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Twin Midget Mustangs at AirVenture 2011

By John Errington, EAA 526574, for Experimenter

Midget Mustangs
Brad Errington (near) and John Errington (far) wiping down their twin Midget Mustangs shortly after arriving at AirVenture 2011.

From almost my first memories, I dreamed of being a pilot. My path to flying reminds me of Beetle Bailey, the cartoon character; things just seemed to work out in spite of my lack of awareness. One thing I understood from the beginning was that the military was my best chance to fly for a living, but it required a college degree. Against the odds and after several close calls, I graduated from Penn State (Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering) and was accepted into the Navy as an aviation officer candidate. The dream of flying was turning into reality. I applied for the jet program and upon graduation was assigned to VF-62, flying the F-8E Crusader, the last of the gun fighters. Later I was reassigned to a squadron that was deploying to the Tonkin Gulf during the Vietnam conflict. Combat flying was tough, but getting aboard the carrier at night with little fuel was actually tougher. It was during my Navy days that I started building a Midget Mustang from plans. After getting out of the Navy, life got busy and the Midget pieces ended up in storage.

My son Brad’s path to aviation was different. He was a bit of a reprobate during high school and wanted no part of college. His boyhood interest, riding off-road motorcycles, led him into learning to fly. Over time he began to appreciate the professional nature of controllers and pilots, and he began to think about a career in aviation, maybe even becoming an airline pilot. Our first trip to EAA Oshkosh (20-plus years ago) was filled with adventure and new knowledge for Brad. We ended up inside a thunderstorm over Cleveland, and I was happy to see the young lad handle all the associated turmoil and stay cool in the left seat. His first landing at OSH was also a challenge as we arrived at an extremely busy time. One thing he learned on that visit to OSH was perhaps his biggest shock—learning that he needed a college education to fly professionally. I smiled all the way home. Eventually he became a charter pilot and flight instructor, as well as becoming a graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. However, airline jobs were in short supply when he graduated. So he chose a career in engineering, and flying became a hobby.

It’s interesting to note that flying and the EAA are to a large extent responsible for Brad’s decision to get a college degree. As the credit card commercial states, “priceless.”

We shared lots of aviation fun together and still reminisce about those early flights and times. Over the years, Brad owned and flew general aviation aircraft. Then in 2003, Brad researched building an aircraft, and after much thought, he suggested we each build a Midget Mustang. The Mustang has beautiful lines and great performance, and it has become a very special aircraft for both of us. Over time, we settled on a military theme for our planes, and we wanted them to be as high tech as reasonably possible.

Construction was a fun challenge. Initially I was ahead during the build and was able to assist Brad. We had always intended to dogfight the planes, so when Brad designed the paint scheme, he included the stars and bars and the markings of my first fleet fighter squadron. After both planes flew, he took the lead in solving problems. Initially we had high oil and cylinder head temps, but Brad incorporated an oil cooler and made various cooling modifications. I just copied his work.

Now, after all the building and testing and modifications, we were able to fly our Midget Mustangs to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year. The experience is one of the highlights of my life. It was especially nice this year, being the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation. This was the first long cross-country for both planes, and both were up to the task. We seemed to have solved the oil temp and cylinder head heating problems and were able to take off and climb directly to altitude even though the outside temps were in the high 80s. My max oil temp was 203 degrees during the climb, and the max cylinder head temperature was 383 degrees.

Brad sees 195 mph indicated at full throttle with his modified O-200A, while I’m down at 180 with my stock O-200A. The planes are easy to fly but a little sensitive in pitch and yaw. Brad sees climb rates between 1,000 to 1,500 feet/minute. I do barnstormer aerobatics in mine. The planes have no bad habits and do what they’re told. One hint for prospective pilots: If you feel a sneeze coming, let go of the control stick. Ask me how I know.

