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Mercy Crashing a P51
I couldn’t bring myself to sell it to anyone
Text, photos and video By Tom Hintz
Flight/crash video by G Jawhar
Posted - 2-2-2015
A few years ago my local hobby shop “saw me coming” and pointed out the latest and greatest foamy P51 when I asked about a warbird. Let’s make it clear right here that the plane in this story was like version #1 and there have been many updated versions since, a few of which I have flown for folks. The newer ones are nice and perform well. The one I had was before all those improvements and clearly demonstrated the need for those changes.
It Started Early
The first time I plugged in the battery one of the wheel door servos emitted a small but stinky little cloud of smoke but the wheel door stayed closed. OK, things happen so I just pulled that servo and wheel door and would deal with it later. The plane actually assembled nicely overall and I was soon ready to fly it.
The first flight went well and I got the P51 up and down in one piece. The second flight went fine until I flipped the switch to drop the landing gear and a thin stream of smoke trailed the plane for a second or two. The other wheel door servo had smoked and was holding one wheel partially open. I cycled the gear switch and the wheel pushed by the dead door and I landed without further damage. The remaining wheel door and servo were removed because I didn’t see the need for those doors in the first place. I know this isn’t a real P51 so lacking the wheel doors wasn’t a deal breaker for me.
When I plugged the battery in the next time at the field the landing gear sequencer made a subtle snapping sound and released the increasingly familiar little cloud of smoke. A friend at the field actually had an extra sequencer because he thought that was the source of his retract problems on a similar plane. I installed that sequencer and it worked fine right up to the end of the plane.
I was never very impressed with the flying capabilities of this P51 because it was low on power and had small (probably very scale) control surfaces. To be fair, it did fly realistically and that is probably what most people buying a plane like this would want. At one of our warbird fly in’s I was able to pull off a reasonable knife edge pass that deteriorated into a downward slant that required abandoning the maneuver to avoid the earth.
At that same fun fly I began noticing the motor was losing power which further compromised its capabilities in the air. My boredom with the P51 eclipsed the desire to fly it and it was relegated to an out of the way spot in the garage for a few years. When I moved to bigger planes the shop space being used by the P51 became more valuable than it was and I began looking at ways to get rid of it.
I couldn’t bring myself to sell this P51 (or any other dud airplane) to anyone knowing what I did about it. I considered stomping it to death and putting it in the trash but that plan lacked flair. That’s when I thought of making a video that would conclude with the P51 going in, knife edge at speed. The shop space would be recovered, nobody would be mad at me for selling them a crappy warbird and I hoped to get some decent video of the “event”.
On the day I decided to crash the P51 I also discovered that the weak motor was growing weaker yet and doing it fast. The plan to put in three flights before the crash was abandoned shortly into the second battery. I had to crash this thing while it still had enough power to keep it air borne.
Coincidentally, just before my “final P51 flight” a friend had a totally accidental mid-air collision between his foamy P51 and a built-up balsa 3D plane. The 3D plane lost a wing but looked salvageable. The foamy P51 had the wing fold, touching the tips over the canopy and it went pretty much straight in. The remnants were donated to a warbird person to see if he could resurrect parts of it.
The guys at the field were split between getting on with my P51 crash, saving it so I could be chased into the ground by a yet-to-be-finished 109 and a dare to do a 1-foot inverted pass. I did the inverted pass at what looked to be very close to the 1-foot height and ran out of down elevator as I tried to push it up away from the ground. It did come up, slowly, in part due to the ground running downhill at that point so I came around and lined it up on the edge of the runway.
The motor was slowing down more and more so I decided this was going to be “the pass” and turned it up knife edge, stuffed all of the rudder into it at full throttle and watched it fall out of the sky. As you might suspect, even at half speed (or there abouts) the P51 came apart in a big way. There would be no resurrecting this one and for that I was glad. I didn’t want anyone else to get stuck with this plane.
I know some will consider this foolish but others will understand. I have a trailer full of good airplanes and was not willing to sacrifice shop space for one that wasn’t any good. I suppose it could have been “updated” but with a list of needed parts would probably exceed the cost of a current version that worked out of the box. Just busting it up and tossing it in the trash didn’t seem right for an airplane. I thought hitting the ground at speed (its version of speed) was a more fitting end. Besides, I paid for it; I struggled with it, I was careful to crash it away from anyone and off the runway to avoid damaging that surface. Post-crash all of the pieces were retrieved and put in my car to put in my trash can. You have to see the video to appreciate the carnage.
This might not be the end of warbirds for me. I do have my eye on a giant scale Aeroworks P51….you never know.
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