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.
The Mustang was sitting on the ramp, they said it had flown in during the night from some U.S. Airport because 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 pilot’s lounge. He was an older man, his wavy hair was gray and tossed. It looked liked 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 it’s shoulder. 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 waled 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 safe.” Thought 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 10 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 could not. There we stood, evels 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.