- It was noon on a Sunday as I recall, the day a Mustang
P-51 was to take to the air. They said it had flown in during the night
from some US airport, the pilot had been tired.
- I marveled at the size of the plane dwarfing the Pipers
and Canucks tied down by her, it was much larger than in the movies. She
glistened in the sun like a bulwark of security from days gone by.
- The pilot arrived by cab paid the driver then stepped
into the flight lounge. He was an older man, his wavy hair was grey and
tossed . . . looked like it might have been combed...say, around the turn
of the century. His bomber 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 "flashed 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 fuel fumes as the huge prop started to rotate. One manifold,
then another, and yet another barked -- I stepped back with the others.
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,
there was no concern. I lowered the bell 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, out of sight. All
went quiet for several seconds, we raced from the lounge 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. There 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 hell spawn set loose---something mighty this way was coming.
- "Listen to that thing!" Said the controller.
In seconds the Mustang 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 airborne with her gear
going up. The prop tips were supersonic; we clasped our ears as the Mustang
climbed hellish fast into the circuit 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 calling 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 the circuit 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 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 circuit is clear for an east to west pass." "Roger,
Kingston radio, we're 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 airframe 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 400 Mph and 150 yards from where we stood she
passed with an 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 a story; call it
a reciprocal salute, to the old American pilot who wove a memory for a
young Canadian that's stayed a lifetime.
- From Stephen Mocko
- Hello Lea,
- My buddy told me a story of a few years ago when he was
fishing in a boat on a lake near Eureka Mt. There is a man named Jim Smith
who has a huge collection of old WWII airplanes. He saw them flyng to his
personal aiport near Fortine Montana, In formation of 2 with his P-51.
I just wish I would have been there to see it. I had alot of models of
the P-51. They are a great Plane.Thank you for the story.
- From Dan McGee
- Hi Lea:
- Sure enjoyed the verbal image you painted about that
P-51. I remember years ago watching a doctor, who owned a puple one, barrel
out of the Santa Barbara airport. Even earlier, right around 1960, I was
in Chico watching a guy doing aerobatics in a P-51.
- Little did I know then that this plane would be part
of my fall as it has been for over 20 years now. I live in Reno and cover
the Air Races here and am actually the voice of motor racing in this area.
There is almost nothing more seductive than an engine at full song and
the Merlin is no exception. Once you've heard that song, it never leaves
- As for the political side, I agree with youi. As a child
of the Cold War - I'm acutally a War Baby, I remember when our country
was the poster child for all that was good in the world.
- Boy have we changed, and not for the better. In fact
over the past few years, for the first time in my life, I've actually been
considering moving out of the country. Sad but true.
- I too hope that we might change and find the goodness
that used to rule America's soul. I know we are basically a good people
and want to do the right thing. Too bad our so called leaders don't share
- Hope to be reading more of your work. Keep it up and
someday if you really want to see a P-51 flown in anger, be sure to come
to our Air Races. They are run in mid-September and it's one of the most
dramatic sights in all of racing seeing the Unlimiteds started in a dive
off a pace jet.
- The sound is wonderful and spells the fall for me.
- Take care, sincerely -
- Dan McGee - Reno, Nevada
- From Patrick
- Dear Lea,
- I am only 50 years old but I have had a love affair with
the P-51 since I was 7 years old. Now I live in Europe with my 9 year old
son who is Canadian born. We have a model of the P-51 in our living room.
Even my son can recognize the beauty and timelessness of this aircraft.
We get a kick out of flying the computer simulator.
- As a former search and rescue pilot myself, it is good
to see that I am not the only person who still remembers where we come
from as a nation and how great we can be.
- Thank you very much.
- Best wishes,
- Patrick Green
- From Dr. Nick Ashley
- Dear Lea,
- I just read your article on the Rense site. I know how
you feel. I feel the same way when I see and hear a Spitfire flying in
the sky, as a tribute to the brave men who fought and died for us.
- I live near the airfield used by the 457th bomb group
flying B17s out of the UK. The local pub has lots of pictures from that
- You wrote a great article. Don't forget that there a
lot of us who still admire the United States of America and what she stands
- God Bless America.
- From Larry Paulson,
58th Air Rescue Squadron
Tripoli, Libya 1964-65
- What a moving story. I'm going to send it to my e-mail
list. Thank you.
- From David Salay
- Just a note to say i read your essay on the P-51 and
really enjoyed it. My brother sent it to me.
- From Dale Scott
- Lea, despite the intimidating stack of work on my desk,
I must take time to write a response to your vivid piece on the Mustang
Your 51 story had the rare ability to make my hair stand up and my chin
tremble at the same time.
