This story came from FASF member, Virg Hemphill, himself a retired USAF fighter pilot and later airline pilot. It should be explained that the term “P-51” and the “F-51” refer to the same airplane, it’s just that the Air Force changed the “P” (for Pursuit) to “F” (for Fighter) near the end of the fabled airplane’s career. This great and speedy WWII fighter was nicknamed the “Mustang.”
This colorful remembrance uses a random collection from the thousands of photos available of this ubiquitous WWII fighter, since the recollection of the young man’s below was without his own photos.
“Just about every military pilot I know would like a chance to fly the Mustang, I know I do! It is still rated number one by the military channel on TV, ahead of all the fantastic jet fighters we current have flying,” said Virg.
It changed the face of WWII in Europe in that it could stay with the bombers all the way to Germany and still have fuel enough to get back safely. It could out climb, out turn, and was faster than most of the German fighters of that era.”
Old Aviators and Old Airplanes . . .
What follows below is a neat little story about the vivid memory of a P-51 – and its pilot – by a chap who was only 12 at the time – in Canada – back in 1967. He was lucky enough to watch it take to the air. He was told that it had flown in the previous night from an airport in the U.S., and that the pilot had mentioned how tired he was, so he’s arranged to stay in nearby Kingstown, Ontario, overnight.
“I marveled at the size of the plane dwarfing the small Pipers and Canucks (general aviation light planes) tied down near the 51. She was much larger than in the movies and glistened in the sun like a bulwark of security from days gone by.”
“After taking several minutes to perform his walk-around check the pilot returned to the flight lounge to ask if anyone would be available to stand by with fire extinguishers while he ‘fired the old bird up, just to be safe.’ “
“Though only 12 at the time I was allowed to stand by with an extinguisher after brief instruction on its use — ‘If you see a fire, point, then pull this lever!’ (I later became a firefighter, but that’s another story). The air around the exhaust manifolds shimmered like a mirror from vaporizing fuel fumes as the huge prop started to slowly rotate. One manifold, then another, and yet another barked — I stepped back with the others in the crowd. In moments the Packard-built Merlin engine came to life with a thunderous roar, blue flames knifed from her manifolds. I looked at the others’ faces, but there was no concern, so I lowered the delivery horn of my extinguisher. One of the guys signaled to walk back to the lounge. We did.”
“Roger Mustang. Kingston tower would like to advise the pattern is clear for a low level pass.” “I stood in shock because the controller had, more or less, just asked the pilot to return for an impromptu air show!”
The controller looked at us. “What? he posited. I can’t let that guy go without asking. I couldn’t forgive myself!”
“Roger Mustang, the pattern is clear for an east to west pass.”
“We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes fixed toward the eastern haze. The sound was subtle at first, a high-pitched whine, a muffled screech, a distant scream.”
“I’ve never wanted to be an American more than on that day. It was a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big brother, a steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the pilot who’d just flown into my memory. He was proud, not arrogant, humble, not a braggart, old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its best. That America will return one day, I know it will. Until that time, I’ll just send off this story; call it a reciprocal salute, to the old American pilot who wove a memory for a young Canadian that’s lasted a lifetime.”
Also . . . like to see – and hear – more P-51 Mustang stories?
Look no further than right here on your FASF website to previous stories on the renowned fighter. Check right here (just click your mouse on the emboldened and underlined words) and see – right here – this impressive fighting machine in action: “P-51 Mustang Cockpit View – From Take Off to Landing.” And, here another story and video of the same famous fighter: “Scott Slocum Captures Mustang’s Beauty – – – Head On!“
The Mustang seems to be on everyone’s short list of WW2 fighter planes. Of the 15’875 built, 158 have been restored to their original configuration. We always have at least one in our CAF museum, and sometimes 2 or 3. They are always the star of the show. I rode in ‘Cripes Almighty’ with Bob Odegaard 4 years ago and got back on the ground with the Merlin growl still ringing in my ears; legs so wobbly I could hardly stand; and delightfully sick as a dog. ” I don’t care what you’ve flown before, The Mustang is a brand new game”.
A form of this story is making the rounds on the web with an attribution of the “old pilot” as being Jimmy Stewart. It is circulated under the title “A Wonderful Story.” I do not have its address because it was sent to me by a friend. Does anyone know how this story (“Old Aviators and Old Airplanes…”) became that story (“A Wonderful Story”), and does anyone know if the new form is or is not a corruption?
It is almost true – Jimmy Stewart’s experimental P-51 was allowed to fly outside of the United States twice. The plane he owned did fly into Canada a couple of times, to Newfoundland and Montreal, but it was flown by his partner, Joe De Bona, on those trips out of the USA. This is a great story involving Jacqueline Cochran who was the WASP organizer (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_Airforce_Service_Pilots) and director during WWII, and Jimmy Stewart.
Thanks for the interesting extras on this story, Ralph. Really appreciate it when anyone has something to add – or even correct and/or criticize about our posts. Most important is that we get it right!
ric lambart, Pres. FASF