Anyone ever heard of Stallion 51? Ok so I did, and after some investigation, I decided to check off a bucket list item of mine. It was awesome! Flying a World War 2 fighter plane as been a dream of mine since I was a boy. My dad’s favorite aircraft was the P-51 Mustang. I remember watching Bob Hoover and the beautiful Rockwell P-51D at the Westmorland county airshow. He could put that airframe in amazing attitudes – I remember him doing a touch and go – touching the tail wheel only – quite a feat on a tail-dragger.
These flights actually gave you time at the controls of the 2 seat version of the P-51D, the TF-51. I scheduled an appointment with Flight Operations for Stallion 51 in January of this year. I read Lee Lauderback’s bio and figured he was the perfect Instructor Pilot since he has the most hours of anyone, ever in a P-51. But as I scanned the rest of the Instructors, I noticed something (and hence someone) special. In the group picture of instructors one pilot had a blue F-15 peaking from the neckline of his flight suit.
To anyone familiar with the USAF F15C community this is the mark of an Eagle Driver. Intrigued, I read Lt. Colonel (Ret) John “Homer” Black’s Bio. It turns out that Colonel Black was a member of the 44th Fighter squadron based in Okinawa at Kadena AFB. Since my son also drives the Mighty Mighty WGASF at Kadena, I knew I had found my instructor.
Kelley Managhan responded to my contact request and soon we had scheduled March 24 at 09:00 for reporting time at Stallion51 Flight Operations. I traveled from Pittsburgh to stay with my family in Tampa. And at 06:00 we started out from their house. Traffic was good and we arrived early at Kissimmee Airport. My Wife Denise, Brother Ted and I went upstairs and met Beth. I checked in and we waited for Colonel Black to arrive.
Like out of a script he arrives at KISM in his super cool RV-8 – 15 minutes before our appointment. As he walked into the reception area, he oozed cool – like all Eagle Drivers. As we chatted, he made me feel valued and welcome. I introduced him to my entourage and we talked about the plans for the day.
We would start with a mission briefing, then a walk around and finally cockpit orientation prior to moving out to the ramp. During the briefing Colonel Black described what to expect and a detailed knowledge of the P-51 and its history. We thoroughly reviewed the controls, communications and the plan for the flight.
We walked downstairs to the hanger and to the Mustangs. The planes are kept in breathtaking condition. My plane was N851D nicknamed Crazy Horse. We did a brief walkaround and Colonel Black showed me how to get in the rear cockpit.
The rear seat is area is where the fuselage fuel tank would sit in the non-trainer version of the Mustang, so I fit fine. After strapping me into the chute and seat, we were towed out and got our helmets on, checked coms and Homer went through the startup of the powerful Packard – Merlin engine. What an experience, sound, smell, feel, sight.. It was overwhelming as those 1650 horses came alive. Homer spoke to the tower as “Mustang06” our flights callsign for day and we were cleared to taxi and hold short of runway 15. We checked the brakes and taxied to the warmup ramp of 15. He was in constant communications with me helping to ease any anxiety. He nimbly unlocked the tail wheel and spun the Mustang into warmup position. The 172 next to us sure had something to look at!
I advanced the throttle as instructed by Homer to warm the oil and coolant. Then again for a runup. After systems checks we got clearance to take off on 15. After confirming we had a good aircraft and a final run-up he released the breaks and Crazy Horse started down the runway. In no time we were airborne and the gear was up, we turned southwest to stay out of MCO’s class D space and started our climb to the playground.
Homer gave me the aircraft and we practiced turns as we climbed. After getting to 9500 we graduated to “college” as Homer had briefed. First was stalls and then was the wing over, He demonstrated and I had it from there. It was just like peeling off of formation for a ground attack during WWII. After that it was time for a loop or two. Then Aileron rolls, man this is just too much fun. Then Barrel rolls the easy way (left) and then one to the right, requiring more control input fighting the forces of the mighty Merlin.
Then it was back to school where Homer demonstrated gyroscopic progression. We even stalled from the phenomenon. All too soon it was time to go home. We headed north and descended as we returned. We let the tower know where we were close and the directed us to Midfield Right break upon arrival. I lined up the Mustang to the approach end of 15 and flew her down the runway. At the midpoint above the runway, Homer called for the break and I banked her and turned 180 degrees to downwind while Homer added flaps. In the middle of the downwind Homer took the controls for the landing. As the mains touched down he chopped the power and the tail wheel settled to the ground. The big prop that had provided our thrust now slowed the steed down and not until we exited the active did Homer add fuel again. As we taxied back to Stallion 51, Homer let me S-taxi back towards the ramp.
When we were back at the ramp Homer set the breaks and turned off the engine. Although the flying was over we still had some tasks to complete the mission. I unhooked and unplugged from the cockpit, climbed out and Homer shook my hand for the glamour photo opportunity. Then the Stallion team pushed N851D back into the hanger in preparation for the her next mission. Homer led me back up to the debriefing room where we reviewed the video and he critiqued my work. He was complementary of my skills and didn’t dwell on my shortcomings. After the briefing I presented Homer with a 1971 Eisenhower silver dollar – a tradition from the early years of flying and carried on by the USAF when you get your first ride in a new type of Aircraft.
I personally think my performance was “B” work, I did have a couple of instances where the skill required straight back stick and pulled diagonally a bit throwing in some aileron. It took me a bit to keep the wings level with the horizon. Some of my roll-outs on maneuvers were not on the precise desired heading. But I tend to over-critique myself, after all this was more stick time than the rest of my 58 years combined. No matter – I had fun!
Overall impression – the experience was a significant milestone in my life connecting me to my father (private pilot with a love for the P-51), My father-in-law, who flew in a B-24 over Europe in WWII and my son the Eagle Driver. John Black was a great instructor (besides being an amazing pilot). His passion for the Mustang radiates when describes both the history and flying characteristics. He personalized my flight with details from his F-15 career and how it was relatable to and different from the Mustang. This is a 5 star outfit and has my highest recommendation. If you think you might want to fly the Mustang – Stallion51 is where to go.
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Check out Stallion 51 Flight Ops Facebook page for videos from Wes Sipe’s flight.