A P-51 Mustang landed safely at Mobile Downtown Airport on Sunday after one of aviation’s living legends helped the pilot through a problem with the airplane’s landing gear.
The P-51, known as The Brat III, is owned by the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and was touring the Southern United States along with the B-29 FiFi at the time of the incident.
Mobile resident Bill Barton had paid for a 30-minute flight in the P-51 and told local media that the pilot, Chuck Gardner, was bringing the aircraft in to land when its landing gear did not fully extend.
According to Cavanaugh Flight Museum Director Doug Jeanes, who was in Dallas when he heard of the problem, the left landing gear was stuck in the wheel well and all normal emergency procedures failed to free it.
After making several calls, Jeanes phoned venerated P-51 pilot Bob Hoover to see if he could offer any advice.
“Nobody’s got more time in a Mustang or knows more about them,” Jeanes said.
After discussing the problem, Hoover recommended that Gardner take the aircraft over the Mobile Bay and the Mobile River Delta to perform a number of high G maneuvers to free to the stuck gear.
Cavanaugh staff relayed the message to Gardner, and luckily for the sake of both the airplane and its occupants, the solution worked. After nearly 30 to 40 minutes of maneuvers, the aircraft landed safely with gear fully extended. The $3 million P-51, manufactured in 1944 and originally flown in Europe by Hjalmar Johnsen of the 401st Fighter Squadron, was all but damage free, except for a minor electrical switch.
“It was a team effort, with many people working by phone and radio to solve the problem, and we were proud to have Bob as part of that team,” Jeanes said.
Hoover will serve as the keynote speaker for Cavanaugh’s 2012 annual spring gala, slated for May 11. In the meantime, both The Brat III and FiFi will be making their way down the Florida coast, visiting the TICO Warbird Airshow, Sun ‘n Fun and other major venues along the way.
According to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum’s website, the cost of a 30-minute P-51 ride like that paid for by Barton runs at a rate of $2,000. When asked by local media if he’d do it again, Barton, who definitely got more than he bargained for, gave a resounding yes.