COOLSTONE MEETS THE MUSTANG
COOLSTONE was raised on a diet of airplanes. His father was a pilot and, as long as the Rock could remember, he too had wanted to become an Air Force pilot.
His dad, a colonel now and considerably older and wiser, still constantly spoke of the old P-51 (not the F) that he flew in World War II. It was the ultimate in fighter aircraft, he had often told his son – the last true tactical aircraft built. (It was also the last true fighter aircraft Colonel had flown.)
When he had become old enough Coolstone found that he was not physically qualified to enter the flying cadet program. Consequently much to his disappointment, he found himself in the Air Force all right, but as an airman second, working on aircraft instead of flying. His great desire to fly was not abated, however, by such a minor handicap, and therefore he committed most of his monthly income to private flying lessons. He joined the Aero Club, and as time progressed and after about 100 hours in the air, the Cold Rock qualified as a commercial pilot, single-engine type.
Now Coolstone had a friend. He was a very good friend in several ways, not the least of which was the fact that his friend was extremely wealthy in his own right and was backed up by an extremely wealthy and indulgent family also. His friend too was an airman second, interested in flying.
They roomed together, Coolstone and his friend, and in the course of many discussions concerning flying, the Rock often referred to the P-51 as described by his father. It was the smoothest, most stable aircraft, the Rock told his friend, and it was a real fighter.
“My dad shot down seven enemy aircraft with the 51,” he added, “and he said there was no other plane in the sky during its time that could keep up with the 51. ”
On other evenings, and during other discussions, Coolstone told and retold the 51 stories, about his dad’s flying experience, which even the old man would have scarcely recognized. One evening, as they were discussing their favorite subject over several bottles of BX beer, Coolstone’s friend, obviously oversold, said,
“Why don’t we buy a P-51 for ourselves? They’re easy to fly. We can keep it at the civilian airport, and just think what the guys in the Aero Club will say when they see us fly by in our P-51!”
Coolstone’s eyeballs exposed themselves so that their full rosy red configuration was revealed. “That’s a real idea!” said the Rock. “It would really be something, but it would cost too much. But if we did have one, I’d fly over to McClellan and see the old man. I might even let him fly it if he played his cards right.”
The two, in the glow of the evening, examined this new possibility in some detail. This was done wistfully by the Rock, but seriously by his friend.
When it finally became apparent to Coolstone that Friendo was dead serious and could and would buy a P-51, the effects of about one full six-pack were neutralized.
“You really mean it?” gasped Coolstone to Friendo.
“Of course, I do,” said his friend. “Let’s look at the papers and see if we can find one advertised. If they don’t want too much for it, we can get it, or at least we can go out and look one over. I’ve never even seen a P-51 close up.”
Except for World War II pictures which featured his father more prominently than the P-51, neither had Coolstone seen a Mustang close up.
During the ensuing week, the pair searched newspapers and trade magazines for advertised P-51s. Eventually they found one quite nearby which sounded good.
“F-51D,” the ad read, “for sale. No reasonable offer refused. Excellent condition; certified; engine recently overhauled; equipped with passenger seat.”
“How about that!” Friendo said. “I could even ride with you as a passenger while I’m learning to fly. Let’s call that one right now before some one else buys it. It may even be sold already – it sounds too good to be true.”
Hurriedly, Coolstone called the number listed. He talked to the owner.
“While there have been many inquiries,” the owner said, “and there will be many people out to see the bird tomorrow, as yet it hasn’t been sold.”
“We’ll be out the first thing in the morning,” said Coolstone. “Don’t let any one buy it before we see it, O.K.?”
Very reluctantly the owner agreed to hold the aircraft overnight just for them, but not one minute longer.
That evening, during the excited discussion, and with the anticipation of ownership of a real live 51 in their immediate future, Coolstone brought out a new story of his father and the Mustang which he’d been saving for just such a special occasion.
“They used to land it from a loop,” said the Rock. “Dad said they would come right in on the deck, 350 maybe, and after they did their victory rolls, of course, they’d pitch up” (101 pilots, please excuse the term), “go in trail, drop their gear and flaps at the top of the loop, and have all four birds touch down at the same time on the runway as they completed the loop. Dad said that once you got it pointed, the 51 would land itself.”
