posted on Nov, 24 2005 @ 04:29 PM
I thought I might comment on one of the above aircraft -- the Mustang P-51. In order to do so though, we need to take a warm and nostalgic trip back
to my childhood. The year was 1967 and a Mustang P-51 had landed at a near by airport en route to Expo.
She sat there for two days, alone, like a burnished bulwark of security from the past; dwarfing the Cessnas', Pipers' and most anything that passed
close to her. I was in awe because of the shear size of the craft - it was much larger than I could have imagined.
It was a Sunday, noon, as I recall, the day she was to take to the air. The pilot arrived by cab, paid the driver and stepped into the flight lounge.
He was an older man, his hair grey and tossed . . . looked like it might have been combed, oh say, back in 1947. His bomber jacket was dog eared and
worn, it smelled old and honest. He projected a humble aire of proficiency and pride devoid of arrogance. He filed a quick flight plan then walked
across the tarmac.
After several minutes taken to do a walk-around, the pilot returned to the flight lounge to ask if anyone would be available to stand by with fire
extinguishers while he "flashed the old bird up."
Though only 12 at the time I was allowed to stand by with an extinguisher after brief instruction on its use -- "You see fire, point and pull this
lever!" Three of us stood by that day; I later became a firefighter but that's another story.
It seemed like a lifetime before the pilot was ready to bring the bird to life. Moments after I saw the air around the exhaust manifolds shimmer like
a mirror one manifold, then another, and yet another, barked blue flame -- I stepped back with the others. In moments the Packard-built Merlin engine
came to life with a thunderous roar, blue flames visible in her manifolds. I looked at the others' faces, there was no concern. I lowered the bell of
One of the guys signaled to walk back to the lounge, we did.
Several minutes later we could hear the pilot doing his preflight run-up. He was at the end of runway 19, out of sight. All went quiet for several
We raced to the second story deck to see if we could catch a glimpse of the P-51 as she started down the runway, we could not. We stood, eyes fixed to
a spot half way down 19. Then, a roar ripped across the field, much louder than before, like a furious hellspawn set loose---something mighty our way
"Christ!' "said the radio controller, "listen to that thing!" In seconds the Mustand burst into our line of sight. Its tail was already off, and
it was moving faster than anything I'd ever seen by that point on 19. Two thirds the way down 19 the Mustang was up and her gear was going up. The
prop tips were already supersonic; we clasped our hands to our ears as the Mustang climbed low, level, and hellish fast into the circut and out over
the lake 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 radio controller rushed by me to the radio. "Kingston
radio to Mustang?" He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgment. The radio crackled, "Kingston radio, go ahead." "Roger Mustang.
Kingston radio would like to advise that the circut is clear for a low level pass." I stood in shock, the controller had just, more or less, asked
the Mustang to return for an impromptu air show!
The controller looked at us. "What?" He asked. "I can't let that guy go without asking, I couldn't forgive myself!" The radio crackled once
again, "Kingston radio, do I have permission for a low level pass, east to west, across the field?" "Roger Mustang, the circut is clear for an east
to west pass." "Roger Kingston radio, we are coming out of 3000 feet, stand by." We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes fixed toward the
The sound was subtle at first, a high-pitched whine, muffled screech, a distant scream . . . moments later the P-51 burst through the haze, the
airframe straining against positive Gs and gravity, wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic as the P-51 crossed the
eastern margin of the field shreding and tearing the air.
At about 400 MPH and 150 yards from where we stood she passed -- with an old American pilot saluting us . . . imagine, a salute. I felt like
laughing, I felt like crying, the P-51 glistened in the sun, the building shook, my heart pounded then the old pilot pulled it up and rolled, and
rolled, and rolled out of sight, into the clouds and indelibly into my memory. I never wanted to be an American more than that day.
And why this story? Call it a salute to the old American pilot who chose to take the time to weave a memory that's stayed a lifetime.