Shooting down a P-51

September 25th, 2012

I wrote this a couple years ago:

Well Friday was a doozy. If I had had some guns on my two-seater Diamond, I would have shot the P-51 down. OR Walter Mitty would have.
General Yeager was fishing in Alaska on the Aleutian chain.

Friday morning, the airport was alive with preparations for the air show Saturday.

I#1 said: Watch out for incoming Warbirds.

I noticed the wind and decided I would just do a little local flying and then some touch and go’s. They -having mixed feelings between the rental income and getting prepped for the air show – washing and waxing it – wanted the plane back early.

I started doing pre-flight and since the plane had not been put away properly I got myself mixed up and put the flaps up instead of down when I checked the fuel gauge and lights. I corrected it after I got to the first flap. Obviously.

Then I was interrupted by the staff re something or other. I decided I needed to slow down to go faster. I had already done that but needed to do it more. I hadn’t flown this plane in a while – I had been flying other planes.

My tail dragger instructor, since he doesn’t solo people or rent out the plane cuts corners – which gets me in bad habits. For instance, he has no written checklist. And when I arrive he says he’s pre-flighted it. I find pre-flighting is a fantastic tool for focusing. Or realizing I’m not focused so I should see if I can focus, or if not, not fly that day.

So after the interruption, not about flying (and not about flying that airplane that day), I re-started from just about the beginning.

I followed the checklist. I’m always surprised when I get to the part where I can start taxiing – it seems to come so quick after the checklist – which, in writing, seems long.

As I headed up the ramp, I called in. A truck was starting down – most people driving around this airport have no clue. I waited. He waited. Then he got a clue and moved off.

As I was on the taxiway, a bonanza called in. I was about to ask him where he was going as he looked like he was coming right at me, then it looked like he was going away, so I started moving again. Whoops, he was getting closer. I called in where are you going, Bonanza (glad I could recognize and remember one airplane – easier than most – it had a v tail).

Bonanza: To the pumps, as he turned off.

Me: Thanks.

As I continued to 2-5, I heard (can’t remember what airplanes): 10 miles south Flight of 2 for a fly by and break for landing.

I debated – no they would be in long before I completed my run-up so I won’t be waiting long.

As I completed my run-up, they were turning final for the fly-by. I thought through timing and decided I’d be waiting 5-10 minutes for them to land, paying for all that non-flying time, too :-).

So I called in I was taking position and holding, traffic in sight. I don’t know if I would have done this if I hadn’t been with Gen Yeager and watched his timing when there was a lot of traffic. I gave myself more cushion than he would need, though.

I started on the runway when the second one was 1000’ above and just a little ahead – knowing that if he had to land, he wouldn’t, couldn’t, even if he lost an engine, need the end of the runway where I would be holding. I saw the one break – but for a split second was not absolutely sure if it was the first or second plane so waited a little to make sure I saw both. Good idea.

When I saw the second one break, I called in: NC, Diamond 3 delta charlie, rolling…taking off 2-5 straight out, traffic in sight.

They called downwind, traffic in sight. Very pleasant. I was glad I hadn’t been distracted.

I then decided to fly out towards the practice area – bumpy! And it didn’t bother me at all. I even dropped about 2-3 feet. Woo hoo.

I thought about the radios. I hadn’t talked on them to ATC in months. So I practiced before I switched over – what to say.

Me: Approach, november 2 niner 3 delta charlie.

Approach: November 2 niner 3 delta charlie, state your intentions.

Me: Request flight following, just going to the practice area to practice maneuvers, 3 delta charlie.

Approach: &^&*%^&$ traffic (I think)


Approach: Squawk 0344 (or something – I did remember and get it right then). You’re 1.5 miles north of Beale. Say altitude.

Me (woo hoo, I’m understanding this): four thousand 3 hundred 5 0.

Approach: $&%$*^

Me: Say again. (Uh oh).

Other plane: Norcal Approach, bla bla bla.

Ah, I forgot Norcal Approach. I also forgot my airplane type.

Approach: What type airplane.

Me: (smile – Gen Yeager often says he knows what they are going to say :-) hope this talent is rubbing off but he did mean it differently than the instance here): Diamond. 3 delta charlie.

I did some steep turns. Comfortable – so much so that I had to keep verifying I was steep enough. To the right – Near perfect – within the confines of VFR and of IFR except for about 2 seconds. Wow. Debated practicing some stalls but decided…not comfortable today or by….

The truth?

By myself.

Actually what I was most uncomfortable about was my lack of prep. I had intended to just do touch and go’s but then decided to just have fun and fly around locally. But I hadn’t checked for TFRs. While there are lots of places we can go that are Class E, I still would have needed to make sure I had frequencies readily available, winds aloft, TFRs, etc.

Thank goodness for GPS – while I saw Beale and turned away from in it plenty of time since I knew from experience, I was glad to have the GPS telling me how close I was. It’s also why I asked for flight following – to help me not violate any space and to watch out for traffic.

I considered doing some touch and go’s at Oroville away from the Nevada County air show arrivals.

Sigh. I didn’t have Oroville frequency and didn’t feel like asking Approach.

I heard Approach alert someone to my position, doing maneuvers.

Sort of.

I looked for a good spot to do some s turns and turns around a point but didn’t see any, couldn’t find the practice barn so decided to head back anyway before the traffic at Nevada County got too heavy.

When I got within 15 miles, I called Approach and asked to change freq.


Me: Thank you.

