Old Aviators and Old Airplanes.....
This is a good little story about a vivid memory of a P-51 and its pilot by
a fellow who was 12 years old in Canada in 1967. You may know a few others
who would appreciate it.
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 U.S. 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, and then stepped into the flight
lounge. He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and tossed. 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 'flashed the old bird up. Just to be
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
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 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 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, 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, 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 airframe straining against positive G's 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
At about 400 mph and 150 yards from where we stood she passed 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 .