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.”
“The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver, and then stepped into the pilot’s lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked like it might have been combed, say, around the turn of the century. His flight jacket was checked, creased and worn – it smelled old and genuine. Old Glory was prominently sewn to its shoulders. He projected a quiet air of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. He filed a quick flight plan to Montreal (Expo-67, Air Show) then walked across the tarmac.”
“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.”“Several minutes later we could hear the pilot doing his pre-flight run-up. He’d taxied to the end of runway 19, where he was out of sight. All went quiet for several seconds; we raced from the lounge to the second story observation deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of the P-51 as she started down the runway. We could not. There we stood, eyes fixed to a spot half way down number 19. Then a roar ripped across the field, much louder than before – a furious bedlam from hell had spawned aloud. Something mighty was headed this way! ‘Listen to that thing!’ shouted the controller.”“In seconds the Mustang burst into sight. Its tail had already lifted off the runway and it was moving faster than anything I’d ever seen by that point on 19. Two-thirds the way down the runway, the Mustang was airborne with her wheels tucking gracefully up into her wings. The huge prop tips were supersonic; we clasped our ears as the Mustang climbed hellishly fast into the traffic pattern to be eaten up by the dog-day haze.”“We stood for a few moments in stunned silence trying to digest what we’d just seen. The tower radio traffic controller rushed by me to grab his mike. ‘Kingston tower calling Mustang?’ He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgment.”“The radio crackled, ‘Go ahead Kingston.’ “
“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!”“The radio crackled once again, Kingston, do I have permission for a low level pass, east to west, across the field?”
“Roger Mustang, the pattern is clear for an east to west pass.”“Roger, Kingston, I’m coming out of 3000 feet, stand by.”
“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.”“Moments later the P-51 burst through the haze. Her air frame straining against positive Gs and gravity, wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic as the burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding and tearing the air.”“At about 500 mph and 150 yards from where we stood she roared by us with the old American pilot saluting. Imagine. A salute! I felt like laughing, I felt like crying, she glistened, she screamed, the building shook, my heart pounded.” “Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled, and rolled – – – and rolled – out of sight into the broken clouds and indelibly into my memory.”
“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.”Find this story sent us by Virg inspiring? If so, please send the site along to your friends to enjoy, too.
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
She looks like a beautiful Patriot as she flys! If I could only afford her!??