I flew over our house. None of the neighbors were home – all away for the weekend.

There was no one on frequency, no one flying. Great.

I was quite alert, lots of activity on the ground.

ATIS told me higher density altitude and wind at 7kts at 170. Since I planned a touch and go, I decided on 2-5.

I did all my turns, all fine. Except on final I realized I was high. I tried slipping and was at a good speed (not too fast) but wasn’t getting down enough.

Me: Nevada county, 3 delta Charlie on the go.

That’s when I realized I hadn’t put in the second set of flaps.

I realized the wind was stronger aloft and blowing me into the runway so I had to crab and in fact, fly my downwind a bit away from the runway.

I got lower, which worried me, as it was bumpy – meaning some downdrafts too. But over that reservoir I took off a bit.

I got myself down – nice landing.

I powered up for the “go” when I lifted off quickly (often it is quick as you are already somewhat powered up) so I went with it.

Oops. I skipped the wheels on the ground as I very slightly lowered the nose and then took off with enough speed.

Someone on the radio – thought it was my instructor (it wasn’t): A bit windy, isn’t it?

Me: Yes, indeed.

For my next touch and go – I made all the calls in the pattern. On downwind, it was getting even windier and I had to fly almost 45 degrees out from the runway to keep from being blown in too close. I reconsidered – if my instructor (I was still thinking it was he) is mentioning the windiness – hmmm. It was supportive, but was it a strong suggestion?

This was right towards the edge of my envelope of learning and had there not been so much prepping for the air show the next day – I would have landed, gotten my instructor and gone for some good crosswind and slipping instruction.

Instead, after critical analysis – deciding it was getting windier so perhaps pushing my envelope a bit much (and they wanted to display this plane the next day – hate to do anything to it)…

I changed from “touch and go”, to “full stop”.

VERY lucky for me.

Just before turning onto base, a down draft dropped me five feet. OK that’s getting a bit much. Didn’t scare me at all, just a message, without an instructor, time to go in.

As I was on short final, after having sorted out getting low enough without too much problem from the down drafts, the huge uplift over the reservoir, on final, having made all my calls properly and timely, knowing I could probably land in time for a full stop but could always do a go-around;

I saw….

A P-51 HEADING STRAIGHT FOR ME, losing his already low altitude for either landing or doing a low fly by.

Me: Nevada County 3 delta Charlie, I am on SHORT FINAL ON 2-5, GET OUT OF MY WAY NOW!

He was still heading for me. Trees to my right, people and buildings to my left, a P-51 straight ahead. No chance for a go-around. No options but to land ASAP and get under him.

I did. It was not my best landing. I bounced – more like clunked – as he disappeared overhead – (he had finally seen me and finally decided to pull away (or had just completed his fly-by) – and clunked again…

And clunked one more time before I got my wits about me to put on some power to smooth out the landing. I was now mad I hadn’t concentrated on a smoother landing. It wasn’t bad; the dropping/clunking was just a foot.

And then finally smoothing it out. But I’d have to work on my fighter pilot skills and not get so easily distracted!

As I rolled out, someone – again I thought it was my instructor – it wasn’t, it was the airport manager: Victoria, are you going to quit?

Everyone on radio had heard me and knew something very serious was up.

Me: Yes.

As I was taxiing in, the P-51 driver: I called at 10 miles out, 7 miles out, 5 miles out, didn’t you hear me?

Me (I said something like the following): NO! No one heard you. It still would not have given you the right to do what you did. Didn’t you hear me? I was in the pattern! I was on short final! Didn’t you look? Didn’t you see me? (What were you thinking? – but I didn’t say that :-).

P-51 driver: I’m sorry.

As I heard later, MANY people were horrified by this P-51. They saw his low fly by, then me taxi off the runway. Gulp. And they were impressed I did an excellent landing with all this distraction (including my instructor). Excellent landing – you can use the plane the next day.

I went into the office after I put the plane to bed. Everyone told me they heard me – I did all the right calls. However, no one heard him.

Even so, calling from 10 miles out doesn’t give you right of way.

Just another rich guy with a P-51, arrogance, and no sense is what several people told me.

I waited in the office – a few people did, but he didn’t come in. Heck I probably wouldn’t have either. Yes, I would – I don’t avoid apologizing for my mistakes.

I asked a few likely suspects on the way to the office if they were the one on radio.

I#1: No. Told you to look out for warbirds! (He said smiling – glad I was okay. Told me about some of his distractions and how he handled them, to make me feel better).

Airport Manager: Not the first one. I was the one who asked if you were quitting.

I saw Sherm – another employee at the airport – nice fellow. The light went on. He confirmed he was the first one on radio saying “Windy out there.”

Now Sherm said: Pretty good landing for the gusts you were getting.

I told him: Actually my landing was fine, what you saw was my take-off.

He laughed understanding.

I started some analysis: 1. My trim may not have been set right….No! Right! It was a gust from behind that lifted me and I thought it was the airplane ready to take off!!! OHHHH!

I thanked Sherm for the clue.

I sure wish I could recognize that more quickly than an hour later! I handled it. I actually learned a lot and so loved it!

I didn’t realize until later that I was very angry. I get angry when my life has been put in danger (especially thru stupidity). I didn’t realize the distraction was that I was trying to figure out my options and I had only one – get on the ground ASAP and off the runway, and maybe even onto the dirt, if need be ASAP. Turns out I didn’t need to get off the runway asap or go in the dirt.

Even now thinking about it….gives me the chills.


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