Another Vintage Fighter, Another Expensive Landing

A couple of weeks ago, it was a rare, multi-million-dollar Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the minor but expensive mishap is to a less rare, but still multi-million-dollar P-51 Mustang. Only one landing gear extended, so pilot (and owner) Jeff Pino retracted the gear. The gear came up, but not the gear doors, which hung down and made initial contact during a planned, and well-executed, gear-up landing.

This is a great report by Phoenix, AZ Channel 3’s News Copter 3 pilot/reporter, Bruce Haffner. (The video, that is. Haffner’s written report, excerpted below, is a bit dry compared to his video report — and sky-cam footage — of the mishap).

MESA, Ariz.– The pilot of a rare airplane was forced to make an emergency belly landing on Thursday.
It happened at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
The $2.2 million 1944 P-51 Mustang, known as the “Big Beautiful Doll,” had a problem with its landing gear.
The plane was going to be part of the Copper State Fly-in this week in Casa Grande.

via Pilot of rare plane forced to make belly landing | azfamily.com Phoenix.

Here’s a few images from the video with captions explaining what’s happening.

Moments before touchdown on the hanging gear doors, the pilot has the runway made and secures the engine.

Moments before touchdown on the hanging inboard main-gear doors, the pilot has the runway made and secures the engine.

The gear doors destroy themselves in a shower of sparks as they get squeezed between the five-ton plane and the tarmac.

The gear doors destroy themselves in a shower of sparks as they get squeezed between the five-ton plane and the tarmac. The engine is shut down and only inertia is turning the prop,

The P-51 slides to a stop.

The P-51 slides to a stop. Two of the still prop blades scrape along the runway, but the others are saved, and the costly hub will probably be okay to fly again — not to mention the very expensive Merlin engine and its vulnerable gearbox.

Any landing you can walk away from...

Any landing you can walk away from…

...is a good one. One where you can use the airplane again is a Great one. This one's only Good at this point, but the plane will fly again.

…is a good one. One where you can use the airplane again is a Great one. This one’s only Good at this point, but thanks to the skill of the pilot, this plane will fly again.

The wartime P-51 “Big Beautiful Doll” was so attractively decorated, and its original pilot, John Landers, so successful, that its markings are frequently copied by owners of Mustang survivors. Landers was an ace in P-40s against the Japanese, and then became an ace again in Europe, flying the P-38 and P-51. He ended the war with 15.5 kills total. Big Beautiful Doll, the name of a popular song of the era, was lucky for Landers, but perhaps today it’s a hard-luck name; Briton Rob Davies bailed out of a similarly painted Mustang after surviving a mid-air collision with an A1D Skyraider at a 2011 airshow:

Davies told his story to the Guardian in 2011.

The aircraft that made the gear-up landing in Colorado is generally accepted to be USAAC Serial Number 44-63634, but is registered as 44-85634 (which was not a wartime P51 serial number). It flies under the civilian registration N351BD and is owned by its pilot, Jeff Pino, who bought it this spring.

Arizonans could have been excused for thinking they were seeing double. After the Mustang belly-up last Thursday, a similar looking Thunder Mustang, a subscale carbon-fiber Mustang powered by a Falconer V-12 engine that was designed for air racing, lost oil pressure Friday morning and crashed into scrubland east of town. The airplane was substantially damaged, and the pilot suffered unspecified but non-life-threatening facial injuries.

Thunder Mustang wreckage. If this was a car, it'd be a total loss (and it probably is, to the insurer), but the plane was built from a kit in the first place and might actually be repaired.

Thunder Mustang wreckage. If this was a car, it’d be a total loss (and it probably is, to the insurer), but the plane was built from a kit in the first place and might actually be repaired.

From another angle, showing the broken back of the plane. The pilot was lucky to escape with his life.

From another angle, showing the broken back of the plane. The pilot was lucky to escape with his life.

The Mustang is the most popular of surviving World War II fighters. Of over 15,000 made, almost 300 survive, 171 of them airworthy. Whether that’s because of its clean, attractive lines, its remarkable history, its high performance, or the simple fact that aircraft restoration and exhibition got its start in the United States, the Mustang’s homeland, is anybody’s guess. But there are basically only two kinds of pilots: those who have flown the Mustang, and those green with envy.

Remember, flying small and vintage planes is safe. For these two pilots, even crash-landing turned out to be safe!

13 thoughts on “Another Vintage Fighter, Another Expensive Landing

  1. Stefan van der Borght

    If I had the moolah I’d spring for a Yak 3, apparently they are rather sweet to fly…according to some, even sweeter than the Mustang and Spitfire. One of the newly built replicasof course; I don’t fancy entrusting my life to Ivan working under Stalin’s wartime conditions (and wartime vodka) at State Aircraft Factory No. 1443 in Yakbutt, Siberia.

    1. Hognose Post author

      The newly built ones come from the Yak factory and are identical to the wartime planes, except having an Allison V-1710 (fairly common US wartime engine) instead of the much rarer Klimov engine on the Yak-1 and Yak-3. Here’s a Klimov M-105 being prepared for a rare airworthy restoration:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzcAccNLMew

      I think even the Sturmovik flying in Russia has an Allison instead of an unobtanium Russian engine (in its case, the Mikulin AM-38). The Klimov engine was, like most of its contemporaries, a 60º V-12, but was larger than most of them, displacing about 2,100 cc (35 liters). It was somewhat handicapped by having only a single-stage mechanical supercharger.