Midget Mustangs
Brad leading the way into OSH

For our Oshkosh trip, I flew from Corning, New York (7N1), to Brad’s airport at Kenton, Ohio (I95). Together we flew in formation to Watertown, Wisconsin (RYV), and then to OSH. Brad flew a round-trip total of 6 hours, and I flew 11. Both planes have wet wings; we loaded 28 gallons of 100LL for the long hops. We had plenty of gas, but after three hours in the cockpit, our butts were telling us to land. We both made the wise decision to purchase extra-high-density foam at AirVenture, making the trip back a lot more comfortable.

The weather was great, and we took pictures of each other as we flew above a beautiful cloud formation. I raced a thunderstorm going into Brad’s field. But both planes have XM weather monitoring via Garmin 396 and 496 respectively, so it was really no big deal.

The flight into OSH is always interesting. This was my eighth trip (sixth for Brad), and as we were approaching Ripon, Wisconsin, at about 2:15 p.m., the controller at Fisk announced they would soon be closing the field for the air show and anyone outside Ripon was advised to go elsewhere. Immediately there was a flurry of requests from aircraft pilots asking if they could still make it. The controller indicated there was a reasonable chance if you were within 5 minutes of Ripon. I was in trail behind Brad, and we were slowing to 90 knots as directed by the NOTAM. I knew Brad would continue, so I ran the throttle up and accelerated to about 170 mph for a minute or so. Crossing Ripon, we slowed to 90 knots and made it in by the skin of our teeth.

We haven’t experienced crowded airspace going into OSH for a long time, so I wouldn’t worry about that for future trips. If it’s crowded, just hold a few minutes and wait for traffic to clear out.

Midget Mustangs

We were able to park side by side, thanks to a friend who arrived earlier and set things up for us. Chris Tieman (president of Mustang Aeronautics, our kit builder) was also able to park with us, so that was neat. The volunteers were super and worked hard to make everything happen in our favor.

Our Midget Mustangs drew a lot of attention, so we answered questions nonstop while we were at the planes. Our aircraft are painted alike, and many people asked how that came to be. Brad joked that I copied his paint scheme. Later he fessed up to the father-son relationship and the meaning of the paint job. I have a video camera mount in my cockpit, and folks frequently asked about it. I told them the camera was to record dogfight kills and Brad didn’t need one. That always got a chuckle. I can’t stress enough how much attention a Midget Mustang draws. And when we moved the planes out of their parking spots for departure, you could see the ghost outlines of the airframes tramped into the grass.

We were invited to fly in the Homebuilt Review on Friday. It was a lot of fun and simple to perform. If you get invited on a future trip, you’ll enjoy it.

I saw the F-16 go off the end of the runway. It threw a lot of mud when the nose gear collapsed. I missed the FJ-4 Fury do the same thing,but without collapsing the nose gear.

Our departure was especially fun for me. The pink-shirt controller asked Brad if we were a flight of two, and he responded yes. They put us both on the runway and cleared us for a section takeoff, so I did my first formation takeoff in the Midget. Brad’s engine is stronger than mine, but I was able to keep tucked in during the takeoff roll and the very early part of the climb. Then his extra power took over and I had to fall into trail.

Midget Mustangs
There are two aircraft in this photo.

Originally we planned to camp, but at the last minute changed to staying in a private home. That was a good move. We had no problem getting a room with two beds for $75 per night including breakfast, snacks, and sodas. A friend who volunteers at AirVenture drove my vehicle to OSH so we could have ground support. That arrangement worked well. We used a GPS to get around in the city of Oshkosh, and without it we might still be there.

I would encourage everyone to take your plane to AirVenture after getting the bugs worked out and having mastered the flying and landing stuff. You’ll be amazed at the attention you and it will get.

Midget Mustangs
Larger view

Probably the most interesting thing I learned at the vendor displays is that ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) is getting close. If I understand correctly, it may be possible to get a mode S transponder, free traffic, and free weather on your multifunction display for as little as $2,500 to $3,500. I will look again next spring. Brad and I have the Grand Rapids Technologies EFIS (electronic flight information system), which can handle the multifunction display. The ADS-B equipment is mounted remotely.

Sorry to be so long, but it was such a great time.

Watch for a detailed article on the building of these two planes in a future issue of Experimenter.

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