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Old Aviators and Old Airplanes.....
Old Aviators and Old Airplanes.....
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.
You may know a few others who would appreciate it.
It was noon on a Sunday as I recall, the day a Mustang P-51 was to take
to the air.
They said it had flown in during the night from some
U.S. airport,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 flight lounge.
He was an older man; his wavy hair was gray and
Looked like 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 its
shoulders. 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 walked 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."
Though 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
The air around the exhaust manifolds shimmered like
a mirror from fuel flames as 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 19, 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, eyes 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. We
stood for a few moments in stunned silence trying to digest what we'd
just seen. The radio controller rushed by me to the radio.
" Kingston tower, calling Mustang?"
He looked back to us as he waited for an acknowledgement.
The radio crackled, "Go ahead Kingston ."
"Roger Mustang. Kingston tower would like to advise the
circuit is clear for a low level pass."
I stood in shock because the controller had, more or less, just asked
the pilot to return for an impromptu air show! The controller looked at
us. "What?" He asked.
"I can't let that guy go without asking.
I couldn't forgive myself!"
The radio crackled once again, " Kingston , do I have permission
for a low level pass, east to west, across the field?"
"Roger Mustang, the circuit is clear for an
east to west pass."
"Roger, Kingston , I'm coming out of 3000 feet,
We rushed back onto the second-story deck, eyes
fixed toward the eastern haze. The sound was subtle at first, a
high-pitched whine, a muffled screech, a distant scream. Moments
later the P-51 burst through the haze.
Her airframe straining against positive Gs and gravity, wing tips
spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic as the
burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding
and tearing the air.
At about 400 mph and 150 yards from where we stood
she passed with the old American pilot saluting.
Imagine. A salute! I felt like laughing,
I felt like crying. She glistened, she screamed, the building
shook, my heart pounded. Then the old pilot pulled her up and rolled,
and rolled, and rolled out of sight into the broken clouds and
indelibly into my memory.
I've never wanted to be an American more than on that day. It was
a time when many nations in the world looked to America as their big
brother, a steady and even-handed beacon of security who navigated
difficult political water with grace and style; not unlike the pilot
who'd just flown into my memory. He was proud, not arrogant; humble,
not a braggart; old and honest, projecting an aura of America at its
That America will return one day, I know it will.
Until that time, I'll just send off this story; call it a reciprocal
salute, to the old American pilot who wove a memory for a young
Canadian that's lasted a lifetime.