- In 1968, I joined my father and uncle, who were pilots,
by obtaining a private ticket. Flew a 4-state sales territory for years,
and have fond memories. Dad got his ticket in a Flying Jenny in '34, Uncle
Jules in an American Flyer in '30. Unc became an honest-to-God barnstormer
in southern Missouri, hired by a consortium who later formed Ozark Airlines.
But,as you also said, those are other stories.
- My daughter lives in Reno, Nevada, and her uncle-in-law
owns not just one, but two, 51s. He participates in the air races there,
taking lucky winners of the raffles up for rides they'll never forget.
He lives in a tidy apartment in his hangar, along with all of his 6 planes
(including an AT-6 and a Stearman). Laura describes one ride: They're flying
along on a short jaunt. Shortly after takeoff, they're buzzing his favorite
bar out in the desert, a regular occurrence for him. The intercom doesn't
work. Uncle Bob turns around ... parachute-donned, shes's crunched up against
the canopy in the seat behind him ... smiles and twirls his index finger.
Having no idea what this means, Laura smiles back. Next thing she knows,
she's "treated" to an unexpected snap roll ... who-o-a!! Talk
about memorable! That's memorable.
- I was also taken by the number of writers who responded
affirmatively to your observation about what America has sunk to. Unlike
most, however, I don't see a happy ending to the story. I now live in Costa
Rica, and, based on the experiences I've had at the ports of entry I've
passed through on my two trips back in 6 years, care never to return.
- From John Burton
- No one flushes the tear ducts like you, Lea.
- From John Cameron.
Australia. ex National Serviceman.
- Dear Lea, May I suggest you read for a start 2 books
by Prof. Antony C Sutton Wall Street & the Rise of Hitler - Wall Street
& the Bolshevik Revolution. Also for a fact that Mr.Prescott Bush did
business with the Nazi Regime through banking. Wars are promulgated to
enhance profits of I-MC. Also your now C in C is a draft dodger, also VP.
Without wars & conflict the U.S. would go broke. WARS A FOLLY / MALADY
- From Hayden McAfee
- Dear Lea,
- Thank you for reminding me of how it used to feel, to
be proud to be an American.
- From Mike Collins
- Dear Lea,
- I came to the end of your story with tears streaming
down my face, I by the way, am British born and bred although I have now
exiled myself to the Canary Islands. They used to say when I was young
that whatever fashion/craze/political agenda current in the USA would eventually
filter back to the UK, and it was true, many of your exports were enjoyed
by me and my friends (the Beach Boys and Surfing stand out the most for
me). I am deeply saddened by what has come to pass in recent times, and
mourn the loss of the many bright and brave young men who perished fighting
for what they thought was our freedom, I to look forward to a time free
of the poison of political agenda, a time when we can once again look to
America as our big brother, in the mean time I am "your" brother
and I am sure there are many more of us out there.
- From Fred Engle
- Dear Lea,
- I grew up in Oshkosh a long time ago; long before the
Experimental Aircraft Association came to town.
- At one point I returned for several years; we bought
a house one half block from Whittman Field.
- I've seen almost everything that can fly (and maybe some
things that shouldn't).
- Beyond doubt, the most shattering was the F-14 Tomcat.
It has no apparent finesse. It is just plain brutal.
- While the daily air shows always hi-lited a particular
plane in rotation, like the F-14 one day or a Harrier the next; each day
the Mustangs flew.
- Some days there were a dozen in the air at once, making
passes at treetop level, planting memories and hinting what it must have
been like, when years before, the P-51 went to work. As you said, it's
bigger than you think, and ver-much faster. Once you hear the Merlin at
speed, the sound is fused somewhere deep, and cannot be forgotten.
- In your little story (posted on Rense.com) you captured
the essence of the Mustang and what America once was, more succinctly that
I have read in years. I think perhaps my Senator Jack Reed might like your
story as well. I will forward it to him.
- From Burt Brown
- Hi, Lea!
- Just saw your story about the P-51. Very enjoyable. Yes,
I, too, hope that day returns. Things have gotten a bit topsy turvy and
we've lost our solid leaders who are honorable. Such a shame.
- But, on a brighter note. I remember back in the mid to
late '60's a fellow around my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi had a
P-51. As I recall his name was Blyth Huntly. Being quite rural and home
to a lot of former barnstormers turned crop dusters, things were a bit
lax around here. Huntly liked to take his Mustang down on the deck and
buzz the kids out skiing on the lake!
- Imagine sitting in your boat, soaking up the sun with
your friends, when, suddenly you hear this ROAR in the distance and wonder
what in the hell it could be. First thought, a towboat has slipped up on
you and is going to send you to the bottom. After a second of shear panic,
you see this silver and blue thing reflecting in the sun. "Hey, that's
an airpla..." By that time this screaming demon looks like it's going
to take your head off and your panic turns to absolute terror! Everybody
ducks and Huntly roars past at 200 feet (maybe less - certainly not legal).
