My friend Will Whiteside is a Reno Air Racer who races his Yak "Steadfast" in the Silver Unlimiteds and also the awesome Gold Unlimited racer "Voodoo". Will is also a pilot for the Collings Foundation and flies their beautiful P-51C "Betty Jane". What I bet you didn't know is that Will is going to be the main pilot for the Collings Foundations new Me-262! Yep, a Messerschmidt Me-262! How cool is that?!
So I met Will at the beautiful Davis Flight Support where he told me all about it!
Will, how did you become a Collings Foundation pilot?
Well, I came out to the Yolo County Airport right here where we're sitting, and this was a couple years ago when I came out to test fly Voodoo before the Reno air races and it happens to be on the same day that the Collings Foundation was here with their B-17, the B-24, and P-51 and I thought wow that’s a really neat “C” model P-51!
I had never been near one so I jumped in our golf cart, and started nosing around the airplane, named "Betty Jane". I was told that Stu Eberhardt pilots the Mustang, and he was looking for me. I found him and we poked around the airplane together for a few minutes before he said, “Hey, want to get up there and look inside?” It was all recently restored and it’s beautiful. It turns out it is a TP-51C which is a one-of-a-kind plane. It's the only one in the world, a trainer version -- it's been modified to be a two-seat dual control C model P-51 Mustang and in the back seat you have a full complement of controls and instruments and it's almost identical to the front seat. So when you’re sitting in the backseat, other than the view being just a little bit different with more canopy frame and structure in front of you, it's a very similar view as what I see from the front seat. Well, it wasn't long before Stu popped the question.
Will and Stu
He said congratulations on Voodoo and he asked how would I like to fly another one, and I said well who doesn't?! He told me the Collings Foundation is short of Mustang pilots and I thought you’ve got to be kidding, how could they be short of Mustang pilots, there’s got to be plenty of Mustang pilots. In reality there's not that many but there are enough usually. Definitely more than there are airplanes! So I said, “Well yeah of course I'd love to, I'm interested!” He said, “Will, you're a CFI and you’re a type rated Mustang pilot right, well I bet they'd be interested in having you fly.”
I didn't expect it to go anywhere but he said he’d ask them and so he called them and the next day they flew over to Santa Rosa where I keep Steadfast. They called me on the phone and said, “Would you be interested in flying our Mustang for us?” I thought to myself, who gets this phone call?
That's a once-in-a-lifetime!
It really is! I didn't really know much about the Collings Foundation before that and after I researched them, I was very impressed with their program. There is a lot of flying that I needed and of course the flying experience to get me ready for Reno. They offered for me to go out and fly the airplane for a month at a time and I accepted.
I had to get checked out in the airplane immediately. They flew me to their next stop in the B24 Liberator and Stu went for a ride with me in the C Model Mustang. It’s a little bit different from the D models that I'd been flying. It seemed to be a little bit similar to Voodoo in the way the center of gravity is and the weight and balance of the airplane, so it felt very comfortable. We went out and did some aerobatics and came back in for a nice landing and Stu shook my hand and said great. I've been flying the Collings Foundation Mustang for a couple years now.
Will, you get to make many people's dreams come true. How does that feel?
Well it feels great actually. It's actually a really big deal for these people to put the money down to go fly in the bombers or their P-51. It's amazing how many repeat customers they have and these people want to fly every single one of the Collings Foundation airplanes. I know why because the experience is such a wonderful one as we've both seen by going for the ride in the bombers and everything else, you really are taken back. It's a time machine. To be able to sit there like you were crewman in World War II, and experience the sights, sounds and smells of what it's like to crew one of these airplanes. You can sit in all the different stations, you get to touch the guns, touch the radios, and all the parts, that all those guys were involved in.
Yeah, it’s virtually original. Flying a piece of history in bringing this museum piece to towns must be pretty cool I'm sure you've met some great guys and have some great stories to tell. Can you share some of them with me?
