Saturday, September 17, 2011

Galloping Ghost

I was heartbroken this evening to hear of a tragic accident at the Reno Air Races. A P-51 named Galloping Ghost crashed into the edge of the seating area. At least three are dead not counting the pilot and so far I haven't seen the same number of injured listed on any two places yet. No one is taking any bets on all the injured recovering.

At this writting no one is really sure what caused the crash. The pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was highly skilled with years of experience. To the best of my knowledge I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Leeward. I had known the Galloping Ghost for years.
There are probably more P-51s surviving today than any other World War Two combat plane. Having said that, there aren't that many Mustangs around, especially not flying. So when attending airshows and fly-ins you start recognizing the Mustangs, B-17s and P-38s like old friends. The loss of human life is tragic, but so is the loss of these historic aircraft.
A few months ago a B-17 called Liberty Bell crashed in a field durring a routine flight. No one was killed, or even seriously injured, but the plane was a total loss. The scene bore a spooky resemblance to World War Two crash sites. There are folks who will ask if the planes are so rare and valuable why risk flying them? Just about any World War Two combat Plane flying these days is valued in six figures. B-17s and P-51s are in the millions. The truth is, if you have to ask, you will never understand.

In 1973 for the first time I stood on the ramp in Harlingen, Texas and watch a P-51 Mustang sputter, then growl to life. A crowd of us watched as it taxied out to the runway. A few minutes later she started to move, faster as she came up on her main gear, and then sprang into the air at a speed and angles I found shocking based on my light plane experience. A second later I recovered my voice and was commenting that the numbers in the books didn't do this justice when an F8F Bearcat caught and pasted the Mustang like it was dragging a plow.

I knew then that the hours of research, and hundreds of pages I had read were baseless without this experience to put them into perspective.
It is a sad truth that planes like this cannot be operated without bending one from time to time. With the weight and speed of these War Birds the results are often deadly. But parking them is unacceptable. The pilots and investors are all too aware of the risk, and they agree.


  1. Art, Millie G was at Easterwood Th and Fr. Shot video of her cranking and then of her taking off. I never get tired of seeing or hearing them. Last night when Galloping Ghost went down, a very dear friend was out on the ramp watching. He is out there as crew chief for another race team. He called to let me know he was alright and they had tracked down all the members of the team. He was already showing signs of survivor-ship.
    Did time with the CenTex Wing of the CAF back when Dad was in it and got to be around and work on and ride in a number of the birds and as an adult, got to sit out beyond the flight line as part of the crash crew during airshow.
    Always sad at loss of life and birds. But as you say, they have to fly, if you don't understand, you never will.

  2. This post touched me deeply. I remembered the airshow we attended and agree, there's nothing like seeing them in action.

  3. (Zack says)

    I found few things in life as beautiful, elegant, or exciting as a P-51 in flight. It was the best of its time.

  4. Greetings from Falls County,
    Thank you for the post of the P-51 taking flight txgungeek, and the link and kind words. I have tried to leave something on your site, but I am not able to post comments there at the moment. No doubt it is something I am doing, or not doing. I will get it worked out.
    Thanks again