The P-51D, which I flew, was a very straightforward airplane in every way. By that I mean it wasn't difficult to fly or hard to handle, as long as you remembered a few basic things.
First and foremost, you never forgot for a minute that it could bite hard if you got careless.
There are lots of airplanes that will let you have another chance if you get ham-handed. The -51, in certain areas of her envelope, wasn't one of them. I remember telling everyone I ever checked out in the Mustang to take it up high, lower the gear and flaps, then back it off to about 15 inches with the prop up to 3 grand....slow it down easy to about 130 mph...then SLAM in 61 inches fast...
The resulting torque roll might have helped save a few lives on full power go-arounds. None of my guys ever torqued one in anyway.
Almost everything on the -51 is automatic after it's checked and set for flight.
We had an electric primer that was VERY sensitive, instead of the old push-in-and-lock type. The Merlin will usually take only a few seconds of primer before it loads up. The mixture is automatic through a high altitude mixture aneroid through all flight ranges.
You start the engine by using the five hands you immediately wish God had given you the instant you engage the starter.
- Hold the starter with your right hand
- start counting six blades as they pass
- at six you throw the mags to both with your left hand
- hit the fuel boost pump switch on the left of the starter with your right hand
- this requires a finger shift while holding the starter engaged
- now hit the electric primer to the right of the starter with another finger switch of the right hand
- NOW, remember not to over-prime the damn Merlin
- as it fires, reach and push the mixture up into " NORMAL"
Congratulations...you have now STARTED the Mustang!
The first thing you notice when you get in the -51 is that nose.
It sticks out there a good way. I'm 5 feet 8 inches tall. Even with a seat chute and the seat all the way up (we had an adjustment mod put in), I was hard-pressed to see over the nose. You get used to keeping the taxi speed up a bit and the stick aft of neutral. This gives you a six-degree lock on the tailwheel so that you can "S" the bird without too much brake use (especially if it's YOU that's paying for the brakes).
Taxi is normal "S-turn" with the tailwheel at a 6-degree lock. This gives you enough room to swing the nose without going forward on the stick and unlocking the tailwheel.
Engine checks are routine.
I did them all at 2300 RPM. Mags and prop, a Simmond's regulator check, supercharger check . Of course there are other things to check like carb air and radiator air switches...I won't go through the check list item by item....it's boring as hell anyway.
Now, takeoff in the Mustang is something else again. Don't get me wrong, it's easy if you do it right, but it can bite your butt if you don't.
- Rudder trim should be set at about 6 degrees right
- Line it up and "S" it a bit to line the tailwheel
- Keep the stick back of neutral to lock the tailwheel
- Now you EEEEAAAASSSSEEEE in about 40 inches of manifold pressure (MP)
- As she begins to accelerate, you ease in the rest...all the way to 61 inches
At this point, you can stop talking to yourself because you can't hear anything else in the world but that Merlin up front - the exhaust stacks are lined up almost directly with your ears
Anticipate a left swing of the nose by easing in just short of what you need to keep it straight.
This is very difficult to explain to people who have never done it. The last thing you need in the -51 on a full-power takeoff is to apply too much rudder correction for torque. You are better off easing it in just short, by watching the tendency of the nose, then making a slight final adjustment into the torque.You have to feel it out carefully.
- Ease the stick forward through the run to meet the rotation speed of about 100mph
- As soon as she's clear and solidly in the air I start cleaning her up
- Gear up
- Power back to METO (Maximum Except for Take Off)
- MP goes to 46 inches
- Prop comes back to 2700 RPM
- She will climb all day at 170 mph at this setting. I find that 170 lets me see well over the nose.
Aerobatics are beautiful! I flew the -51 on the airshow circuit back in the sixties. It never gave me a problem....not counting one mid-air with what we later decided was a large owl.
It will roll either way at a very respectful roll rate, depending on the entry speed. Naturally it rolls better to the torque side.
I used 250 mph for most rolls, and about 275 mph for point rolls up to sixteen. Vertical maneuvers in the -51 are also easy if done right, but they can bite you if done wrong. There are heavy torque changes in the vertical plane as the airplane slows down, and also angle of attack changes. You use a lot of rudder to keep it straight over the top. I always lined up the wing tip on the horizon until almost on my back at the top before switching to the top of the canopy for the oncoming inverted horizon.
I almost always used an initial with tactical pitchout when allowed. (You would be amazed at how many towers ASKED for this approach when landing me at a not-too-busy airport.) My airshow approach was NOT a normal approach.
- Initial at 300 mph at METO
- Pitch up into a set and three point hesitation roll opposite the downwind direction
- Break the roll at the third point with hard top rudder
- Knife out to the downwind at 1500 feet
This approach not only looked good, it was tight in and circular, and flown at higher than normal power settings, which kept the Merlin happy and her platinum plugs unfouled.
A normal approach in the Mustang could be flown with:
- Gear down at 170 mph or under
- Flap limit speeds vary from 400 mph for 10 degrees down, to 165 mph for full down at 47 degrees (nominal 50 on the gauge)
- I always used 10 degrees at gear down to see over the damned nose
Pilots can get into trouble very easily in this airplane by letting the airspeed bleed off below 135 mph on final. With those barn doors hanging off the trailing edges at 50 degrees, she can really slow down quickly as you begin to flare.
If a pilot is too high and cobs the throttle to correct the situation, he could become a statistic, especially if the Angle of Attack is high at that moment. The trick is to
- keep the speed up to a respectable 150 or so on final
- don't dive on the runway
- Ease it down and resolve the flare at about 120 mph
This gives the bird a chance to sit down gracefully on those wide feet of hers. I used wheel landings a great deal when I had the space and the runway.