Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Sound Of Thunder

For those seeking a more economical alternative to the max performance of a P-51, the Thunder Mustang should satisfy your inner need for speed

From the second the throttle goes forward for takeoff, it's apparent this will be a very different experience. The V12 engine out front comes to full froth in about two seconds, and the airplane accelerates as if it's being launched off the bow of the Enterprise.

Airplanes don't have transmissions, so there's no way a flying machine will ever accelerate with a Corvette, but if you're sitting behind the prop of a Thunder Mustang, you very well may wonder if someone snuck in a Borg Warner when no one was looking.

Sitting in the back of Wayne Richards' immaculately built Thunder, it seemed the roar from up front was reminiscent of a AA fuel dragster. We were off the ground and accelerating toward the 150-knot best climb speed in about seven seconds. Wayne allowed the airplane to run to the end of Van Nuys Airport's runway 16R before pulling into a steep climb at almost 6,000 fpm. We turned crosswind and downwind, pushed over to level at 2,000 feet MSL to avoid interfering with airline traffic inbound to Burbank, and the Thunder exited the pattern to the north for a high-speed run through the local mountains.

If you fly most of your hours behind piston engines, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic airplane than this 3⁄4-scale P-51. Real Mustangs have always been iconic warbirds, generally considered the best piston military fighters ever conceived. And they had a sound like no other airplane above the planet.

Sadly, most of the P-51s were chopped into pieces after World War II. Today, there are just over 100 examples still flying or in the process of restoration, and such a limited supply has pushed prices well into seven figures. A properly rebuilt Mustang sells for at least $1.5 million, and a true jewel restoration can go for twice that.

Such realities have severely constricted the market except for the Tom Cruises of aviation, pilots for whom price isn't an object. It has also created a demand for something that can offer the same performance for a lower price of admission and reduced hourly operating cost.

Like its inspiration, the Thunder Mustang has built a near-legendary reputation for performance, matching or exceeding that of the real Mustang. Additionally, they've captured the sound of the Mustang right down to the last decibel.

Labels: Piston Singles


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