Almost every person that is involved with aviation can associate with the P-51 Mustang. We all love it, we all want it, and some of us are lucky to actually come in contact with one. Here's a taste of one my best experiences that I had with a Mustang. So sit back, buckle in and put on your headset...
It always helps to have friends when you want to get hooked up with flying in the back seat of a warbird. I grew up flying model airplanes with someone whose dad had left him part ownership of a Mustang. This individual was nice enough to get me a ride as a graduation present from high school. It ended up being a week that I would never forget. Not only was the senior prom that Saturday, Sunday found me waxing the Mustang in it's hangar in preparation for an airshow the next weekend. I would be driving the two hours to the show to help with the airplane. I didn't think I could have gotten excused from school for taking an airplane ride...
At the airshow, I walked up to the ramp that crisp summer morning and there it sat. Beautiful as it could ever be. My excitement began to peek inside as I thought about what I was going to be doing later in the afternoon. I sat with the airplane most of the day, waving at all the pretty girls as they walked by, but I also switched between walking around the show grounds and climbing on the wing to periodically clean the windshield glass to make it look like I was doing something important.
As the day progressed I was trying to remember what my first ride in a P-51 was like. There was no worry though, I would be reminded soon enough. As the airshow began to wind down, half of the people were already gone while the other hardcore fans always stayed for the departures of the airplanes. My pilot was ready, I was ready and the pilot of the P-51 that we were going to be flying home with was ready. There was a sound overhead of a Merlin, not from a Mustang, but a Spitfire that had tried to head east, but ran into thunderstorms. He made the smart choice to head back and stay for another night. We would be heading west and the skies, for us, were clear.
I climbed aboard and it all came back to me. I had the harnesses on, my headset plugged in and I was ready to rock and roll. Our formation partner started up as I snapped some pics of the smoke that came billowing out of his exhaust stacks. We were next, and there was nothing sweeter than the smell of that 100LL that came blowing back into the open canopy.
We taxied out following the other Mustang, making our S-turns down the taxiway as we passed the specttaors who had lined up to watch us go by. As we were rolling out down the taxi way I spotted my friend in the crowd; the poor guy would have to drive home without me... I gave him a big smile and a thumbs up. But he didn't give me a thumbs up back.
He flipped me off!
I was half pissed, so I flipped him the bird right back! Oh wait. Did I just do what I thought I did? Yeah, I fell right into his trap. I flipped him off - and the entire crowd of people that watched us go by. I sunk my head below the canopy railing and couldn't wait until we got to the run-up area. As much as I was mad, I still had a grin on my face and I'm sure he was cracking up. But now it was time to get to business.
Both of our airplanes ran up in formation. Then we waited for a TBM Avenger to take off and for the rest of the traffic to clear. Time to go! We line up with the runway, and away we go. There is nothing like that Merlin running at 61 inches as you get pushed back in your seat on take off. We begin to climb out over the countryside; the gear clunked into its wells and the airplane begins to pick up speed.
Before I know it, we're at about 4,000 feet and slowly catching up to our formation partner. As we get into formation, I remember hearing the engine settings being called out over the radio; we were at about 26 inches and 2200 rpm. If being in the backseat of a Mustang wasn't enough, having one 30 feet away from you gave you another rush that you can't even begin to describe.
We exchanged sides of the formation a few times, did a couple of rolls, and began to lose some altitude as we prepared to do a little hill buzzing. After we made it over the hills and into the valley, we did a little traditional buzzing of a private airport and headed for home. A few miles out of the airport, the flight separated and we prepared for our fighter-style overhead break. We were second in line to land, and after our break, we entered the pattern and prepared to line up for landing.
Lining up for runway 24, and the flaps began to drop, followed by the gear as we passed below 140 knots. Before I knew it we crossed over the fence and the wheels screeched as they touched the ground. The power came back and the Merlin did its characteristic crackle-pop-crackle-pop. We turned off on the taxiway and headed for the hangar. The blades came to a rest, and it was over.
It was over too soon, the forty-five minute flight seemed like it went by in no time at all. I had about two rolls of film completed in my camera bag and a sweaty butt and back. I didn't care. That is what it's all about! There is really no way that I can describe it to you. And there was no way that I am an expert to tell you all the flying aspects or everything that we went through during the flight. But I hope that I gave you an idea of how much fun my flight was. I was seventeen when I took this flight, and two years earlier I had gotten my first Mustang ride. I'm sure if I was older I might appreciate it a little bit more, as my dad did when my family bought him a ride for his fifty-third birthday. Or even when I got my brother a ride for his twenty-second birthday. There's only one thing that I can tell you: Don't pass up the opportunity. Be thankful that there are still airplanes and people around that are willing to share the experience with you.
P.S. If you were the guy that was riding backseat in the other Mustang,
I never did get to see the photos/video that you took. If you ever come
across this, please email me!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me: Chris Luvara
This story and photos Copyright 2002 Chris Luvara. All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission.
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