Pilot Journal
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Double Trouble

A tale of two P-51 Mustangs attracts a gathering of warbirds

double troubleThe P-51 Mustang is almost universally regarded as the best fighter to emerge from World War II. Talk to Bob Hoover, Chuck Yeager, Bud Anderson or any of a hundred other military test pilots, and they’ll tell you the airplane was nothing less than a stroke of genius when it was introduced in 1942.
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double troubleCrazy Horse2 is a virtual duplicate of the original Crazy Horse and is intended to supplement the company’s training fleet while the latter is undergoing a major overhaul. By the time you read this, Crazy Horse2 will have assumed the mantle of primary teaching machine for Stallion 51.

From a distance, the TF-51 and P-51D may look similar, but, in fact, the TF version incorporates a number of upgrades and improvements to adapt the original, single-seat Mustang to two seats and dual controls. One of the primary mods involves removing the standard 85-gallon auxiliary tank aft of the pilot’s seat and installing a second seat, seat belts and shoulder harnesses in the rear position. This left the airplane with 180 gallons in the wings, plenty for flights of two hours or less.

While the missing fuselage tank allows provisions for carrying a passenger, aft occupants had best be short, especially if they’re wearing a helmet. The standard, sharply tapered canopy presents a problem with headroom in the rear. Tall passengers have to scrunch down in the seat or bend forward slightly to fit into the rear pit. Owners of stock P-51s are sometimes reluctant to replace the canopy with a more squared-off, oblong version for fear of ruining the airplane’s lines. Another factor that sometimes influences the decision to stay with the stock canopy is cost. The TF-51 canopy costs about $50,000.

Those who do mount the two-place canopy wind up with a comfortable two-seater, but enabling the rear seat with even a partial set of dual controls is a gargantuan undertaking. The minimum aft control installation demands stick, rudder pedals, throttle, prop and mixture, not to mention a full set of flight instruments and enough engine instruments to monitor manifold pressure, rpm, oil pressure, oil temperature and cylinder head temperature. Plumb all of that to the engine and appropriate controls, and you essentially have a total rebuild of the main fuselage.

“That’s exactly what you have to do to convert a stock P-51D to a dual-control TF-51,” explains Stallion 51 president Lee. “Parts aren’t always readily available, and in some instances, you have to fabricate your own hardware. We were fortunate with Thurman’s Mustang in that the airplane was already in great condition. That made our job considerably easier in converting the airplane to dual controls.”

Crazy Horse2 now becomes arguably one of the world’s most valuable single-engine warbirds, and Lee will press it into immediate service while the original Crazy Horse is down for maintenance, including a full engine overhaul of the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650 engine. That’s not an easy process on an engine that has been out of production for 50 years.

During the war under the stress of combat, pilots often boosted power to “war emergency,” 67 inches of manifold pressure. Such high power settings sometimes destroyed a Mustang engine in 100 hours or less, but Lee teaches techniques designed to make any Mustang Merlin last as long as 500 hours between overhauls.


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