His friend was impressed. So would have been Coolstone’s father, had he heard the story.
“I’ve got an idea,” said his friend, now completely carried away with the spirit of the evening. “Let’s fly the bird over to McClellan, find a civilian strip that’s close, and surprise your dad.”
“How about that!” said Coolstone, delightedly. “How about that! Boy, will dad be pleased!”
With little sleep behind them, the next morning the Rock and Friendo appeared at the airport. With their anticipated new status as 51 owners, they used a cab.
The owner arrived at the same time. Quite understandably he was also eager. When he sighted the pair, he called to them. “Over here,” he said. “The 51 is over here behind the hangar.”
Coolstone and his friend, their self-control thrown to the winds, ran briskly toward the hangar, sprinted around it, and pulled up as they saw it – a P-51 – gasping at its beauty.
At least Friendo did.
Coolstone gasped, but his motivation was slightly different. It looked like rather more of a handful than he had gathered from his father’s description of the machine. In fact, if he held his head just right, it looked downright mean.
“What a beauty!” his friend said. “Isn’t it a beauty?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” gulped the Rock. “It’s pretty….” he trailed off.
He’s all choked up with emotion, thought his friend.
Coolstone was choked up a bit, and with emotion too; but there are lots of emotions, and the one Coolstone was experiencing was not generated by beauty. He sidled up to the owner and said,
“Say, how does that thing . . . er, 51, fly?”
“Like a dream, son, like a dream. All you have to do is read the dash one, and there’s nothing to it. It practically lands itself. All you have to do is get it pointed.”
Since this supported pretty much what his dad had always said, it went far toward quieting Coolstone’s doubts.
“If you boys want this bird,” said the owner, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Just so there is absolutely no problem, I’ll let you shoot a few landings from the back seat of a T-6, so you’ll kind of get the feel of things. Then I’ll take you around the pattern in the 51 in the back seat. You can see the gauges and kind of get the idea of how easy it is to fly. Then we’ll both know that you’ll be able to fly it just fine.”
“How about that!” said Friendo, getting out his check book.
“Yeah, how about that!” said Coolstone. He was feeling much better now. With a couple of landings in the T-6, he was sure he could fly the Mustang, he told himself.
“We’ll take it,” said his friend. “How much?”
“Well,” said the owner. “Would you go five thousand?”
“Sold,” said Friendo.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Coolstone, but Friendo didn’t hear him, and the owner wouldn’t.
Coolstone’s back-seat landings in the T-6 were quite shaky. In fact, he required considerable guidance on each. At the end of the fifth, during which he had only required assistance on the rudders, the owner declared him proficient. He told Coolstone,
“This T-6 is about one hundred times harder to land than the 51. You’re doing so well now that you’ll have no problem at all with the Mustang, especially after a piggyback ride. And besides, a landing is a landing in any plane. You know that with all your flying time.”
At the end of the piggyback ride, where about all Coolstone had been able to observe was a strategically located mole on the crown of the owner’s head, he was declared combat-ready. Now he was given the dash-one. He read about things he had never heard of before. In fact, he read about things even his dad had never heard of before.
“What’s this cooling door switch business?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” said the owner. “Just leave all the switches in automatic, and everything’ll take care of itself. All you really need to know is the stall speed and the pattern speeds. Keep the fuel selector on the full tanks and lead it with little rudder when you give it power of course. There is a little torque — very little – that develops at about 30 inches. If I were you, I’d write the RPM and power settings down on a card. That’s what I did, and I didn’t have any trouble. That’s about all there is to it. This plane is stable and easy to fly.”
With another 15 minutes spent on the dash-one (a total of 45 thus expended), Coolstone considered himself ready.
“I’ll help you start it, just so you’ll see how it’s done,” said the owner, as the trio walked out to the bird.
“I need a map,” said the Rock.
“A map?” said the owner. “What for?”
“We’re going to Sacramento,” said the Rock.
“Sacramento!” said the owner, in a voice that broke, while he was mentally calculating if he could get the check to the bank before they got to Sacramento. “What in the world for?”
