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The North American P-51D Mustang (NA-109) is like a .45 automatic pistol. Solid, loud, deadly. Seductive precision and brute force.

A hole in an undercast is as good an excuse as any for a screaming split-s, an opportunity to simply enjoy what your steed can do.

Let her go too fast, though, and you’ll feel the controls start to rumble. Go waaaay to fast, and you’ll discover compressibility and an iron fist fighting the controls while you’re pointed at the ground.

But North American built them strong, and the punishment they withstood—too many Gs, far to high RPM, almost supersonic speeds—was absorbed and their pilots came home to talk about it. Read the pilot encounter reports of 500+ mph dives if you don’t believe me.

The beautiful music that Merlin produces in a dive can bring tears to a grown man’s eyes. I’ll never forget the sound of two ’51s going at it, hammer and tongs, overhead our home strip, 40N, west of Philadelphia. Ed Shipley was flying one of the birds, I know, I’m not sure who was in the the other. But that sound will reverberate in my mind forever.

What was it like in Europe when there were hundreds overhead? Does anyone remember the sound with affection? Probably not, because it was happening over Germany or occupied France. But there are reports of POWs who recognized the sound and rejoiced. But similar engines powered the Spitfires that defended London against all odds during the Battle of Britain. Surely those are sounds are remembered?

Perhaps I was born too late.