Lauderback Legacy-25 years of Mustangs and More
Stallion 51 is celebrating their 25th Anniversary, an amazing milestone for any business today much less an aviation business that specializes in rare expensive vintage aircraft built on the dream and passion of the Lauderback brothers.
In the tradition of many great families, the Medici, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Sopranos: the Lauderbacks have taken their passion and turned it not only into a business but into an empire. Lee, Peter, Richard and John are the corner stone of the Mustang world; restoring, operating and marketing the rarest of the breed.
Stallion 51 started in the mind and heart of Lee Lauderback making models of the Mustang as a boy, fascinated by not just the plane but the men and women who flew them. The Lauderback’s father was a pilot in the service and he encouraged his boys to expand their horizons. Lee did so by flying gliders at 14 and still fondly remembers the Cessna 150 that he soloed at Orlando Exec airport on his 16th birthday. He continued on in aviation completing all his ratings, including instructor, by the time he went to college on a baseball scholarship to LSU. “Embry Riddle enticed me away from LSU with the promise of more opportunities to fly and instruct by changing my degrees to Aeronautical Science and Business Management”, Lee recalls.
Peter and Richard also went to Embry Riddle for aviation maintenance after completing their commitment to the USAF. In the late 70s, Peter and Richard started making a name for themselves in the world of vintage aircraft restoring P-40s and P-51s. The word spread about their expertise in restoration and maintenance in the very exclusive club of vintage aircraft. That “word” about their expertise found its way to Doug Schultz, a former Navy Pilot and current Delta pilot.
In 1987, Doug had negotiated a contract with the Navy Test pilot school to provide qualitative evaluation flights to Navy Test Pilots so they could experience the torque effects of prop driven fighters. The Mustang was the perfect aircraft for the job. He now had a means to help pay for having fun in his Mustang, however, he needed someone to help keep it flying. He contacted Peter and Richard Lauderback to help maintain his TF51 “Rascal”. He also realized that as a full time Delta pilot he needed help to promote and fly the TF. It was at this point that Lee joined Doug in their new endeavor.
Up until the fateful meeting with Doug Schultz, Lee’s dreams of being a fighter pilot were always just out of his grasp. His eyesight was good but not perfect which disqualified him from flying in the military. Getting his degree in aviation helped him start his aviation career along with being patient, prepared and above all, tenacious. However, being in the right place, at the right time and connecting with the right people gave Lee a JATO assist take-off to his amazing career.
In 1973, while flying charters out of Orlando Exec airport, Lee met Charlie Johnson, Arnold Palmer’s chief pilot. Charlie needed a co-pilot for Palmer’s Lear 24 and with in a few years, by the age of 24, Lee was the chief pilot of a Lear 24 for the legendary “Arnie”. With the privilege of flying a Lear also came the obligation of being on call 24/7 flying over 270 days a year. His days of fun flying in gliders or anything else were few and far between. He did however get the opportunity to fly a Mustang from the front cockpit. “It was at that moment that I knew that flying Mustangs is what I am suppose to do”, Lee recalls.
Unfortunately, no matter how much he tried to convince Arnie that “he needed a Mustang for an investment, pilot proficiency and ‘pilot morale’, he did not bite.” During the “off times” when he was not needed, he continued his fun flying; competing in sailplanes and dreaming of flying Mustangs. Doug Schutz and “Rascal” brought his vision of flying a Mustang into focus.
Lee formed up with Doug to not only fulfill the Navy test pilot contracts but to also promote orientation flights and training in the Mustang to the general public added by the support of Richard and Peter maintenance expertise. The name Stallion 51 for the company was an easy decision; Doug’s call sign in the Navy was “Stallion” and the P-51 Mustang was a powerful horse and obviously all male! However, the name “Rascal” for their P-51 had no real historical significance and did not grab any of them.
As the three brothers sat at a bar, they discussed a new name for the P-51; something as powerful as the horse it was named after and as brave as the American Indians that rode the mustang. After a few beers they also thought how crazy it was to take on this huge undertaking. It was then that the iconic flagship of Stallion 51, “Crazy Horse” was named.
For several years Lee juggled working for Arnold Palmer as his chief pilot and flying “Crazy Horse” for government contracts, airshows and sharing the Mustang with others through orientation and training flights. In 1990, Lee took a leap of faith and retired from Arnold Palmer after 17 years to devote his full attention to Stallion 51. Lee’s new full time commitment coincided with Doug’s new interest in flying vintage jets culminating in Lee buying out Doug’s half of the business “enabling both of us to pursue our passions”, Lee recounts.
Stallion 51 with Peter and Richard’s maintenance business moved their flight operation to the Kissimmee Airport, eventually building the first of their three hangars in 1996. It was from there that the first Gathering of Mustangs and Legends was held in 1999.
The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends started out as an instructional seminar for P-51 pilots and owners Lee is committed to safe, intelligent flying. He comments that “Stallion 51’s current check out training program evolved to where it is today from the test pilot school curriculum, refining on lessons learned, making Mustang flying and flying in general safer for the pilots and the historical planes entrusted to them”.
The 1999 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends was created to share that information with Mustang pilots as well Peter and Richard’s expertise on how to maintain the P-51. Lee also wanted to bring some of the historic legends who flew the P-51 in WWII to the event to learn of its rich heritage from those who flew it in battle.
65 Mustangs came from all over the country; the pilots came to learn, the Mustangs came to play in formation and the legends came to enjoy the smell and sounds of the Merlin engines. With them also came to Kissimmee Airport thousands of Mustang fans who enjoyed hearing the planes start up and take off on their training sorties and then waited for their return after their flight. The Legends enjoyed “hangar flying”; telling stories of what it was like for them to fly the Mustang in real combat situations to the crowds that gathered to hear history from those who made it.
