TF-51 Mustangs still aiding American military

TF-51 “Crazy Horse” waits to take wing.
Photo Credit: John Stemple

The unmistakable and powerful roaring of Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engines is relatively common in central Florida skies. These sounds are a result of sleek and graceful Mustangs cavorting overhead. Notably, the venerable aeroplanes are still providing useful service to America’s military in a teaching capacity. They do so through periodic Stallion 51 TF-51 visits to the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md.

At Patuxent River student test pilots from all branches of the military learn about and develop piloting skills relating to characteristics of high-powered powerplants driving large propellers. Through Mustang flights the aviators experience phenomena such as torque, P-factor, the corkscrew effect and gyroscopics. Thus, the experience of operating a TF-51 broadens the aviators’ knowledge relating to these idiosyncrasies.

The first production North American NA-73, designated “Mustang I” by the British, took to the air on April 23, 1941. The XP-51, built for the U.S. Army Air Corps, flew to Wright Field, Ohio, with an army pilot at the controls on August 24, 1941. In 1948 the U.S. Air Force redesignated the P-51 (the letter “P” indicating pursuit) as the F-51 (the letter “F” indicating fighter). Years ago a number of F-51s underwent conversion to TF-51 dual control standards.

Although F-51s retired from the U.S. Air Force inventory in October 1957, the Mustang’s usefulness to the U.S. Military would not end that autumn. Various sources report that in 1967 the U.S. Air Force acquired re-manufactured F-51 Mustangs from Cavalier Aviation in Sarasota, Fla. These planes were for allies in South America and Asia and part of the Military Assistance Program.

Subsequently, in 1968, the U.S. Army obtained an F-51D to perform as a chase aircraft during the testing of Lockheed’s AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter prototype. The Mustang worked well in the role, and the U.S. Army purchased two Cavalier Mustangs for use at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After program cancellation in 1972, the Mustang’s army operators sought other uses for their trusty steeds. One “joined” the U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1970s when it went to Naval Air Station China Lake, California, for aerial testing of a recoilless rifle. The last army plane reportedly served until 1977 or 1978. A former U.S. Army Cavalier Mustang is on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida.

Stallion 51 Corporation maintains and operates 2 TF-51 Mustangs. Their monikers are Crazy Horse and Crazy Horse 2. Those wishing to purchase an orientation flight in a TF-51, or pursue check-out, recurrent training or “unusual attitude” training, may do so by contacting telephoning (407) 846-4400.

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The author (John Stemple) thanks Stallion 51 Corporation for the company’s cooperation during the preparation of this article.

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