Well there's really too many to tell! Yes it's very close to the way it was in World War II. So I have to say it's wonderful to be able to bring someone and to be able to show them what it is they've been hearing about and reading about. When you take a person whose family member, who was in the military in World War II, and let's say they either came out alive out of the conflict or they died in the War. These people have this extreme attachment to the idea of what this P-51 or the B-17, the B-24, and the B-25 is. I mean they know that airplane and they have this, they've lived with this idea of what that airplane is and what it means to the country, all their lives. For them, to go out and not just touch that airplane, just to touch it, or to get a tour of it, but to get to fly in it, it is just a giant experience. I mean there's a lot of tears shed on a lot of these flights. These people are very emotional and it's touching to be able to be able to bring that to someone. It's always a wonderful experience for them, to be able to come close to either their deceased loved one or there loved one who is still alive, who mean so much to them, and they see the airplane in person. I mean it's an incredibly powerful experience. It changes your perspective on aviation, on war, on what we sacrifice to be here now. It's a wonderful experience.
There are some wonderful guys that volunteer for the Collings Foundation. Some of these guys do this full-time, so I'd kind of feel like the innocent bystander when I show up. I just show up and go up and do the job and to promote Collings as best I can but man these guys have it down pat. They know exactly what they're doing. They put on a great show. They show up to your airfield, they get set up, and then they start giving rides and tours. As the Mustang pilot I’m the one that's always taxing in and taxing out and making passes. You kind of amp up the crowd up somewhat. The bombers are a big part of the show and I’m just a small part. I like doing that. I like to bring the crowd in. They'll see the Mustang flying over town and they’ll hear that you're in because the Mustang is an airplane you can hear from a long distance away. There will be tons of people that will come out and they will say, “I heard a Merlin flying around the neighborhood!” And they don't know what it is but they come out in droves just to look for that Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, to listen to it start up, or listen to it taxi in.
How did you get the opportunity to fly the Collings Foundation in Me-262?
The other flying that I have done is in corporate jets, Airliners and other jets. So they asked me if I would be part of the program. I've used that engine that’s in the Me-262 in Clay Lacy's Lear jets for a lot of years and I have a lot of experience using that engine in that capacity, so I think they thought the fact that I fly fighters and I had experience with that engine made sense that I'd be one of the guys.
I can see you're qualified. Have you flown the Me-262 yet?
I have not. We are waiting for it to be completed over at the Sanders facility and when they're done, it'll be test flown again. Once its done, it should be a 10 times better airplane than it ever was coming out of the German factory. So I can't wait to get my hands on it! I think it's a beautiful airplane. I see it as an airplane that could have turned the tide in the war if it had been used earlier. And I can't wait to see what it's made of. I've asked many of the old time WWII pilots if they had flown it. You don't get many that respond yes. I haven't met that many people that have any experience with these. I know it's very fast! It looks like it will handle wonderfully. The Germans did a great job with aircraft design. I can't wait to get my hands on it!
Yeah! Will it go on tour next year?
From what I hear I'll be flying the Mustang until the Me-262 has been test flown and it’s ready to come out on tour with us, and then I will swap. I will jump between the Mustang and the 262.
So you'll be flying both of them?
I should be flying both, yeah. It’d be nice if there was another 262 pilot out on the road doing the same thing to where we could maybe go a week in the 262, another week in the Mustang, and then we can swap back and forth. A dogfight would certainly never happen then! That would be really great. It's pretty intense to fly the Mustang in the capacity that we do. I mean you have to stay very focused.
It's a wonderful program that the Collings Foundation put on every day. When I first came out on the road with them, after the first week I was with them, we were all sitting at dinner one night and I said, “Hey you guys, I’ve got to tell you, you guys put on a program that's equal to any Reno race program that I have ever been with.” These guys come out in the morning early, way early for me, it all happens really early in the morning. They show up and set up, which is what we do at Reno, they ready the airplanes for flying. They go through a lot of maintenance to get these airplanes ready to go. And they do it every night after were done flying. Then we fly all day and they deal with the public.
