This San Angelo Pilot Got a Ride of His Life in a P-51 Mustang
SAN ANGELO, TX — San Angeloan Morris Baxter readied himself for the ride of his life Tuesday as the North American TF-51D Mustang, the training version of the P-51 Mustang of World War II fame, touched down at Mathis Field Tuesday at around noon.
Baxter, who holds a commercial pilot’s license, said flying the fighter should be easy. He was a military navigator in C-124s and C-130s. Since leaving the U.S. Air Force, Baxter obtained his pilot’s certifications.
“Everyone loves the Mustang, and for me, it’s been since I was growing up during World War II. I remember being a kid and loving this plane,” Baxter said.
The restored P-51 is on a barnstorming tour of the United States where the pilots offer rides to help pay for its restoration and upkeep. The World War II fighter plane leads an armada of warbirds, including a restored B-17, a B-24, and a B-25. Yesterday, the P-51 arrived about an hour before the B-17.
WATCH the arrival of the TF-51D at Mathis Field in San Angelo:
The TF-51D, the official designation of this warbird, is based in Stow, Massachusetts. It was restored and is maintained by the Collings Foundation. The Foundation is a 501c-3 non-profit organization whose mission is to support “living history” through events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation.
The Mustang was introduced late during the European bombing campaigns. The Mustang was designed to escort the bombers over Germany and protect them from a growing menace of more modern German Luftwaffe fighters that were shooting down more and more B-17s on their bombing missions. The P-51B and C models were nicknamed by bomber crews as their “little friend,” and some argue, turned the tide of the war by protecting Allied bombers.
Above: TF-51D pilot Mike Hastings (center). (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
This TF-51D never saw combat during the war. According to the Collings Foundation, it was a trainer aircraft assigned to the West Virginia National Guard after the war and into the Korean War era. The single-engine jet trainer, the T-33, replaced it by the mid-1950s.
This TF-51D is one of three originals still flying. The Foundation kept its original W. Va. National Guard paint scheme.
Christened the “Toulouse Nuts,” the restoration project was recognized during the 2016 Oshkosh (Wisconsin) AirVenture air show as the Grand Champion. The restoration was so complete, they said, that the 1450 horsepower Merlin engine looked like it just came off the factory floor.
Above: The TF-51D arrives at Mathis Field in San Angelo. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Collings’ P-51 pilot Mike Hastings, whose real job is a commercial pilot for United Airlines, said the Foundation places strict rules on how their aircraft are operated. “We never fly IFR (instrument conditions),” he said. “That’s because these planes are very rare. We consider them national artifacts.” Hastings is also a pilot with the Tora, Tora, Tora airshow demonstration team. He said the Foundation has around 15-20 professional pilots checked out to operate the Toulouse Nuts.
Before Baxter and Hastings hopped into the tandem cockpit of the TF-51, Baxter said the experience will be memorialized how every pilot desires. He’ll get 1.0 hours of P-51 time logged into his pilot logbook.
Instructional flights in the Mustang are $3,200 per hour. The proceeds keep the warbird flying.
Above: The Collings Foundation's B-17 touched down about an hour after the TF-51D arrived. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
The warbirds are on display on the tarmac in front of Skyline Aviation at Mathis Field through Wednesday morning at noon.