You could have counted the rivets if there had been time and you certainly
could see the little trails of oil and soot along the fuselage! Suddenly
the terror turns to cheering and everybody is waving for him to come back
and do it again! As if he had a rear view mirror to see us in.
- That kind of thing happened more than once. Like your
experience, it was something to remember. AND THAT SOUND! I'll never forget
- Enjoyed your piece!
- From Ted Lang
- Hi Lea!
- Excellent piece! I'm an aircraft buff, and amateur historian
of early American civil and military aircraft. All you missed in describing
were the goose bumps covering your body listening to the whine of the Merlin
and the assertive air chopping of the prop that got you in the gut.
- But really, nicely done!
- From Anonymous
- Sometimes in these dark days of Bush/Cheney and the neo-cons
I wonder if intelligent citizens of the US can ever raise their heads again.
I say intelligent because most of the idiots who voted for this madman
are oblivious. God have mercy on us.
- I'm 55 and grew up loving all WWI and WWII aircraft.
The P-51 is a perennial favorite of mine but I love the German birds, too.
Here's one of the best sites on what the German Luftwaffe would have fielded
had the war lasted into 1946.
- From John (JT) Wyper
- Dear Lea,
- Your story really touched me.
- My father, who will be 82 soon living in L.A., was a
Mustang pilot in WWII. He was stationed in the Pacific with Col. Johnson's
outfit, the 357th Figher Group. He shot down a couple of Japanese planes,
including a Betty Bomber and an Oscar. He also wrote a book about his experiences
titled "The Youngest Tigers in the Sky", and was decorated for
a special mission in China.
- What was also special about your story was that my dad
probably knew the pilot in your story.
- Even by 1967, most of the Mustang pilots knew each other,
such as the famous Bob Hoover (a family friend), Clay Lacy and others.
As a boy, I traveled to the Reno air races in 1965 and met most of the
mustang pilots, including some others such as Chuck Yeager.
- I used to fly with my dad growing up in his Cessena 172
and later his Bonanza.
- Thanks for the special article!!!
- From Tim Ryan
- Mr. McDonald,
- Thanks for your article on the P-51. I've been around
airplanes since I was a kid. My first flight was in a J-3 Cub flown by
my Dad. I was so small that I couldn't even see out the windows (until
he went into a bank for me). My father flew F-4U Corsairs in South Pacific
in WWII - even met Pappy Boyington. My father's friend, Mike Murphy, flew
the P-51 over Germany. I even have a copy of a picture Mike took from his
gun camera of a ME-262. Three of the four kids in our family have pilot's
licenses; airplanes are in our blood, I guess.
- But, your thoughts off the America that once was reverberates
in me as well. It's like this country is ill, but we know she will get
better. Where's the doctor - what's the medicine? I love the America of
my youth, not today's.
- I have hope, but it may take some time to get better.
- Thanks for your piece!
- From Glenn McCarthy
- Your essay was hard to read. I have worked to keep emotions
separate from my response to 9/11 and other subsequent attacks on the American
people by he Bush cabal. If I did not, I would either be in jail or dead
by now and every fool on the road with made-in-china window flag would
have a nice big dent in their gas-guzzling status symbols. Your essay made
me realize the depth of despair and shame I have been neglecting for the
past 4 years. We have lost trust in our government and faith in common
sense but, worst of all, we have lost our honor.
- From Gene Edinger
- Hi Lea,
- I just want to comment about how much your story regarding
the old pilot and the P-51 touched me -- it's rekindled my almost-extinguished
hope for America. Anyway, just a few weeks ago, I created a 3D render of
a P-51. Airplanes are not my usual subject matter, but I just felt compelled
to compose it. I hope you like it.
- From Harold Grubman, 1st Lt.
- Lea, I am a retired navigator [B-24s]from the USAF, 93rd
bomb group out of Hardwick, U.K.
- I owe the P-51 a vote of thanks for the escort service
it provided our B-24 and another vote of thanks for my reliving a moment
when I asked for a snap roll which was promptly done right around our aircraft
as we were returning from a mission to Politz Germany. Its something I
will always remember.
- Harold Grubman Ist Lt
- They continue to pour in faster than I can cut and paste
- From my perspective, there are people who are thankful
to be reminded of the way America used to be. They were made proud again,
if only for a moment.
- Yes, it's easy to jump on the "Hate America"
bandwagon these days - many do it. But in all fairness, one simply can't
forget those souls who remember the way America used to be.