As some of you may already know, on the afternoon of the 6th July 2012 I took a half hour hands on flight in the TF-51D “Crazy Horse” (“Crazy Horse 2” was in the hangar with an engine valve problem). “Crazy Horse” started her life in 1944 as a standard P-51D and underwent conversion to a dual control training aircraft at the end of WW2. She is owned by Lee Lauderback as part of his company “Stallion 51” based at Kissimmee Airport in Florida.
My pilot was a gentleman by the name of John Posson. John has over 17500hrs of flying experience as an Alaskan “bush” pilot, an airline pilot and as part of “The Patriots” jet aerobatic team flying the L39 Albatross. Simply put, he knows what he’s doing and then some! He’s also a jolly nice chap who patiently answered my unending stream of questions in the pre-flight briefing.
So to the flight itself:
John took me on the pilots pre-flight inspection in the hangar explaining what to look for, what would be a good thing to see and what would be a bad thing. Having found no bad things he signed for the aircraft from the ground crew chief.
I climbed into the rear cockpit seat where the fuselage centre tank and radios would have been in the wartime P-51D. This seat put me above the radiators and cooling systems but more on that presently.
After struggling into the parachute ( the rear cockpit is rather more confined that the front and I’m rather wide across the shoulders anyway….I’m rather wide across the waist too but that wasn’t an issue) and being given the safety instructions which were obviously detailed and serious in nature I was then strapped into the seat harness…very tightly, and given the flying helmet which appeared to of the type worn by US Navy pilots he got in and the aircraft was towed out of the hangar onto the ramp.
The rear cockpit has almost all the controls that the front cockpit has except for a few such as fuel tank selection. John then went through the pre-flight checks and then there was the most dramatic of pauses before that amazing sound: The Merlin engine starting up!
This is where the comparison with the P-51 models in IL2 begins:
Does the term “Fr!cking Loud” mean anything to anybody! I have seen P-51’s at airshows and stood as close as possible to experience start up….they are louder inside. I had to wear ear plugs and had the helmet radio earphones over my ears, which requires the radio to be on full volume and the noise was still incredible. Not to mention the exhaust fumes blowing into the open cockpit!
When that engine is started all external noise is lost. I could not hear the gear retract, the flaps lower. All that I could hear was the engine and John on the radio. The mike had to be in contact with the lips or he could not hear me. Could the guns be heard when fired? Possibly. Lets face it, six .50’s all going at once is going to be loud too, but I would imagine the sound would be very low even then.
So the mods etc that let you hear the aircraft creaking under stress? No way!
After short taxi to the end of the taxi-way (“peri-track” in RAF parlance) he closed the canopy and carried out a final full run up check of the engine with the words “Now you’re going to see just how much power is in this engine”. He wasn’t kidding! The engine roared to new noise levels and the whole aircraft rocked and shook with the power but at the same time felt solid. I know that sounds weird but it’s the only way I can describe it.
Remember I mentioned about the rear seat being over the radiators? Well now the temperatures started to rise inside the cockpit. Bearing in mind this was already a July day in Florida at around 33-35 degrees with 75% humidity, now the sweat really started.
At the completion of the check John opened the canopy again for ventilation. He received take-off permission from ATC (our call-sign was “Mustang 4” ) and taxied out onto the runway threshold. After closing the canopy, checking the flaps were fully up he wound the engine up on the brakes and released and we were accelerating hard down the runway.
At 90 knots IAS he lifted off and retracted the undercarriage but did not immediately climb. Instead he continued to accelerate in level flight down the runway until he was level with small group of workmen working at the side of the runway (who he later told me need cheering up so he wanted to put on a bit of a show for them).
IAS was now at about 200 knots (I may be a bit out on this as it was all very exciting and happening rather quickly) at this point he suddenly pitched the Mustang up to about a 70% angle and we shot upwards and the G-force came down like several large bags of cement and I felt myself crushed into my seat like nothing I’ve experienced before!
He levelled out at about 3000 feet and after about 2 minutes to clear out of the airspace of Kissimee and Orlando International airports said “You have the aircraft”…..! I put on what I thought was my coolest calmest voice and answered as he had briefed “I have the aircraft”. I wouldn’t say that I gripped the stick tightly but I swear I was getting juice from it!
Very responsive. Initially I was too erratic with my inputs and kept overcorrecting my over corrections. The smallest movement on the stick translated to the control surfaces resulting in a slightly wobbly beginning. However as our speed increased the airflow on the control surfaces and I began to feel a little more confident and the aircraft started to feel a lot more stable to me.
John then pointed out a hole in the clouds off to our right and asked my maintain a speed of 260 knots IAS and climb through it. This turned out to be surprisingly easy. A shallow turn to the right and up through the hole into clear blue skies which now lost the constant bumping turbulence we had been experiencing on the climb up until then.
