the impression that the airplane would complete the maneuver with minimum input from you. Not so in the Mustang -- you need to keep the nose tracking all the way around.
I’m no Bud Anderson, but by now I feel pretty confident in the airplane -- but always respectful. A couple years ago I flew her up to Geneseo, New York, for a great little airshow they hold. Their runway is 4700 feet of grass. When I landed there were some thundershowers in the area and as I rolled of the perch I could see the gust front. Touching down, I expected little problem with that wide gear and grass -- damp grass at that. I was wrong -- she turned into an animal and started going every which way as I moved the rudders stop-to-stop. I got stopped, taxied in, shut down and ran inside before the rain hit. As I stood there sipping some water, an old man made a comment about the wind blowing and I mumbled something equally important. He told me I should have been here a little while ago when this guy landed a Mustang in 29 knots of crosswind. “No kidding?” I asked. “Who did that?” “That guy flying that red-nosed one out there.” Well, now everything made sense, but I still didn’t tell him it was me.
This story has been very disjointed and may not make sense; it would be much better over a beer and cigar at the bar.
I wanted to fly the Mustang because it’s a Mustang; because it’s the Viper of its day; because it’s a Sierra Hotel airplane; because it’s history; because people died in it, while giving me the chance to do all the things I’ve done; because guys sat for hours upon hours in the airplane and sweated and bled and froze just like I’ve done [granted, I had better environmental controls, but a piddle pack is still a piddle pack]; because a Viper Driver friend of mine used to tell me we had big brass ones because we flew at 500 feet and 500 knots, and I used to think of all the guys flying airplanes like the Mustang and wonder what it was like to have to worry about which blower you were in before you started your dive, having to find the enemy with a Mk I eyeball, having to fly a GCA with a black-over-black ADI, navigate in Indian Country with a compass and clock, and sit on a seat pack for 10 hours [actually I did that in the Viper and it hurts after a while].
And best of all, I’d get to do all this with nobody shooting at me. My membership in the CAF gives me this unique chance. There are three more vintage aircraft left on my "must-fly" list: the F4U, the P-47 and the P-40.
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