EVERY FLIGHT IS A LESSON
Stallion 51, located in Kissimmee, Florida, is a professional flight operation that offers a wide range of warbird-oriented services besides simply putting an individual at the controls of a P-51 Mustang. Stallion 51 is the go-to place for new Mustang owners and pilots, but the lion’s share of its business is letting those who have always dreamed of flying a Mustang actually live out their dream. There are, however, no “rides” given. Each flight has clients going through a thorough preflight briefing before being ushered to one of two dual-cockpit/dual-controlled Mustangs, where they receive instruction. The “students” have virtually every control the instructor has, and depending on the mission—whether a checkout training or flight of fantasy—the “students” will get more than their share of stick time.
This is rather improbable and very successful business was borne of, and is based on, one thing: a passion for the North American P-51 Mustang. And passion is something Lee Lauderback, Stallion 51’s founder and president, has in
abundance. Among other things, he has logged well over 9,000 hours in Mustangs, probably a world record.
“I guess I have North American in my blood,” he says. “At two years of age, my first airplane ride was in a North American Navion with my dad. I began flying gliders at 14, soloed on my 16th birthday, and got my private license soon thereafter. Commercial, ATP [advanced turbo-prop], and CFI [certified flight instructor] followed, as age allowed. I wanted to fly military fighters; my eyes weren’t quite good enough, so after graduating from Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical University], I drifted into the corporate flying world. As chief pilot, I flew Arnold Palmer’s jets and helicopter for 18 years, but the Mustang was always reaching out to me.
“A defining moment,” he continues, “is probably when Gordon Plaskett put me in the front seat of his TF-51 and let me fly it with him. That was it! I was hooked. In 1987, a partner, Doug Schultz, and I bought a TF-51 and started flying under contract for the
Navy’s Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, as well as doing orientation flights and checkout training. This was the beginning of Stallion 51. In the late 1990s, I bought him out and began expanding the company. I’m one of five boys; my twin brothers, Peter and Richard Lauderback, have their own business: Stallion 51 Maintenance. They are the best Mustang mechanics you’ll ever meet, and we have a symbiotic relationship: I break ’em—they fix ’em. They also build them, and our little brother, John Lauderback, he sells them.
“As we expanded from military contracting, I began looking at a different audience. At the time, the warbird community was like the
Wild West with very little training or thought given to safe operations of warbirds in general, with the Mustang being the most numerous of the breed. Things have changed since then as the result of rising costs, FAA regulations, and insurance. The community now recognizes the value of training.”
At the same time that the demand for training was building, the Mustang’s reputation and general nostalgic attraction was also growing and that became a Stallion 51 market unto itself.
Lee says, “It’s hard to imagine how farreaching the Mustang is; the airplane is recognized worldwide. Further, the Mustang’s appeal isn’t limited to a specific generation. It draws in the youngest and the oldest, each for their own reasons. Last year was a particular stellar year for Stallion 51, in both social media and print, keeping our two Mustangs quite busy.
“Today, a person can walk in our front door for their appointment, and when they walk out, they do so with a clearer understanding what it takes to fly a Mustang. The preflight briefing (which addresses a specific syllabus), the flight, and the debriefing thoroughly saturate them with Mustang knowledge, and they come away with a much better appreciation for the airplane and its place in history. More important, the sights, sounds, and smells that can only be found in a fighter cockpit give them an entirely different perspective of aerial combat. When I see that grin on a person’s face after the flight, having been there myself, I know just how excited they are. A dream has come true, and we’ve been part of making that happen. It’s all very cool! Mustangs forever!”
“IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE HOW FAR-REACHING THE MUSTANG IS; THE AIRPLANE IS RECOGNIZED WORLDWIDE. FURTHER, THE MUSTANG’S APPEAL ISN’T LIMITED TO A SPECIFIC GENERATION. IT DRAWS IN THE YOUNGEST AND THE OLDEST, EACH FOR THEIR OWN REASONS.” —LEE LAUDERBACK, STALLION 51
Both of Stallion 51’s Mustangs are full dualcontrol aircraft, so there are no “rides.” Pilot or not, each participant receives instruction in flying the airplane. (Photo by Paul Bowen/Stallion 51)
The Stallion 51 crew—KT, Beth, Angela, Kelly, Richard, Zak, Steve, Lee, John, Bill, Peter, Marco, John, and Greg—is experienced in giving the public seamless access to the warbird experience. (Photo courtesy of Stallion 51)
What can be better than walking out to “your” Mustang in the predawn light? (Photo by KT Budde-Jones/Stallion 51)
Two of founder Lee Louderback’s brothers, twins Richard and Peter, are part of Stallion 51 and are known for their warbirdmaintenance skills. (Photo courtesy of the EAA)