Kendall “Doc” Wagner appeared to be doing a pre-flight task of sorts under the belly of Lady Alice, his P-51D for the past seven years, when I walked toward the two-seat fighter aircraft for a morning three-ship formation flight that I’d been invited to observe. A closer look however revealed Wagner with a rag in his hands, cleaning up the gear doors on his beautiful machine for the unending stream of admirers strolling past. “I always wanted a Mustang, ever since I was a kid,” says Wagner, a Beechcraft Bonanza pilot who took a big step up in size and horsepower when he purchased the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered P-51D in 2007. He did his initial training with N151MW at Stallion 51 flight training in Florida. Wagner comes to Oshkosh to be able to fly formation with other Mustang pilots, the only location where he says enough of the aircraft congregate to do so. “It’s difficult to do that anywhere but here,” he says.
At Oshkosh this morning, he would be flying in the #2 position, with me as jump seat rider, behind #1 Doug Matthews, owner of P-51D N151CF, aka “The Rebel”. Riding in Matthews’ jump seat was Julie “Ginger” Sims, shooting the action with a Canon digital.
Flying in #3 positions was Dan Fordice and his rear-seat passenger in Charlotte’s Chariot 2 (N251CS).
During our pre-flight briefing, led by Matthews, the pilots selected their roles (#1, #2 and #3) and discussed radio frequencies, the join-up in the “Vic” formation after individually taking off (rather than an “element” takeoff where the P-51s would depart together on the runway), the plan for the flight and emergency procedures.
Before engine start, Wagner, knowing I was a P-51D neophyte, warned me that “it’s going to be loud”, a nod to the 1,500 hp Merlin. After taxiing out in a conga line to Runway 27 at Wittman, Wagner took up his #2 position to the left of Matthews, who was on the right side of the runway. Fordice took the #3 slot behind Matthews.
Loud it was as Wagner brought in the power, with a rumble through the airframe that announced full-throttle and full acceleration as we departed Wittman to the West and turned right for formation practice over Lake Winnebago to the east and beyond. Below are a few pictures from the flight, as well as a LOUD video of the adventure.