All who attended; from the pilots, to the legends, to the crowd that gathered, enjoyed the weekend so much that they begged for more. More planes, more stories and a whole lot more flying; it was their collective cry for more that was the genesis for the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends-The Final Round-up in 2007.
Through hard work and dedication, the years between Gatherings brought expansion of Stallion 51’s operation. Crazy Horse gained a stable mate in Crazy Horse 2 to share the load of the many flights that were happening in Kissimmee. Word was out that if you wanted to fly the Mustang, Stallion 51 was the place to fulfill your bucket list wish.
Stallion had also expanded to three hangars which encompassed the flight operations for the T-6 Texan orientation flights and transition training program, VFR unusual attitude training program in the P-51 and AVMed 51’s FAA Medical Exam office and AME. Stallion had grown from a “one room school house” to a multi dimensional international university of higher learning.
Pilots from all over the world enroll in Stallion 51’s transition and check-out training programs, both in the T-6 Texan and the Mustang. If you want to own your own Texan or Mustang, Stallion 51 is the place to be checked out. “Insurance companies recognize that Stallion 51’s check out program is the gold standard in training. We have worked hard to gain the trust of the industry.” Lee is proud to state.
Stallion 51 has also incorporated an L-39 turbojet into their stable of horses. This highly modified aircraft is the perfect platform for unusual attitude orientation flights. Lee has offered unusual attitude training in the Mustang for over 15 years, realizing “that pilots need to know what to do when the familiar view from the cockpit becomes unfamiliar! “ The L-39 offers a comprehensive experience in a jet that is equipped with the same type of instrumentation found in corporate and business jets. Lee states it plainly; “pilots educated in real life, not simulated situations are prepared to make better decisions when it counts.”
The addition of AVMed 51 makes the Stallion51 campus truly a unique aviation destination. “Where else can you fly in for your FAA medical?” states Dr. William Busch who joined Stallion Team in 2006 to fill the gap in aviation education, pilot wellness. As “Doc” has pointed out, “The ability to fly in this day and age are dependent on desire, training, skill, financial and physical ability. These are all replenishable resources except one, physical ability or health. Without good health and the ability to pass an FAA medical exam all the dough, desire and skill in the world will not get keep you in the cockpit.” Doc is an integral part of the team at Stallion as an instructor pilot and teaching the aero-medical aspects of unusual attitude training and Pilot wellness to student and licensed pilots.
With all the flying that happens at Stallion 51 it is hard to imagine that there was time to organize another Gathering of Mustangs and Legends. Angela West joined the Lauderback dynasty in 1999 for the first Gathering. She also was tasked with organizing and directing the much-anticipated next Gathering.
The 2007 Gathering in Columbus, Ohio was a magnificent event that pulled together all that Lee and Stallion 51’s team holds dear; the planes, the men and women who flew them, the crew chiefs that kept them flying and the visionaries that designed them. Lee always wanted to share the Mustang with others and through the Gathering Foundation that was formed to put on this event, he reached hundreds of thousand of people from all over the world to witness and interact with the 77 Mustangs, 49 Legends and over 100 great aircraft that attended. Angela orchestrated a superb event that raised the bar for all air events to follow. The word “airshow” falls short of what it was; it was a modern day “Warbird Woodstock”!
The four-day event had not even concluded when the clamoring for another started up. Angela states ” The Gathering Foundation that supported the last event is 501c3 non-profit foundation that needs to raise funds and sponsorship for another event of that caliber.” Angela is the director of The Gathering Foundation that recently produced the photographic compendium of the 2007 event. Funds from the sale of “The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends –The Final Round-up” book go toward supporting the mission of the foundation; which is to gather and preserve the legacy of the men and machines that fought in WWII. Angela believes, “What better way to keep that history alive and accessible than to have another Gathering.”
Lee continues to keep aviation history in front of the general public by performing in airshows all over the country. He is known for his graceful Mustang solo demonstration routine and for being one of the few civilian pilots chosen to fly in the USAF Heritage flight program. Lee has the privilege of flying in formation with the USAF frontline fighter such as the $150 million F-22 Raptor.
Lee’s own fighter squadron of Mustangs and Stallion 51’s team has grown since its inception on a bar stool 25 years ago. Lee has a stable of three TF dual control, dual cockpit Mustangs to fly and instruct in. He has also recruited talented pilots to share the Mustang and the T-6 with Stallion’s many orientation flight customers and transition-training clients.
John Lauderback –brother number five, assists the transition-training clients further by helping them to find the perfect vintage plane to match their dreams of owning one. Through Stallion’s many warbird connections, the Lauderback family including Lee’s son Brad, virtually know every Mustang flying or project available. John helps connect those who want to find a good home for their Mustang with the perfect new owner who is looking for a P-51.
Lee is adamant that the success of Stallion 51 is not his alone but is shared by his brothers and staff. Lee has brought together a team of people that make Stallion into the fighter squadron he was not allowed to join in the military. Much like a fighter squadron, Stallion 51 includes a flight-operations to keep things running smoothly, a crew chief to keep the planes ready to go, briefing rooms to discuss the upcoming flights and a Flight surgeon at AVMed 51 to keep his pilots stay in the cockpit. Lee commented; “I could not be a fighter pilot for the military but now I have my own fighter squadron and I can not be promoted out of the cockpit”. There are fighter pilots out there today that would give anything for my job”.
25 years of success and job satisfaction fulfilling his dreams and helping others fulfill theirs. That is definitely something worth celebrating.