Airplanista Flies* Bud Anderson's P-51 at AirVenture

11:50 AM


*not really, but damn close

By Dan Pimentel,

Airplanista Blog Editor

I have just had easily the most intense “Oshkosh moment” of all my years covering this show. It was the kind of intense that you get when you are augering a fast airplane into the ground and the pastureland is rapidly filling up your windscreen.
    
I was invited to try out the Redbird Flight Simulations MX2 full-motion simulator they set up in Warbird Alley, a very real example of C.E. “Bud” Anderson’s P-51 Mustang “Old Crow” he flew in WWII. The flying characteristics of this custom-built sim were very accurate, I am told by Josh Harnagel, Redbird’s VP, Marketing, and he promised that it would blow my mind if I flew it.

I had to do this.
   
After a golf cart ride from the massive Redbird booth, the crew running the Old Crow sim set me up in the pilot’s seat, and asked me if I wanted to start in the air or on the ground. No brainer, I thought, I have to try taking off, so we started on the runway. I felt like I had this aced, because of course like every pilot, I knew that with its monster engine and prop, the P-51’s power needs to be rolled in slowly, and you need to give it plenty of right hoof to stay on centerline. Not a problem. OK, one problem: You cannot see over the front of the P-51 at all, and can barely see the runway out a sliver of the side canopy.


The crew laughed when I said I wanted to take it off, and told me “go ahead, but you are going to crash. After that happens, we’ll start you in the air.” They had little confidence in Av8rdan’s supreme piloting skills.
    
I rolled on just enough power to get rolling, and gave it increasingly more right rudder and a little forward stick until it nosed over just enough for me to see that I was now 90 degrees to the runway, barreling off through the GRASS at Duxford, England. All hell broke loose as I increased power – it became like an aviation bull ride, hang on for eight seconds and they give you a gold belt buckle.
    
Bounding through the grass, I did manage to get airborne, and in the span of about .000056 seconds, “Old Crow” accelerated  to over 200 MPH, and I went straight into the trees. Boom, party over, the sim crew was right. It was ugly, but loads of fun.
    
They then placed me in the air, not sure at what altitude since the altimeter is a tiny afterthought at the bottom of the panel. I was easily able to fly straight and level, and wanting to open it up, I advanced power. All good so far, you must be thinking. I can do this, it is only an airplane. I slowly began a left-hand climbing turn, and in the blink of an eye, Old Crow’s left wing apparently stalled and around I went, straight into a very violent SPIN. The pristine English countryside was rotating fast in the windscreen, and the MX2 full-motion sim made it feel all too real.
    
With the ground spinning rotations of about one-half second per revolution, it took about 10 rotations for me to even realize what was going on. When I did, even without ever having any actual spin training, I knew to pull back power and nose over to get the wings flying again. But no matter what I did, adding opposite direction rudder, giving it right aileron, the rotations just kept increasing in speed. The full-motion capability of the sim actually was causing my heart rate to explode off the charts. At this precise moment, try telling my brain this was a simulation. I was doomed to fly Anderson’s airplane straight into the ground.
    
But after about 10 more rotations, the spinning slowed and then stopped, the airspeed picked back up, the horizon became level, and I was able to gently pull the nose up, and was soon flying straight and level again…somehow. I am still not 100% sure how I did it, but I had just recovered from an extreme spin situation in a P-51. I would not have any FAA paperwork to file, all was well.
    
Now back flying – and with the line forming behind me surely entertained at this point, I pushed the nose over at 5,000MSL, and with Duxford under my left wing, thought it’d be a great idea to buzz the field. I was far less ham-handed on the stick, and as the altitude peeled away, I lined up with the runway and added max power. When I hit maybe 500’ AGL, I pulled the nose level, and blasted across the airport at top speed, imagining what the sound of Old Crow must have been like down below when Anderson did the same thing, and we all know he did.
    
At midfield, I yanked the stick almost into my crotch and stomped left rudder, and like a show plane, Old Crow went nose to the sky and I completed a seriously cool high speed pass. With that, the sim operator terminated the flight with a mouse click. My short flight was over, and it was incredible.


    
Before I went into the sim, Harnagel told me of a special thing that happened here at AirVenture on Monday. They actually put Bud Anderson into the MX2 to “fly” once again for a 40-minute flight, all while his real P-51 “Old Crow” was parked 100 yards away. “Even though Anderson is in his mid-nineties,” Harnagel said, “once he was in our sim, he was back in the skies, and was flying great. He did spins, stalls, loops, rolls, everything. It made the entire Redbird team very proud to see him fly this “Old Crow” sim, it was a very cool experience. We sent videos of him flying it back to Austin so the team there can watch the man that flew the real airplane fly the sim and I hear they enjoyed it a lot.”
    
The effort that Redbird put into getting their products to AirVenture is nothing short of amazing. “We brought five 26’ Penske box trucks to Oshkosh,” Harnagel explained, “and three of the trucks had a double deck built inside so we could load on two levels. It was a lot of equipment. Once we got here, it took nine people 10 days to set up their show after months of advanced planning. Preparing for AirVenture is an all-hands affair at Redbird, with as many as 50 employees working on the units and software they will run. We have 14 sims in the EAA Pilot Proficiency Center, and 12 of those live here at Oshkosh now. All of them plus the two we brought had to be set up. Redbird brought a total of 25 units to Oshkosh, including 12 in their booth, four of their full-motion units and eight desktop simulators plus the Old Crow sim.”
    
Redbird’s big announcement at AirVenture is a product called the Guided Independent Flight Training, or GIFT. It is a private pilot training supplement that’s delivered virtually right in their full-motion simulators. It delivers video and written training syllabus into the sim as the flight student flies a procedure, and provides virtual training in real-time, so as the student works on one segment of their training, the sim reacts to their flying and grades them. It allows a student to fly a procedure, receive training tips from the sim right there as they train, and receive a grade. They can then fly the procedure again, and the GIFT system re-grades them and delivers more training content so the student can see their progress in real-time. “It’s designed to supplement the training with a CFI, not to replace the CFI,” Harnagel, a CFI himself, said. “Using GIFT to speed up their training is a way for people to get their pilot’s license more cost effectively. While we have GIFT running on our full-motion line now, our intent is to have a pro desktop version by the next Sun n’ Fun.”
    
This was one of those kinds of things that happen at this show, we call them “Oshkosh Moments.” You wake up, carb load at breakfast for a long day of walking, and by 10AM, you are about to virtually die in a P-51 Mustang. But you don’t because it was simulated, make-believe, not real. Unless you are actually the poor dude spinning a powerful fighter aircraft into the ground. Then it is really REALLY real, maybe too much so. I can confirm that no underwear was sacrificed in this incident, but I might have left pucker marks in the seat of Redbird's MX2.

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