It’s a wonderful feeling to spend days out on the ramp with the Collings folks, talking with kids, talking with veterans, helping guide people through the planes and sharing that spark of enthusiasm. And Stuart’s a wonderful not-so-little airport, too. Sure, there are half a dozen bizjet parked out on the ramp between us and the centerfield, but it seems like the cavalcade of gorgeous airplanes just doesn’t stop. This morning I kept getting glimpses of Piper Cubs (on floats!), Beech Staggerwings and LongEzes taxiing by, not to mention a lone Albatross majestically chugging off to a hangar on the east end of the field.
But as much as I like hanging around airplanes, talking about airplanes and looking at airplanes, sometimes there no excuse for those three little words that make it all worthwhile.
“Let’s go fly.”
Heh. Go ahead, ask me again. I dare ya.
I was strapped into the P-51 faster than you could say…something that took a while to say, actually. Getting strapped into the cockpit of the P-51 is a non-trivial undertaking. But when the Foundation’s chief pilot and unofficial kid-at-heart suggests that it’s time to go pop a hole in the sky, a guy like me might surprise himself at how fast he can get up on that wing and buckled in.
Jim gave me my first two Mustang rides about a year and a half ago, but I hadn’t flown with him since, so I have to admit that I felt just a little bit nervous about whether I’d meet his expectations. And the throng of people crowding the rope line for photos of our startup and taxi didn’t help. But once I flipped on the master switch and got into the checklist flow, it all just came together, and the next thing I knew, we were clattering away from the field in an overhead 270 departure and I was chattering along to Jim like an honest-to-Bob tour pilot.
It felt freakin’ amazing.
“What do you want to do?”
“How ‘bout I show you my airwork?”
And I gave him steep turns, lazy 8’s, slow flight, stalls and aileron rolls. Got a little sloppy on the first lazy-8 (you really need to constantly adjust rudder trim as you move through flight regimes) and pushed a little on my second roll, but by and large, I found myself thinking that hey, I actually felt like I had a pretty good handle on this stuff.
Coming back to the field, I was more than a touch nervous, but solid on the approach and stuck the landing after only an eensy weensy skip. Taxied back, shut down and climbed out feeling almost, almost like a Mustang pilot.
As you might imagine, I’m reading these words I’ve written above with enormous trepidation: that’s just one good flight, and under ideal conditions right near the middle of the performance envelope. I’ve got to be able to do this consistently, and have total command of everything that can possibly go wrong through a laundry list of flight anomalies. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m good enough to trust myself with students of my own in this plane, and I have no doubt I’m going to eat plenty of humble pie on the way in the flavor of bounced landings, sloppy, skidding airwork and flubbed radio calls. But for the moment, just for this moment, I’m going to enjoy that feeling of what it’s like when it all comes together.