Flying "Miss America"

Let me be clear here, I'm talking about the P-51D Mustang "Miss America," not the human variety...

I've always wanted to go for a ride in a Mustang, and I wasn't sure I ever would, but today I can say I've not only flown in a Mustang, but I actually flew a Mustang!

It's been an awesome weekend. First the Indy 500, then yesterday I stopped in Oklahoma City to visit with Brent Hisey, the owner and pilot of Miss America. When I called him from the airport he said, "I sent you an e-mail saying the weather was crummy and I had to take care of something else, so I didn't know you were coming." I hadn't checked my e-mail the previous day as I was at the race track all day and I knew the weather was lousy as I decended through IMC into Oklahoma City, but I was there so I wanted to connect anyway.

Brent was a wonderful host and he picked me up from the airport and drove me to Wiley Post airport where his Oklahoma Flying Museum is located. Inside sat "Miss A" in all her beautiful glory just begging to fly. We chatted a little standing next to her and some of the crew came by to say hello as well. Everyone was really nice and full of great information about air racing and mustangs in particular. Only a few years ago Brent had to put her down in the desert in an emergency landing badly damaging the aircraft. After seven months of intense work this crew rebuilt almost all of Miss America to be a basically new aircraft. And honestly she looks and feels new.

With the inclement weather I offered to show them FSX and the expansion pack. I really wanted to see what they thought of the course and how it was working. Of course Murphy's Law was in force and I couldn't run for some reason, so I kicked off a re-build and we chatted about air racing and flying for 30-40 minutes while the laptop crunched away on all the bits.

Finally we were up and running and I flew the course in a Mustang using the mouse to fly (not my favorite, but I didn't have a joystick). Intentionally allowed my engine to be destroyed blowing most of the pistons along the way and they were pleased with the simulation. With their feedback on the engine and failures I think we can get it a lot more realistic as well. I can happily report that they seemed genuinely impressed with everything they saw. Brent made comments like "That looks exactly like what I see on the course, even the ground rush looks amazing." Some of the crew were amazed to see all the details around the course saying "There's the guard base, and there's so and so's hangars." This is exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to get and it felt really good to get high praise from the guys that really know racing at Reno. I had them take the controls and after getting used to the mouse, they did a credible job flying around.

Brent bless his heart was busy checking the weather, and when we finished up on the laptop he asked "Well do you want to go flying?" I'm sure he knew the answer and I jumped at the chance to go up. The weather had miraculously improved and he was willing to give me a taste of the real thing. I put on my relief band (helps to control nausea) just in case he got a bit crazy with some G's and headed for the plane.

I twisted my way into the backseat and I got a breifing on how to get strapped into the parachute and seat harness, then received instructions on how to bail out if it came to that with the caveat that the only way we're going to bail out is if we are on fire! Believe me the last thing I want to do is bail out of a priceless Mustang. I was very pleased to see that Miss America has dual controls... I'm thinking, I wonder if Brent is trusting enough to let me fly...

Brent started her up and after a few seconds we went from the tumping of a Harley to the smooth purr of a Rolls Royce Merlin. By now the sun was starting to leak through the clouds and like all bubble canopies it get's pretty hot. Considering the radiator lines run under the cockpit between the belly scoop and the engine, there is a lot of heat radiating up through the floor boards. During the runup and takeoff the canopy is closed and it really does get hot in there. Thankfully nausea wasn't a problem or I would have been in trouble.

After the runup he taxied out to the runway and we bolted into the air. What a rush with all that power up front, and this was a stock engine! I love this airplane and I can see why pilot's love it so much. So we wewre up and running and I was runnign the new HD camcorder all the while. Unfortunately I can't look at the view screen and fly at the same time or I will get sick, so I kept the screen closed. This was the first time I used this camcorder and I've now learned that the telephoto control is very sensitive. Most of my video is unusable because the camera was zoomed all the way in! Damn technology... I figure that out on our approach to land so I did get some good stuff, but not the coolest shots that I thought I was getting.

Brent scooted along under the clouds then pulled up and over the top through a small hole. Wow, here I am in a hotrod Mustang punching holes in the sky. Then he offers to let me fly. So I juggle with the camcorder a bit and take the stick. This airplane is as smooth as butter and easy to fly with neutral stability. Put it in a bank and she just stays there. Command a change in attitude and she is ready to respond. Whenever I fly someone elses plane I am very cautious (especially if I can't see where I'm going) and do very shallow turns and make my way up to steeper ones, andĀ aerobatics are out of the question. As I steepened the banks the airplane was still really easy to fly and required no rudder input to maintain coordinated flight and it was easy to stay at altitude. Of course I couldn't really see the gauges very well, so I'm sure they weren't perfect turns, but they felt good to me. I commented on it to Brent and he said at racing speeds he starts turns with the rudder to keep the nose from rising.

I was starting to feel guilty burning up gas and knowing Brent had other things to do that day, so I gave up the controls and Brent started giving me more of a taste of what a Mustang feels like. He started the descent to the airport dodging clouds along the way and accelerating to much higher speeds coming downhill. What a rush zipping past clouds and between them. It was so cool. We never exceeded much more than 2 G's the whole time and it was exhilerating! He did a military style approach coming over the runway and breaking right to the downwind in a steep turn to bleed off some speed. On short final with gear down and full flaps the airplane is going downhill fast with the nose low, then a quick flare and a nice wheel landing.

This was by far the best airplane ride I have ever experienced. Thank you Brent and Miss America for a memory I will never forget!

Now it will be even more fun when the Miss America livery is ready on our Mustang and I take to the Reno course.