Some days in the Mustang you never get out of the seat. They bring me a sandwich, they're always bringing water when I land, and I eat in the cockpit, and then I’ll go flying again. You know it's great to just be able to go out and in a month you might get like 75 hours or more of Mustang time flying these things all day long! It's very intense, and you have to keep your focus, you really have to give it a lot of thought. We get to go to a different airport, some little, some big, some of them have airline service. You really have to work extra hard to fit into a modern-day airport with a P-51. These guys do this 10 months every year. They go to over 100 cities nationwide.
These guys are a very experienced team. There’s a guy who has I believe more B-17 time than anyone in the world. He's the primary B-17 pilot, a guy named Mac. Great guy, a lot of fun, and he does this every single day. He lives his life as a B-17 pilot. It's amazing!
That sounds like fun!
You have to realize probably most of the World War II guys never had as much time as these guys get in maybe a year or maybe even in a month. Just unbelievable, just an unbelievable amount of experience with these guys and it's amazingly safe. They have a great record of safety and the way they operate those airplanes going from city to city, is taken very seriously. These visitors that show up, get a tour the airplane, get to see the Mustang fly, maybe go up on a flight in the Mustang, B-17, the B-25, or the B-24, or whatever else they have there, and then leave and what a great day it was. I mean these people will talk about it for the rest of their lives. You don't get to do many things in your life nowadays that has that impact on people. It's such a rare opportunity and one that shouldn't be missed. It's worth every single penny!
The Sanders's shop his amazing. Why did the Collings Foundation choose them and what are they doing to the plane to get it ready?
Well, I want to think that I had a small part in the airplane going to my friends, The Sanders. They are very good friends of mine and have been very helpful to me and have always had the answer when I called them for help on my race program with Steadfast. I've seen and flown in some of their airplanes and have always been ultimately impressed with the quality of workmanship that comes out of their shop. I know they don't leave anything to chance. Everything is engineered and it's not just, “Well, we think it will work,” let's go get the right engineer to engineer this part. They do excellent work and it's the finest work you can find. So when I was asked by Rob Collings what I thought about their shop, I couldn't say enough good about them. I mean their work speaks for themselves essentially, and that's all I had to do, was point out that to, their track record. We just don't find better. So I'd like to think that I was part of that, but whether I was or not, I don't know, but I had nothing but great things to say about the Sanders.
Another part of the question was what they are doing to get ready. I think the list is really long, I think they found a lot of things in there that they thought they could do better and have. It's an unbelievable amount of work to change little things. He may have to redesign so many other things to just change one system. I think they've rewired the airplane entirety. A new set of brakes, different wheels, let's just say they brought it up to modern day standards and have made that airplane of thousand fold safer than it ever was for the Germans. As always, they've taken a really solid approach to the program using proven systems from other aircraft. They've done that with their Sea Fury’s over the years. I mean if you look at their track record they have with their Sea Fury’s and all the other restorations they've done, their just wonderful. So I think they were the guys for the job!
I'd love to see the 262 in the jet class at Reno, any chance?!
Well, I tell you what, I'll be pushing for it! I don't think there's an airplane out there at Reno. The 262 is far from stock, it's much more. We have far more thrust, I'm trying to think of the exact numbers but it's really overpowered compared to the World War II version. It has a lot more power to get you out of trouble, it's a wonderful looking airplane and aerodynamically it looks like it could be very nice. It may not fit in with the mission statement of the CF but what better way to show off the airplane than to see it round the pylons at Reno! that could keep up with that airplane. Yeah, I really think so. Already we know it's a very fast airplane and consider that in World War II they said it was 100 miles an hour faster than the P-51. We know the P-51 is fast, we know what it did, what it could do. We know what a stock P-51 can do on the course at
Will at the Sanders shop in the Me-262
Thanks Will, that was a great interview!
I want to give special thanks to my dad who helped me with the transcribing and editing (sixth grade homework is killing me!), and to my friend Will Whiteside who spent the day sharing all kinds of cool stories and going through the interview and cleaning it up to make it read nicely.
Photo credit - the second and third are by my dad and I. The last one Will gave me. The rest are courtesy of The Collings Foundation.
at Moffett Field
May 17th, 2008
Two 8th Air Force ball turret gunners meet. That's Jack sitting down!