P-51 At Twenty One
Celebrating one family’s passion for warbird
Friends and family gathered to support Conrad and Mark Huffstutler (center, left and right) as Conrad soloed in the family’s P-51 Mustang at their Uvalde, Texas, home airport.
“When I picked up the P-51, it turned out the owner had hurt his foot and couldn’t give me a checkout. Having quite a bit of tailwheel time, I just read the Dash 1 manual and took off.” Halfway home on the flight to Uvalde is where Conrad got his first chance to “steer a Mustang a little bit.”
But even though Conrad was in a great position to fly the Mustang, his father wasn’t going to just toss him the keys! A plan was put in place to get Conrad ready for his 21st birthday flight. The key to flying any vintage warbird is tailwheel time, and that was the focus of Conrad’s program. After fixing up and learning to fly in a Cessna 152, Conrad began flying in the Piper Cub, then an RV-4, and then logged 50 hours in the Waco. During this time, Mark traded the family’s T-33 for a T-6 Texan so that Conrad could get his final 50 hours in the advanced trainer. So much focus was put on tailwheel time that of Conrad’s 500-plus hours, 300 are in taildraggers!
To celebrate Conrad’s birthday, Mark threw a fly-in bash at their home airport in Uvalde. Pilot friends and family members were invited to come down for the event. The plan was to fly formation clinics and flybys on Saturday, and have a party on Saturday night. Conrad’s much-anticipated Mustang flight was to take place first thing on Sunday morning.
Featuring Cub, Chipmunk, Pitts and T-6 aircraft, the Saturday show was a blast. That night, despite 110-degree temperatures, the Huffstutlers hosted a festive dinner, featuring a cake with their Mustang on it. When it came time to blow out the candles, there was no question about the wish…
The next morning, Mark signed off Conrad in his logbook for solo flight. Because most of Conrad’s friends are warbird pilots, nobody wanted to just watch from the ground, so a photo flight was orchestrated. Conrad would fly the P-51, and Mark and Conrad’s grandfather would go up in the T-28. A four-ship T-6 flight launched, along with Jim Dale in another P-51 owned by Rod Lewis, who went up in his L-39. Mark was confident in Conrad’s formation skills, and after a few last-minute tips on the Mustang (“Don’t bend it!”), it was time for engine start.
We lined up on the runway behind Conrad for his first solo takeoff—right down centerline. In the air, Conrad joined up with us and flew formation like he had been doing it for years. It was amazing! Only five hours in a Mustang and he already was flying photo missions like a pro.
When it was all said and done, a great time was had by all and a wish had come true. Most importantly, however, a new link had been created in the chain of warbird pilots who’ll keep these great machines where they belong: in the air!
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