      The Allison was similarly handicapped and not easily turbocharged, which is why its major deployment in a front-line fighter was the P=38 where the booms provided room for huge GE turbochargers. Like the US P-39 and P-40 (Allison powered), the Yaks were most effective as low-altitude fighters.

  2. Stefan van der Borght

    Wow, now that’s a lot of engine. The cradle looks a little flimsy, I guess they weren’t about to go full power in that test. The guy not wearing earmuffs was probably glad of this too.

    Let’s find someone rich and crazy enough to stick a RR Griffon in a Yak 3……….

    1. Hognose Post author

      Now, about 10 years ago there was somebody’s unfinished project kicking around — it came up in Trade-a-Plane and Barnstormers (think of them as Craigslist for airplanes and you’re close). It was a Yak with an Wright R-3350 (yes, kids, that’s three thousand, three hundred, and fifty cubic inches — ~56L) that was intended for Reno air racing. Rare Bear runs a 3350 at 80 inches of manifold pressure, mechanically supercharged, producing about 4,000 horsepower. But that’s in a heavy-ass Bearcat, not a light Yak. (I dunno what the weight of a race plane is — a lot lighter than its warplane variant — but a combat-ready Bearcat clocked in about 13,000 lb and a Yak at about 5,500 (roughly 6,000 and 2500 KG respectively). The MTOW of a Yak-3 is less than the empty weight of the product of Grumman Iron Works.

      As far as I knew, the project never flew (I don’t know whether it was based on a Yak-3 or a Yak-11 trainer converted to single-seat; IIRC the Yak-11 was based on the larger Yak-9, not the Yak-3). Whether it was lack of money or lack of nerve, I can’t say.

  3. Stefan van der Borght

    Perhaps the prudent gentleman decided he didn’t want to watch a million and change tie itself in a pretzel shape with him in it, simply by advancing the throttle. Jiminy Cricket, a Wasp Major…and we haven’t got the fuel they used to run these monsters on.

  4. Bill K

    I remember as a boy seeing a P-51 land at our local airport and take off a half hour later. But even more, I remember the apocalyptic roar. I had gotten used to Cessnas and Cherokees, courtesy of my uncle’s taking me flying, but that warbird sounded like the way folks describe tornadoes tearing their houses to shreds. Not high and screamy like a jet engine, more like the largest prehistoric sabre-tooth you could imagine just before he eats you.

  5. Expat

    Sitting on the ready pad waiting for our sky diving ride to arrive, a P-51 came in to “strafe” the airport.
    Fucking wonderful.
    If you like warbirds, the Oshkosh air show week is not to be missed.

  6. Stefan van der Borght

    The radials and the v12’s are the duck’s guts, but the engine I’d really love to hear sing is the Napier Sabre. Now that my schnapps-loving neighbours from upstairs have robbed me of my sleep again (95% occurence rate…it gets old) I’ll see if the intertoob has a vid of it. Say, what about a post on sleep deprivation and its long term effects? When guns are outlawed, idiots will still have liquor bottles….

  7. Stefan van der Borght

    And if I had atomic powered speakers, the following clip might be just the thing to rattle the drunken sods upstairs, but I must consider the other, non-invasive species living in this place.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo0Lv1S3RfQ

    Then again, through observation I have learned that the intoxicated nightowls sleep it off during the day, so this weekend I might make a purchase and let rip during permitted hours. Overture to Light Cavalry, followed by Hawker Typhoon, and rounded off with The Green Hills of Tyrol.

  8. Stefan van der Borght

    Ok, now I’ve found the Sabre motherlode:

    http://www.hawkertempest.se/

    I think I’ve found my dream plane. Sorry, Spitfire, Mustang, Yak and Corsair, move over for the Tempest, with its H24 engine. Cool site, lots of history and with vids and wav of this toy of toys. If the Sea Fury dragged furrows around the countryside with its roaring radial, the Tempest makes canyons. Now I wonder how you fill out the paperwork for four Hispanos…..

    1. Hognose Post author

      Ask Claus Colling at Flug-werk.de how he gets around the “Nachbildung einer Kreigswaffe” stricture with his FW-190s. Paperwork has to be similar, no?

      The problem is manifold though: Incomplete Sabre plans, defunct company, missing tools and parts, and most of all, the hands-on know-how that out these things together is long gone.

      There are some historic-engine guys who go to Oshkosh… they have not only had to reengineer components and assemblies, but reinvent lost technology. (They do earlier stuff, like 190x Wright and Curtiss engines).

    2. Hognose Post author

      Ask Claus Colling at Flug-werk.de how he gets around the “Nachbildung einer Kreigswaffe” stricture with his FW-190s. Paperwork has to be similar, no?

      The problem is manifold though: Incomplete Sabre plans, defunct company, missing tools and parts, and most of all, the hands-on know-how that out these things together is long gone.

      There are some historic-engine guys who go to Oshkosh… they have not only had to reengineer components and assemblies, but reinvent lost technology. (They do earlier stuff, like 190x Wright and Curtiss engines).

  9. Stefan van der Borght

    Now you’ve made me curious…I’ll see if I can get in contact with him and get a definitive answer, though my guess is that the plane itself is considered a vehicle or historical relic and not a weapon, assuming of course they don’t load them up with replica MG17, 131, 151/20, Mk108, or any of the other scrumptious gadgets those things used to feature (and which might keep it from keeling over on its wheels…). Then again, I wonder if anyone goes around inspecting private aeroplanes for mounted weaponry; I can think of a certain individual with nine legs and three tails that could jazz up a classic high wing monoplane for close air support and still have enough left over to outfit the rifle company he’s helping…

Comments are closed.