The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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I interviewed my stepfather at our home in Loganville, PA. His excitement over this story made it impossible for him to sit still on the brown leather sofa, rocking back and forth like he was still feeling the turbulence from the ride. He says that whenever he faces challenges in his life, he remembers the time he flew the P-51 and that “not many things are harder than that.”

The brilliant sunlight gleamed through the windshield of Chuck’s black mustang as he drove to Latrobe, PA. It was 1993, and he was on his way to fly a North American P-51 Mustang Fighter Plane for the first time. It was the dream of every pilot to fly the historical plane. It served as turning point technology that allowed the Allies to win World War 2, and he couldn’t wait to get his hands on history. 

He had seen the experience in an advertisement in a flying publication; all he had to do was call to set up an appointment to make his dreams come true. Since he acquired his pilot’s license, Chuck had wanted to perform aerobatics and understand the experiences of the men who flew them in combat. 

When he first laid his eyes on it, it was just like he had dreamed. The sleek design doubled with the bubble canopy made it look absolutely iconic. Climbing in, he noticed how tight the cockpit was designed, with controls within inches of where his hands naturally rested on the stick. It was nothing like he had ever experienced. 

The owner of the plane, Lee, accompanied him on this flight. It was the perfect day to fly: broken cloud cover and temperatures in the low 80s. The buzz of the busy runways made him feel at home. He wasn’t nervous at all; he was just so eager to do something completely new. After a quick demo given by Lee, it was Chuck’s turn to fly the legendary plane. 

His taxi to the runway felt glamourous. Every single pilot getting ready to take off had their eyes on him in the P-51. He understood their jealousy: He would have felt the same way if he weren’t the one flying the plane. After a few minutes up in air, Lee decided that he was ready for some fun, so he instructed Chuck to invert the plane—something he had never done before. While inverted, Chuck could feel his feet start to float, and as he tried to reach for the pedals again, he realized that he was sliding up the seat. He couldn’t stop himself until his head made contact with the glass above him. When he was finally back into position, he yanked the seatbelt as tight as he possibly could to avoid sliding from his seat again. The feeling of flying this aircraft was absolutely exhilarating

After the joy ride was over, Chuck and Lee debriefed, and Lee was clearly impressed. “You really had a good sense of what to do and how to handle the aircraft. Are you sure this was your first time flying a P-51?” 

Chuck beamed and nodded his head, beaming with pride. “Yes, and man, this was a dream come true!” 

P-51 Joy Ride

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Latrobe, PA

I interviewed my stepfather at our home in Loganville, PA. His excitement over this story made it impossible for him to sit still on the brown leather sofa, rocking back and forth like he was still feeling the turbulence from the ride. He says that whenever he faces challenges in his life, he remembers the time he flew the P-51 and that “not many things are harder than that.”

Decade: 1980s
Rating:
Recorded by Kali Nyland on December 7, 2018
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