“I want to show the 51 to my dad,” said Coolstone proudly. “He flew it in World War 11, you know.”
“Is that right!” said the owner desperately. “Are you sure you shouldn’t shoot at least one landing here before you take it to Sacramento?”
“A landing is a landing,” said the Rock bravely, “here or Sacramento.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Friendo, and it was obvious that he didn’t understand the problem.
“Are you both going?” said the owner incredulously.
“But of course,” said Friendo. “It’s my airplane.”
The issue was thereby settled. The owner had a sinking spell. He dug into his overall pockets and finally located a grease-smudged chart and wordlessly handed it to Coolstone. The Rock stuffed it into his pocket without looking at it, figuring that he’d have plenty of time on his way to Sacramento.
They started the bird and closed the canopy. The taxiing began. It wasn’t as bad as the T-6 to taxi, thought the Rock, for he’d had considerable trouble herding the 6 out to the runway. He lined up the 51, released the brakes, and gingerly advanced the power. When he had as much as 40 inches on and found the torque was indeed mild, as described by the owner, he gained confidence and briskly advanced the throttle to the stop – a full 60 inches. That was the last clear recollection he had until becoming airborne. He used all of several runways in every direction before he had gotten the 51 in the air.
“Terrific,” chortled his friend in his ear. “What power! What a pilot!”
From the viewpoint of a casual observer on the ground, the owner had assumed a rather unusual position. He was holding his head with both hands, while bending forward from the waist. He was moving his head rhythmically from left to right, carefully timed to “Oh, noes,” which were repeated over and over again.
Back in the air now, Coolstone, Friendo, and Mustang were pursuing a somewhat erratic but determined course for Sacramento. Friendo was ecstatic. Coolstone was operating at a level somewhat back from that position.
A small civilian airport with a 4,000 foot dirt strip was located on the map quite close to McClellan. It was there that they intended to land.
With somewhat more respect for the throttle than he had demonstrated before takeoff, the Rock felt out the 51, and other than occasionally using the aileron trim tab instead of rudder, he was able to control it quite to his satisfaction. For the first time he really began to understand that thrill of flying which only 51 pilots ever experienced, according to his dad.
Up ahead now he could see Sacramento. With a grease-smudged map, Coolstone attempted to orient himself. Finally he found the strip. Four thousand feet looked mighty short from the air. He decided with no debate whatsoever not to loop. He spotted the wind sock and saw that it indicated a crosswind. The ease of landing the 51 described by both his father and the former owner came to mind, and he forgot the crosswind. He entered the downwind, dropped gear, flaps, and carefully advanced the throttle.
“Beautiful! Beautiful!” said Friendo.
As he turned final, he found that he was drifting quite briskly to his left. In fact, that crosswind was of quite startling proportions.
“A landing is a landing,” Coolstone grimly told himself. He used a crab. It wasn’t enough. He used more crab. It still wasn’t enough. He finally dropped a wing into the wind. It held. At the point of touchdown, with crab and wing low, and as he told himself once again, “A landing is a landing,” he hit on the right gear, then on the left gear, then ballooned, then dumped the stick, then caught the prop. Then a skid developed to the left.
It was at this point that Coolstone had his loop on landing, but not quite as his father had described. Onlookers, impressed by this exhibition, rushed to the 51 and extricated the shaken but uninjured pair from the Mustang which really, all things considered, wasn’t damaged badly at all.
As he recovered from the shock of the landing, which was a landing indeed, Coolstone went over to one of the hangars, found a phone, and placed a call to his father.
“Hello, dad,” he said. “Guess where I am. Over at the local airport.”
“What did you come in on?” asked the colonel.
“In my own 51,” said Coolstone proudly. “My friend and I bought it.”
“51?” said his father. “Cessna? Piper? I don’t think I ever heard of it.”
“A 51D, dad, P-51D,” said Coolstone. “The old Mustang. We bought it and I brought it over here for you to see. But, say, we had a little trouble with the landing. There are a few things you didn’t tell me about that airplane.”
The phone went dead – absolutely dead. There was no sound from the other end.