Dudley Henriques

P-51 Mustang

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.

Engine Start

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.
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.
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.


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.
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:
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
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.