Ok, so I have to gloat for a bit. This weekend, I got the chance of a lifetime to fly a P-51 Mustang. If you're a pilot, you know what the Mustang is. If not, the P-51 is the finest fighter produced in WWII. It was built by North American Aviation and, combined with the awesome Rolls Royce Merlin engine, was just about the best plane ever. In my mind, it is the most beautiful plane ever produced as well.
My hats off go to several people for giving me this chance. First off, Lee Lauderback, for being the finest pilot I've ever flown with. His calm and cool voice (that's him in the front of the plane) is very re-assuring, especially considering he was letting me fly HIS $3.5 Million dollar plane!!! He obviously wasn't going to let me break his plane but he never once seemed concerned (well there was that one time when I was taxiing out, but it sounded like he was more concerned about the lights then the plane.)
Secondly, I'd like to thank the guys at Forward Vision... for inviting me to the dinner where I won the "grand door prize." Rick and Pat have been going to that dinner for several years and this was my first time... literally, five minutes after I walked into the place, I won the door prize. Naturally, they were pleased that I won it on my first time attending the dinner. Thanks for inviting me Little Tricky Uncle Ricky!!!
Lastly, the prize was given away by Plane and Pilot magazine. Mike McMahon and his team produce one of the finest magazines in the aviation industry and this door prize was from them. (By the way, VirtualHUD will also be featured in this next months issue (August 09.) If you happen to go to Oshkosh this year, stop by our booth and see the article in the magazine... oh, and don't forget to check out the actual VirtualHUD units, too!
Ok, now about the video. The Mustang we were in is actually not a P-51D, but it was at one time. It was built in 1944 as a P-51D, but since then, it's been modified into the TF-51 trainer by removing the rear fuel tank and adding my seat and controls. It is a full dual control plane with all the instruments in both seats. This video starts off with Lee and I on board, both with full parachute systems and strapped into our 5 point harnesses. As we taxi out, he let's me taxi almost the entire way... which is actually harder then it seems because from the rear seat, you see nothing. Now one thing to understand, I've actually never flown a tail wheel plane, which means nothing in the air, but on the ground, the handling is very different and the Mustang actually has an interesting setup where the tailwheel is sometimes connected to the rudder and sometimes not depending on how you have the stick positioned. It's a cool design but you definitely have to get used to it.
Once airborne, the Mustang is a dream. It's very responsive, even though it weighs 8,500 lbs. Just for comparison, my Beechcraft Skipper grosses out at 1,670 lbs and the F-16 weighs much more... like 20,000 lbs empty. We did a high performance climb out and he immediately gave me the plane.
We had a thorough preflight briefing and knew exactly what we were going to do for the full hour. We didn't skip or miss anything, but I did add one additional stall in there. The first thing we did was fly to our aerobatic box. Once there I flew the plane around to get the feel for it and then we did some slow flight. Stalls were mild (except the first one which I sort of dove upside down into... totally my fault.) I'm not used to such a heavy plane stalling so mildly... it's actually an amazing wing on that plane. Also, you'll hear us talk about the pre-stall buffet, which is an indicator to the pilot that the plane is approaching departure. You also hear Lee tell me a lot of times to put in more rudder... with 1650 horsepower turning a 400 pound propeller, you get a lot of what we call p-factor, where the propeller likes to turn the plane and using the rudder compensates for that. Did I mention 1650 horsepower... thats more than 14 times the horsepower of my Skipper and they both only seat two!!!
Anyway, once slow flight was over, we started into the real fun stuff... Wing Overs, Aileron Rolls and Barrel Rolls. Lee is a great instructor and he knows his plane very well. Really well... it's very impressive. By the way, Lee is an instructor in the P-51 and an airshow stunt pilot. He has more than 6,000 hours in the P-51 alone... most people don't ever get that many hours in a lifetime of flying.
Back to flying... after the first few fun stunts, we then went into the vertical, with Loops, Cuban 8s and an Immelmann. The Mustang really shines here... that 1650 horsepower and that huge 11 ft propeller (or HUD as I see it) pulls that plane effortlessly through anything we wanted to do to it.
After a little break, we did a couple more rolls and finished it up with a four point roll. Which is a standard aileron roll, but you stop the roll at four points (like on a compass.) When you're upside down, you can feel the gentle tug of gravity as you're completely upside down at that point.
Speaking of gravity, the Mustang is considered an 8G plane. Which means it can put 8 times the force of gravity on you. We only got up to about 3+ in it during the loops, which was fun just the same. No G suit required. Also, since we were under 12,000 feet, we didn't need oxygen masks either, but the Mustang is equipped with an oxygen system if needed. (During war time, the Mustang is capable of a whole lot more than we put on it... infact, fully loaded, it would weigh over 12,500 lbs and fly at over 30,000 ft escorting the B-17 bombers into Germany. It could also fly at over 450 mph, though we only hit about 345 in our flying.)
When we were done, we flew back to Kissimmee, where to my surprise, Lee let me land his (did I mention $3.5 Million) plane!!! Remember, I've never flew a tailwheel plane... ever! I did fine for my first three tailwheel landings. Pilots understand the joke there. Anyway, once we were one the ground, that tailwheel mechanism kicked in and locked the wheel into place which kind of surprised me... which is why Lee needed to give me a little help with the rudder. But other than that, it was a fantastic flight. I learned a lot and I now I know why I love Mustang... not only is it the most beautiful plane ever made... it's also the finest flying machine I've ever had the chance to fly. Thanks everybody for giving me that chance!
Here's the video... watch and enjoy. Warning... it's an hour long, so it might be good to just skip around... at least 38 minutes or so into it to see some fun stuff.