Every Pilot Dreams of Mustangs
This iconic WW II fighter is an amazing aircraft, and it holds a special place in many pilots’ heart. When Flight Journal editor-in-chief Budd Davisson finally got the chance to scratch his Mustang itch, he went down to Paris, Texas, to enlist the help of master instructor “Junior” Burchinal, who ran a flight school that teaches pilots how to fly warbirds. Before Budd even got close to the Mustang, Junior had him strap into an AT-6 “Texan” and log 10 hours. The first check flight that Budd got in the Mustang was with him stuffed into the back section of the P-51’s singleplace cockpit with Junior at the controls. Budd was wedged into the space that once housed the WW II radio gear, and he was peering over Junior’s left shoulder. At the time, there were no two-seater Mustangs, so he watched Junior put the airplane through its paces calling out the important numbers. The first thing Budd learned was that a Mustang pilot does not climb onto the plane from the trailing edge. Even though there is a step opening in the top of the flaps, experienced Mustang drivers climb up onto the left main gear tire and get up over the leading edge to make their way to the side of the cockpit. Once in the cockpit, Budd noticed that the Mustang’s control layout is almost exactly the same as that of the AT-6 Texan (both aircraft were produced by the North American Aircraft Co.). Engine startup is standard fare: Hit the primer a few times, then hit the starter button; after about four blades, light up the mags and the engine erupts with explosive sound! The Mustang’s cockpit is very noisy with the canopy open. The next thing Budd learned was how to taxi. The tailwheel is steerable, but you have to push the stick all the way forward to let it swivel. The Mustang’s long landing gear provide nice ground handling, but the nose is way up there; you have to do S-turns to clear the way ahead as you make your way to the runway. (Budd notes that, at this point in his aviation career, he had much more time than your typical WW II pilot fresh out of pilot school. These young recruits had maybe 350 hours under their belt when they strapped in the Mustang for the first time.) On the runway, once Budd pushed the throttle forward, the Mustang accelerated quickly and there’s some P-factor to deal with as the tail comes up. You instantly have great visibility over the nose. A little more right rudder is needed to keep the nose straight down the runway, and the Mustang responds and behaves much better than the Texan. With the gear tucked up, it climbs at 2,000 feet per minute and no retrim is needed. At about 10,000 feet, Budd checked the stall speed, which breaks at about 88mph. The ailerons remained solid and responsive. Bringing the Mustang back to the barn, Budd powered back and set up his approach. He was nervous about landing this heavy—and expensive—airplane. Slowing to about 170mph, he lowered the nose to about 30 degrees; at about 115 mph, with full flaps and gear down, he had great visibility all the way down. He started to lower the tail for a three-point landing (which is what Junior wanted him to do), and from about 6 inches above the runway, the airplane dropped in for a smooth landing and a 2,000-foot runout. Taxiing back to the hangar, Budd could not help but smile—he had soloed in a P-51D Mustang!