Under certain circumstances, a 180-degree turn is the greatest life-saving maneuver that can be performed in an aircraft. I can personally attest to this fact, as it is highly likely that I’m here writing this thanks to a certain 180-degree turn that I made many years ago. That also applies to my three passengers at the time, hopefully still happy and healthy, wherever they may be.
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.