Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Who Is The Pilot?

I didn't check with Snopes, etc. before posting this. If it isn't true, it ought to be.

This 1967 true story is of an experience by a young 12 year old lad in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. It is about the vivid memory of a privately rebuilt P-51 from WWII and its famous owner/pilot.

In the morning sun, I could not believe my eyes. There, in our little airport, sat a majestic P-51.  They said it had flown in during the night from some U.S. Airport, on its way to an air show. The pilot had been tired, so he just happened to choose Kingston for his stop over.  It was to take to the air very soon.  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 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 tall, lanky man 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!", he said.  (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 with an arrogant snarl.  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 ran 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. It's tail was already off the runway 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 hellishly 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 acknowledgment. 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 just, more or less, asked the pilot to return for an impromptu air show!
The controller looked at us. "Well, 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 3,000 feet, stand by."
 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 G's and gravity. Her wing tips spilling contrails of condensed air, prop-tips again supersonic. The burnished bird blasted across the eastern margin of the field shredding and tearing the air. At about 500 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 indelible 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 old American 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 best.

That America will return one day! I know it will!  Until that time, I'll just send off this story. Call it a loving reciprocal salute to a Country, and especially to that old American pilot:  the late-JIMMY STEWART (1908-1997),  Actor, real WWII Hero  (Commander of a US Army Air Force Bomber Wing stationed in England), and a USAF Reserves Brigadier General, who wove a wonderfully fantastic memory for a young Canadian boy that's lasted a lifetime.


  1. Feral, I don't care if it's true. I felt great, I heard the Merlin and I thank you...........

  2. Whoa. I'm with Lou, and I thank you. As someone who lives within sight of the tower at Centennial Field south of Denver and gazes upon the row of Reno trophies outside the Perfect Landing restaurant on that tarmac and hears the Merlins roar regularly, I can NEVER get enough. That was great.

  3. He was the commander of the USAF reserves at Dobbins AFB. I had an uncle who was his commo NCO during that time. Jimmy Stewart came to his funeral in '84. America needs more people of his character.

  4. Hi Irish,
    "The Mustang," and the pilots who flew them!!!! Ya' gotta' love it!! For the times I got to an Air Show where there was a Mustang Flyin' and I have to say "Reno!!" the National Championship Air Races in September.......There are "Mustangs!!" Lots of em'!! That sound when they start up on the ramp and taxi out!! Take off roll, break ground and suck up the gear!!......the sound is majestic!! "Mustangs" garnered a notch in my spirit at a very early age....I was just 8 or so years old and got my saved up dollars to buy a 17" balsa wood model airplane kit and a "McCoy .049" engine!!! the plane kit was a "Mustang!!!" It got built but being my first experience at model building it didn't turn out so good.... Oh well, there were other "Mustangs!!" that flew till their balsa wood fuselages got so oil soaked from those engines that you could wring them out!! Mustangs, there is nothing else in the world like 'em!!!!
    Fly!!!!, while you still have your wings!!!!
    PS......As someone once asked Leon, my friend who I first Skydived with, why did he jump?? So Leon says,"Did ya' ever play Jets or Airplanes when you were a little kid....hold your arms out from your side and run around the yard making "airplane noises????" Yeah, Mustang airplane noises!!!!!!

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  6. Damn! Computer screen got blurry at the end.

  7. Hey Irish;

    Thank you for the story:)

  8. See, I picked a good co-author.. You guys can thank Jeffery for finding that :)

  9. A few years ago in Baltimore I met a tankerman while loading a jet "A" barge.He was up from the gulf covering vacations.His father was a flight engineer on B-36 "s who appears in the movie "Strategic Air Command ".He said his father told him that Jimmy Stewart and Harry Morgan were comensumate gentlemen. They took the airmen and their families out to dinner every evening after filming.And Jimmy and Harry picked up the tab .

  10. The author is a wordsmith in deed. I felt like I was right there, beside him. Great story!

  11. I got a hard on reading that!
    Thanks Irish!

  12. I got a hard on reading that!
    Thanks Irish!

  13. Darned allergies. What a great story.


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