The premier training facility for North American P-51 Mustangs turns 30 this year, and founder Lee Lauderback decided to throw a party.
The company invited the nearly 200 graduates of its Mustang checkout program to a homecoming celebration at Kissimmee, Florida, and to fly formation to the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland. The homecoming featured abundant training seminars, because safety and proficiency have always been core principles of the business.
Lauderback launched Stallion 51 in 1987 along with business partner Doug Schultz and Lauderback’s twin brothers, Peter and Richard. Lee Lauderback had been Arnold Palmer’s chief pilot, flying the late golf champion’s Lear 24, Citation jets, and MD500D helicopter.
Stallion 51 has three dual-cockpit, dual-control TF-51 Mustangs, all of which were converted from their original configuration. The company also provides orientation, checkout, and recurrent training in a North American T-6 Texan and an Aero Vodochody L-39 Turbojet, as well as Mustang maintenance and aircraft management services.
John Black, a retired Air Force pilot, conducts P-51 orientation and checkouts for Stallion 51. Even after 21 years spent flying the F-15C, T-37, and T-38, Black said the P-51 “is always a challenge to fly well.” The airplane’s 1,500-horsepower engine and 450-pound propeller create enormous gyroscopic precession. It does not give the pilot a lot of warning before the stall and will sharply drop a wing “even if you tiptoe to the critical angle of attack,” he said. Stallion 51 teaches owners how to fly their airplanes by taking them through scenarios and teaching the appropriate response, Budde-Jones said.
Thursday, April 6, will feature Mustang Day flight demonstrations during the daily airshow at Sun 'n Fun. Lauderback will fly a P-51 in formation with an F-16. On Friday, April 7, the FAA will present Lauderback with a Master Pilots Award, in recognition of 50 or more years of consecutive years of safe flight operations.
For more information on Stallion 51, see the website.