Gives me chills… not unlike the first time I witnessed one of my birds, a camouflaged F-4 Phantom, blast over the Cam Ranh air field barrel rolling the length of the runway at 500 feet altitude with after burners and thunder at unbelievable velocity. The pilot pulled straight up accelerating to Mach I then out of sight. Then I carried my duffel my new home, my hooch for a two year all expenses paid vacation to South Vietnam. I didn’t know the pilot but I did find out he was on a test op in a fighter bomber that was just out of maintenance. I had arrived in Vietnam just out of tech school in Aurora, Colorado (Lowry Air Force Base) and this was as close as I had come to real air power up until that time.
F - 4 Phantom fighter / bomber /
reconnaissance / all-purpose warrior
I didn’t see Jimmy Stewart but I did see Col. Robin Olds once during a sortie debriefing at Cam Ranh. It was not his famous run over Hanoi in 1967 but it was Olds. He was unmistakable with his handlebar mustache. He was a formidable fighter ace having also flown the P-51 in WWII and fighter jets including the F-4 in Vietnam.
My AFSC in the United States Air force inspired me to become a pilot but it was not to be. I did separate from the service in 1969 so I could get a college degree, a requirement for being a pilot in the USAF. I did get my BA (a 4 year degree in 3 years) but in 1973 when I graduated, the Vietnam War was winding down and the age for pilots was lowered to 26… I was 27 1/2. Flying had been my passion but in the Air Force at that time, there is work other than everything to do with airplanes (so I found out during my tours in Vietnam). In any event, all experience contributes to what we are and what we become.
Back on topic, needless to say, my flying career was over before it had begun; however, I still am in awe of those who flew the powerful props and then the magnificent jets I was privileged to be around. The two men of this note are the top guns of their respective times. God bless them.
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.
|P -51 MUSTANG|
The closest thing to a MACH 1 propeller
driven airplane. Defeated the Luftwaffe
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 anotherbarked -- 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 pilotwho'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.________________________________