Today is Dad’s birthday, he would have been 91-years old. He passed away in March of 1994 and has been terribly missed.
Today is also the maiden flight of the P-51 North American Mustang.
One of my last favorite memories of my father was after we moved to Arkansas. He loved Arkansas and couldn’t wait to return. He discovered Arkansas after the war while working for McDonnell Douglas. He always laughed about being a ball-bearing salesman for those few years, but he got to see parts of America that he never would have. The lakes were what got him. He was the best swimmer I had ever seen. One time, there was a little old lady that thought he was dead, because he could float on his back forever and fall asleep... she had even gone to get help... poor thing nearly jumped out of her skin when he woke up.
I’d have to look at my records, but 1989 is a best guess. Pine Bluff was having an airshow and promised many WWII aircraft would be available for touring and such.
Me and Dad hit the road. Always trying to bluff me, I believed him when he told me that the highway engineers who built all those long straight-stretches between Malvern and Sheridan were fired soon after for not putting in enough curves.
My dad had already suffered his first stroke and was a little slow getting around the airfield. He showed me the B-17’s that he had flown. He disliked them. Said they were the most boring airplane ever built. They take off at 120 mph, fly at 120 mph and land at 120 mph. Sometimes, I never knew when he was kidding with me. I had never flown a B-17, so what did I know? He had tons of stories about the B-17 and ferrying them during WWII. He had only one kidney and was not able to fly combat... but that didn’t stop him from serving. He bluffed his way into that too.
I knew he wasn’t kidding though when “She” came into sight. The Douglas A-26 Invader. He was mesmerized. Every pilot, like every driver or boater has their dream ride. This was his. Despite his slurred speech, he had no problem firing off the attributes, speeds and capabilities of this baby. He wanted so badly to get up in that cockpit. It was quite a climb even for me, so he just looked up into the fuselage as I climbed around and told him what I was seeing.
Later the pilot came up. He was also a WWII vet and had gotten his hands on this beauty. I can’t remember if he got to fly these during the war or not. It definitely was on the wish list of many pilots.
I took a picture of him in front of that plane... he looked 20 again.
When we got to my glory plane, the P-51 Mustang, he smiled at me and asked if I was sure. How could I not be? Twelve cylinders of a Rolls Royce engine? It has never been about the speed. It’s about acceleration. He shook his head like I was nuts, but that had been the plane hanging from my childhood ceiling for many years.
Last summer, I found my log and got back a memory I had lost. My last flight was with Dad. Perfect.