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Warbird in a Box Lures Visitors to Test Flight Skills at AirVenture 2017

New simulator gives users a P-51 Mustang flight sensation using computer technology

By Frederick A. Johnsen

July 23, 2017 - “Put in some right rudder,” Harold Cannon advised as I advanced the throttle on the P-51 Mustang sitting on the runway at Duxford, England. I heeded his warning and applied rudder as I pushed the throttle smoothly, not firewalling it, to avoid becoming an inverted mess beside the runway. The Merlin engine roared. It was my first takeoff in a P-51, and I could feel some yawing as I tried to judge the responsiveness of the rudder.

“Push the stick forward,” Harold, president of EAA Warbirds of America, coached. Up came the tail wheel as I almost over-rotated. Rookie move. But now I could see over the long nose, and once I gained flying speed, a little back-pressure on the stick lifted the Mustang easily. Clearing trees off the end of the Duxford runway, I climbed for the heavens. Gear up. Flaps up.

A few gentle turns to test the handling of the Mustang at altitude over the English countryside and I was ready to try a roll. Not decisive enough! Lower the nose! Too late! I was in a spin in a P-51. Push the nose down. The trees rushed up, creating concentric rings of color in the windscreen. I bought the farm.

Harold reset the simulator program, and we went at it again.

You can, too. Redbird Flight Simulations has created a P-51 Mustang flight simulator after working with Warbirds of America pilots to get the feel of a P-51 translated into computer logic. The result is a flight simulator with a range of motion produced by motors and belt drives, free of hydraulics.

The P-51 flight simulator is new at AirVenture this year, and Harold hopes it can become a regular attraction, possibly sponsored by someone who wants to make its magic available to teach students and others.

Harold and the Redbird team are still adjusting some of the simulator’s control responses, but word is that this is a viable representation of a P-51. AirVenture visitors can try their hand at flying the Mustang simulator between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. today through Saturday. Harold tells his volunteer crew to watch the time, and if the line is not too long, wannabe warbird pilots may get “five minutes, or until you die,” he explains.

Harold and his team encourage youthful visitors to come fly the P-51, providing they are tall enough to meet the criteria for flying the sim. It’s a sensory blast, with video screens displaying a wraparound outside view, as well as operating panel instruments. The Merlin engine roars until you chop the throttle.

Get this Mustang into a bind and it will spin toward the earth, producing a convincing tightening in your gut, even though you know you’ll live to tell the tale, regardless of how hard the virtual airplane smacks the virtual ground.

No writers were hurt while producing this article. Well, maybe there was a bruise or two to our pride, but I took off in a P-51 from an English fighter field, for crying out loud. And you can, too, in the Warbirds area near the re-enactors’ camp.

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