Alright, let’s get right down to it. The question on the table is “What’s it like to fly a Mustang.” The short answer is it’s like trying to describe the Rocky Mountains to someone who has never seen a mountain. You can describe it all you want, but until you’ve been there, you just won’t believe it.”
I’ve been there. I’m one of the lucky few civilians who has sat there, legs spread wide, right hand wrapped around the contoured control stick and the left gripping that Luger-like throttle while 1450 British horses yanked me through space like some sort of Harry Potter banshee.
Even though I am only a few notches removed from the average Cessna pilot, my checkout in the Mustang was done the old fashioned way—fly a T-6 Texan for a few hours, climb into the single-place Mustang cockpit and have an instructor crouch on the wing while he points out all the stuff you should know in the cockpit. Then he pats you on the shoulder and you’re on your way.
On my first takeoff I couldn’t decide which was most amazing—the sight of the runway ripping past, the unbelievable noise or the simple fact that I was actually flying a Mustang. Somewhere between starting the throttle forward and the runway turning into a gray streak, my earlier nervousness disappeared and I focused on keeping the nose straight ahead with right rudder
Off the ground. Lean forward and reach down with the left hand to pull the gear handle in and up. Let the airspeed build to 170 mph while the nose points upward. Noise is everywhere and so tangible it forms a solid sheet for the entire experience to lay upon.
In what felt like seconds I was at ten thousand feet. I leaned on the ailerons. The horizon willingy tilted. The nose rips across the horizon and I’m squashed into my seat. Where was that Messerschmitt I glimpsed earlier? Drop the nose slightly below the horizon. The airspeed needle glides effortlessly past the big three. I’m at 350 mph indicated. I pull smoothly and watch the left wing as the horizon twists around it in a loop. Yeehah!
Back into the pattern, I can’t get it to slow down without one tight, high-G 360-degree turn. At 170 mph, the gear handle goes down and there’s a satisfying “clunk, clunk” Down and locked.
I turned downwind at 150, slow it to 140 on base and start the rest of the flaps out. The engine is barely purring, 125 mph. I want 110 over the fence. The airspeed needle settles on the right number and I drag the rest of the power off. The engine protests. Lots of barks and bangs. It doesn’t like running slow.
I level the airplane a few feet above the runway and play the “where is the runway” game, as I hold it off and rotate it into three-point attitude at the same time.
There’s a slight bump, then another and I can feel the wheels rolling on the asphalt. I can’t see the center of the runway, but the edges are in plain sight. The airplane doesn’t want to slow down. I concentrate on making small rudder movements to keep it straight. Then it slows and I touch the brakes with my toes and the world again becomes a normal world. I push forward hard on the stick to unlock the tailwheel and turn slowly off onto the taxiway. I crank the canopy open at the same time and the cool air reminds me for the first time that I’m sweating. But, it’s the best kind of sweat.
A thought suddenly occurs to me—I’ve done it! I’m a Mustang pilot and, in my own timid way I’ve tasted a little of my heroes’ world. And it tastes good.
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