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What Our Members Are Building

EAA President Rod Hightower Visits My Titan T-51 Project

By Jeff Paden, EAA 547390, for Experimenter

 

Jeff Paden and Rod Hightower
Jeff Paden (left) poses with EAA President Rod Hightower in front of Jeff's Titan T-51 project.

I was lucky enough to have met EAA President Rod Hightower and have him visit my Titan T-51 Mustang project. Our local FBO in Medina, Ohio, was the site of one of Rod’s tour stops this year. Gary Baker, president of EAA Chapter 846 in Wadsworth, Ohio, put out the red carpet for the event. It seems Gary and Rod have known each other for a few years. Rod came to town a few hours early and had some time to kill, so Gary took him out to show him his project: an RV-6 he has been working on for a number of years. As luck would have it, Gary rents a building from me; it was a perfect chance to have Rod look at what I’m building only 100 feet from Gary’s RV-6: my T-51.

Rod and Gary
Rod checking out Gary’s RV.

The Titan T-51 is a 3/4-scale replica of a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, which is mostly built from aluminum. There are many choices of engines, ranging from a Rotax 912 to a Honda V6. The Titan factory offers a firewall-forward kit complete with engine and propeller; everything comes with it, not to mention an 84-inch, four-blade propeller.
 
Rod never had a chance to look at a T-51 before, so he had many questions. After a discussion on how it was built, he asked me why I chose to build a Mustang. I said I had an opportunity to visit the Titan factory and saw that they had a first-class operation, which gave me a fuzzy feeling inside. I toured the facility (probably more than 10,000 square feet) and told co-owner Bill Koleno that I wanted three things before I would buy a kit. No. 1, the Mustang had to look good; you can decide that. No. 2, it had to hold two guys my size - 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds. (Bill, also not a small man, said, “Let’s go fly.” Good enough for me!) Finally, No. 3, I didn’t want to be passed up by my RV friends; with the new engine combo, we should be okay. At completion I should be under $100,000, which is in my price range.

T-51 fuselage
The T-51 fuselage comes pre-welded from the factory. Aluminum “hat sections” are affixed to the square tubing for later attachment of the aluminum skin.
Windscreen
Moving right along, the windscreen, turtle deck, and fiberglass belly scoop are added, giving it that unmistakably aggressive P-51 Mustang look.

A lot of people who see my project (or any other) think it’s overwhelming, to say the least. I say not so. Just break it down to one task (or page of the plans) at a time, and it’s not really that hard. If you have basic mechanical skills and plenty of desire, you can build. Just be realistic; it takes time. I find the T-51 isn’t a difficult project; it can be challenging, but the factory support is excellent. If you need an answer, you’ll get it. The only problem is the book updates could be faster as they keep making changes faster than updates, so you have to keep current online.

Wing center section
Wing center-section in place.
On its gear
On its gear!
Skinning the exterior
Skinning the exterior - gear doors look great.
Taking shape
Really taking shape now.

Rod told me that he was impressed with the construction of the kit and he looks forward to seeing it at Oshkosh next year. My goal is to fly it to AirVenture 2012, and, with luck, be able to fly formation with a group of other Titan Mustangs during the Showcase.

By the way, this isn’t a slight on the RV. If I wasn’t building a Mustang, I would most likely be building an RV-8. I just wanted a chance at something a little different. One hundred seventy Mustang kits have been sold worldwide, and about 50 are currently flying, compared to 6,000-plus RVs. I’ve always wanted a Mustang just like every other kid of my generation, so this is my way of doing it.

Tour stop

After Rod’s visit, we went back to the FBO, where Flight Services of Medina was the host for his program. We had more than 180 people show up, and there probably would have been more if weather wasn’t threatening. Rod gave an energizing presentation and video show with a question-and-answer session afterward. We heard about the past, present, and future of EAA and aviation in general. We also heard about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that we normally don’t get to know about. I highly recommend going if a tour stop is anywhere nearby. You’ll definitely learn something from it.

My impressions of EAA are as follows: EAA is the best thing out there today for pilots, from airline captains to ultralight pilots. Many people who don’t even fly read the magazine and show up at the air shows just wanting to be part of it. Without EAA, I and many others probably wouldn’t have the confidence and knowledge to build our dreams. So thanks to all who are involved; it’s a pleasure to be associated with you.

Regarding Rod Hightower
From the moment I met Rod, the impression was that he’s one of us. Most of you will know what that means. I can’t say enough; I was impressed. For one thing, when he talks to you he engages you in that conversation. He really cares what you have to say. He treats everyone the same way, from line to boy to corporate America. Rod is also from or close to my generation, so it’s easy for me to talk with him. He’s the next generation of EAA that will lead us into the future with more energy and exciting ideas. I think we’re in pretty good hands. It was a pleasure to spend time with him.

Regarding Jeff Paden
Here’s a little background on me. My first project was with a partner; I had more than 5,000 man-hours of construction logged in a carbon and glass Lancair 4P. I had to sell it almost as soon as it was completed, but that’s another story - partners don’t always work out; maybe I’ll write about that someday. I have 1,200 hours in my logbook with my private, instrument, and multiengine ratings. I’m working on my taildragger endorsement so I can take passengers in my T-51 when it’s complete. I couldn’t start flying until my 30s as I couldn’t afford it. Since then I’ve owned a Cherokee 140, two Bellanca Super Vikings, a Piper Aztec, a Lancair 4P, and now my Titan T-51.

So just for the record, I have 1,200 man-hours into my T-51 build and figure I have another 1,500 to go. My Mustang will have 250 hp on tap, generated by a supercharged Honda V6 automobile conversion, and the plane will have fully retractable landing gear - it should be a hoot to fly! My paint will have a military-themed stars and bars with red nose and tail. My wife, Dana, who puts up with my “hobby” (as she calls it), came up with the name on the nose. So if you ever see Blood, Sweat and Years, you will know it’s  my bird.

Jeff's office
Jeff’s office - simple, clean, and appropriate. Larger view

Hope you enjoyed this article. I sure did; it’s about building and flying. For more information on the T-51, check out YouTube for a bunch of fun videos of flight, or feel free to e-mail me with any questions at flyerp51@yahoo.com. You can put “Building a T-51 Titan Mustang kit No. 146 with hopeful completion 4/01/2012” in the subject line.  

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