Flying in the Legendary P-51 Mustang
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
Ben Hall’s Fabulous “Esther’s Mink”, N5482V
I remember my experience with the P-51 many years ago. As a 16 year old airplane "nut" I hung out at Paine Field near Everett and on warm summer days would watch and listen to the hypnotic sound of the Mustang at the local airshows. After one show, I introduced myself to Ben Hall, owner of a P-51 called "Esther's Mink" and asked it I could sweep out his hangar, do anything to just be around this airplane. He put me to work and I spent many happy hours cleaning around the hangar and doing odd jobs for Ben. He even let me work on the plane with him and his crew. I remember the summer we repainted the plane and I got involved in helping strip the old paint off Esther's Mink. It was a messy job, but I was working on a MUSTANG and loved every second of it. Ben knew that I'd do anything to go for a ride with him, but his insurance prohibited anyone under 18 being taken up. Ben told me that when I turned 18 we'd go flying...
So on a sunny morning in March of 1964, just after my 18th birthday, Ben told me to be at the airfield and he would take me up! I was there 2 hours early. There sat Esther's Mink, ready to fly. Ben and his friend Chuck Lyford, who also owned a P-51 often flew together in airshows. Ben was busy that day so Chuck took me up in Ben's airplane. I will never, never forget that day. Every detail, every smell, vibration and noise is indelibly etched in my brain. Even to this day I can recall the smell of the exhaust as the big Rolls-Merlin crackled to life. 115/145 octane avgas smell has an hypnotic effect. Esther's Mink shuttered as the V-12 began to light off and the big Hamilton-Standard propeller became a blur in front of us. We taxied to the departure end of runway 29 at Paine, did our mag check and awaited clearance to take the active. The brakes squeaked as we made the turn to line up for take-off. Stuffed in the back seat where a water injection tank usually resided, I drank in everything. The canopy was cranked closed and up came the power, not full throttle at first, lest the beast torque-rolled us off the right side of the runway! But at 50 knots, rudder authority was gained and Chuck firewalled the engine. The acceleration was amazing! Ben's airplane was not putting out stock horsepower. He was tuning the plane to race in the upcoming Reno Air Races. I was riding a rocket with almost 3000 HP on tap! As soon as we were airborne, up came the gear and flaps. Chuck kept us right on the deck as we rapidly accelerated down the runway. At the departure end we pulled into a near vertical climb to 5000 feet. I watched the airport rapidly shrink behind us.
We headed south to Ballard to do a buzz job on Ben's house. I remember us lining up heading east over the locks and then going into a steep dive headed for Ben. At the bottom, Chuck pulled up into a giant loop and we proceeded out to the Snohomish Valley to have some serious fun. We began with 4-point hesitation rolls. The aileron response was sudden and unsettling. It was if the wings had hit mechanical stops when Chuck pulsed the stick. I couldn't see how air could make the plane stop so abruptly at each point in the roll. It was jarring! Such is the control response of the Mustang.
We then dove down to tree-top level and looked for the big powerline towers running E,W in the valley. Chuck told me he was going to show me how they race at Reno. Using the powerline towers, we rocketed down the row of towers at well over 400mph 100 feet off the deck. He initiated a little climb to clear the wires and did a pylon turn that grayed me out. That was the first of many parts of the flight I remember, but didn't see much. Gee's came on instantly as we knife-edged around one of the towers, pulling 7g. We spent the next hour wringing out the Mustang with loops, rolls, split-s, and generally having a blast. After each high g maneuver Chuck would ask if I was still with him. "YES" came my reply!! "Do more!" He was wearing a partial g-suit so I was left to bare the full onslaught of the Mustang's power to load the airplane. I was able to use the standard M-1 maneuver of grunting to try and stave off g-induced gray-outs. But 7g was my limit if it went on for more than 7 or 8 seconds.
The fun ended back at home plate. But the fun wasn't over. We crossed the numbers clean at speed and executed a pitch-out landing. A sharp bank left, throttle retarded, flaps, gear and we came around for final lineup. In the break, Chuck again grayed me out. It was a blast! We floated in for a smooth, kiss-the-ground landing. For an 18-year old kid, this was the thrill of a lifetime.