The climb continued to around 7000 feet and we then started the manoeuvres:
Trim: John had preset the rudder and aerilon trim prior to take-off. However once in flight you are continually trimming and re-trimming pitch.
Stall – Low speed: John throttled back and told me to raise the nose 20 degrees above the horizon which I did. The aircraft still felt very controllable as it slowed down, and down….and down. As it slowed he kept telling me to pull the nose up more. About five seconds before the stall a distinct low frequency vibration began, until, at 71 knots, the left wing dropped and the aircraft went into a nose down attitude which I corrected and pulled out of with little problem. In fact I felt quite pleased with myself. (What’s that saying about pride coming before the fall?)
(In the pre-flight briefing I had asked about slow speed stall as I had found that the IL2 P-51’s always dropped the right wing which I always thought seemed wrong as to me the torque of the engine should drive the aircraft over to the left. John stated that the left wing would be the one to drop for precisely this reason unless there was some influence from the pilot via the rudder).
Roll, aerilon left: After regaining our original altitude he instructed me to again point the nose to about 20 degrees above the horizon and the push the stick all the way to the left-hard. I did so and the aircraft rolled smoothly through 360 degrees where I regained a wings level attitude. It took about four seconds to complete roll which I considered the IL2 Mustang has captured quite well.
Roll, aerilon right: Virtually identical to the aerilon left roll, no discernable difference.
(The fall after the pride!)
This was the one that I was really interested in for obvious reasons. We climbed back up to around 7000feet again and he then instructed me to point the nose down until an IAS of 260 knots had been achieved again. I then rolled the aircraft about 90 degrees to the right and pulled back on the stick as hard as I could and held it there…..Holy Cr@p! The G’s came down like the proverbial anvil. As the turn continued to increase the G’s did too. Then as we approached the stall a vibration started again only this one is different. It’s a high frequency vibration, a lot different than the one at low speed. Then the stall hits. The aircraft rolls over far more violently than the low speed and for a few seconds I was pretty disorientated and John took control back.
(The high speed stall in IL2 is similar but it’s the G that makes all the difference which IL2 obviously cannot replicate).
Nose over and dive to IAS 275 knots, pull hard back on the stick….G’s crash down again…hard….keep pulling back the stick…ease slightly over the top before pulling it back on again and the G’s crushing again at the bottom of the loop.
The G’s were so oppressive that I didn’t look to the side so as a result I entered the loop very well according to John but at the top the right wing was dropped.
Now this is a point of controversy between Mr Posson and myself. He told me to fly to a tall cloud to our left and dive the aircraft at the base of it. As we reached it he told me to pull back on the stick and start to roll the aircraft to the left. Now I thought “this is the barrel roll we had discussed in pre-flight” so I continued to roll the aircraft over and executed what he described as a “beautiful barrel roll” however he had actually wanted me to climb up and carry out a left wing-over down the other side of the cloud.
(When I explained post flight that the barrel roll had been deliberate on my part he said with that kind of “BSing” I could be a pilot! Cheeky chap!)
Left wing over:
This started the same as the barrel roll (the deliberate one!) however as the roll starts in the climb it is stopped, climb and roll the aircraft to the left at the top and down the other side.
Right wing over:
As above, no discernable difference.
At this point, and much to my annoyance, the motion sickness hit me and, with the sick bag taunting me from where it was bulldog clipped to the right side of the fuselage, I had to confess this to John and we returned to conventional flight for the last 10 minutes. I didn’t throw up but I did not want to risk befouling this beautiful aircraft so I called it.
I flew the aircraft back to Kissimmee Airport. John took over and flew down the runway into a right break with 20 degrees of flap onto the landing pattern and landed. IAS over the threshold was 110 knots with touchdown at 90knots. Two wheeled landing. John told me the three point landing was best suited for short/rough fiield ops.
Taxi back in with me S-turning the aircraft via the rudder pedals.
Onto the ramp and engine shut down.
Unhook harness and parachute and climb down with a huge smile, soaked in sweat with the heated desire to do it all again one day.
The Il2 P-51’s feel underpowered in terms of acceleration and climb. With regards to manoeuvrability they are pretty close.
The noise is where they are waaaay off. With that Merlin roaring all you can hear is that Merlin roaring!
I presently use “Crazy Ivan’s” joystick settings and I think these are pretty close for the P-51.
The flight in “Crazy Horse” was an incredible experience and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone. It’s not cheap at about £1800 for 30 minutes (I was there for about 3 hours in total) but the realisation of a lifelong dream rarely is.
I hope that little report is of interest to you. If nothing else writing it helps me relive the flight.
Smile says it all!