At an altitude of about 50 feet, the airplane stalled and Gus lost control. Given our present situation, a team of engineers, analyzing every available factor, would be hard pressed to come up with a set of circumstances that would make this event survivable. I closed my eyes just before the lights went out.
The sign said “Learn to Fly – $80.” It was posted at the entrance to the airport, a small grass strip located near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It turned out that “learning to fly” meant going solo; after that, more cash was needed. Still, it was a pretty good deal. As a 17-year-old airman with a few extra bucks in his pocket, this was an opportunity not to be missed. How could I pass it up?
I lined up on the centerline and advanced the throttle. The aircraft accelerated rapidly and broke ground. This was my fifth solo takeoff in this aircraft, a North American P-51D Mustang. I raised the landing gear, and the climb speed reached about 175 knots. Approaching the airport boundary, the engine began shuddering and vibrating.