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Warbirds and their pilots convene in Columbus

  • Published
  • By Ron Scharven
  • AFMC/Public Affairs
While Sept. 24-30 marked the first Air Force Heritage Week celebration in Columbus, Ohio, it also marked the second and final Gathering of Mustangs and Legends.

The 2007 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends was held Sept. 27-30 in conjunction with Air Force Heritage Week at Rickenbacker International Airport outside of Columbus.

The original gathering took place in Kissimmee, Fla., in April 1999. At the time, the gathering was said to be more like a reunion, with 65 P-51 Mustangs and 12 Legends in attendance. It was the largest gathering of P-51 Mustangs since Korea.

In Columbus, there were more than double the Mustangs and as many legends. In fact, there was close to 200 aircraft on display but the vast majority of the aircraft were warbirds.

If it wasn't for Britain's desperate need for fighters, the Mustang might never have been built. The U.S. Army Air Corps almost did everything to avoid looking at the bird.

In response to the British request, North American Aviation designed the prototype NA-73 in 1940.

The British ordered a total of 720 NA-73 aircraft with the 1,150 horsepower, V-12 Allison engine. In December 1940, the British gave the NA-73 the official designation of "Mustang."

The great transformation of the Mustang came at the hands of England's Rolls-Royce Limited. Four Royal Air Force Mustangs were given to Rolls-Royce for a trial installation of the Merlin 61 engine and a four-bladed propeller.

Flight tests with the Merlin engine showed the aircraft was capable of 441 mph at 30,000 feet. It could climb to 20,000 feet three minutes faster than the version powered by the Allison engine.

North American Aviation redesigned the Mustang to handle a 1,520 horsepower Packard engine which was a license-built Merlin with a two-stage supercharger and an aftercooler. By the summer of 1943, the Packard-engined Mustang was in full production at plants in Inglewood, Calif., and Dallas. In 1945, $50,985 would buy a brand new Mustang. Today enthusiasts say you can't touch one for less than $1 million.

But the Mustangs and other warbirds weren't the only stars of the 2007 event. The Legends included Lee Archer, one of 38 Tuskegee Airmen attending Gathering of Mustangs and Legends and the only ace of those famed airmen.

Another Legend was David "Tex" Hill. He was one of the first members of the American Volunteer Group, the legendary Flying Tigers. Mr. Hill was among the first Americans to see combat in World War II. He became a triple ace with 18 enemy aircraft destroyed, including the first Japanese Zero shot down by a Mustang. Mr. Hill is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Also at the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends was a man known as the "pilot's pilot" - Robert A. "Bob" Hoover. He flew 58 combat missions during World War II but was shot down on his 59th mission. He spent 16 month on Stalag Luft 1.After the war, he spent time in the Flight Test Division at Wright Field. During his flying career, he's flown more than 300 types of aircraft and flight tested numerous fighter aircraft in the inventory.

Mustang production totaled 15, 686. Among those who flew Mustangs, 281 became aces. The Mustang also served during the Korean War. The Air National Guard retired its last propeller-driven Mustang in 1957. Today, approximately 165 survive.