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In Branson, P-51 Mustang Pilot Describes Iconic Plane as 'A National Treasure'

P51-1.jpg
Commemorative Air Force
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Used with permission

The P-51 Mustang, an iconic World War II fighter plane, is lauded for many things—and one of those distinctions is its role in helping the Allied forces achieve air superiority over Europe.

A P-51 named “Gunfighter” landed Thursday night at the Branson Airport as part of the Commemorative Air Force’s “AirPower History Tour.” The air show, running through Sunday, features some of the most iconic planes from the war.

Pilot Jeff Linebaugh told KSMU that aviation enthusiasts love the Mustang because of its smooth, powerful capabilities in the air—and also because of its historical significance.

“Our American bombers were just getting decimated by enemy fighters going in Germany. They were unescorted,” he said.

p51_-3.jpg
Credit Commemorative Air Force / Used with permission
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Used with permission
In this CAF photo, the P-51 Mustang "Gunfighter" flies alongside the B-29 "Fifi."

Originally, US forces thought bombers like the B-17 would be able to provide their own protection, but that didn’t prove to be true.

And other fighter planes available for escort protection were not able to make the long haul to Germany and back.                        

“The P-51 was really the first airplane that was able to accompany them all the way to the target and back, and provide them with the support that they needed, and the protection,” Linebaugh said.

“Gunfighter”

One of the main attractions at the CAF event at the Branson Airport is the P-51 named “Gunfighter,” one of the most famous Mustangs in the world.

“It came out of the factory, Inglewood, California, outside L.A. in 1945—in March of 1945. It got on a boat. It went to Europe, but it was there too late to see any kind of action,” Linebaugh said.

p51_-2_0.jpg
Credit Commemorative Air Force / Used with permission
/
Used with permission
The P-51 Mustang "Gunfighter" is one of many iconic World War II airplanes that tours the country as part of the Commemorative Air Force, or CAF.

After WWII, it was part of National Guard units for a number of years before it was sold into the private sector.  It became part of the Commemorative Air Force in the 1970s, Linebaugh said.

“It’s a wonderful flying airplane, but it’s a national treasure. It’s like somebody threw me the keys to the Washington Monument and said, ‘Go fly it,’” Linebaugh said.

He said his favorite part is just being able to share the experience with people who appreciate it, including family members of former P-51 pilots.

Other aircraft at this weekend’s airshow at the Branson Airport are the B-29 Superfortress “Fifi,” a B-24 Bomber, a T-6 trainer, and the open-cockpit planes the Boeing Stearman and a PT-19.    The event takes place at the Branson Jet Center, located at 130 Wright Brothers Road in Hollister, Missouri.

"It's a national treasure. It's like somebody threw me the keys to the Washington Monument and said, 'Go fly it.'" -Jeff Linebaugh, P-51D "Gunfighter" pilot

Linebaugh is one of a few select pilots who flies this plane;  he began flying as a teenager before he was even legal to drive a car alone.  He served in the United States Air Force as a flight instructor and is currently a Boeing 757 Captain and Check Airman for a major cargo airline, according to the CAF website.  He has acquired over 500 hours in the P-51 Mustang and has also flown more than 80 different types of aircraft, including the CAF’s B-29 Bomber, “Fifi,” which is also in Branson this weekend.

Times and events at Branson Airport:

Wednesday, September 18, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

* Aircraft tours available starting at 9:00 a.m.                     

* Supporting aircraft available for rides all day

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Thursday, September 19, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

* Aircraft tours available starting at 9:00 a.m.                     

* Supporting aircraft available for rides all day

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Friday, September 20, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

* Aircraft tours available starting at 11:00 a.m.                    

* Supporting aircraft available for rides all day

 

Saturday, September 21, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

          * B-29 flies at 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

          * B-24 flies at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

          * Aircraft tours available after 11:00 a.m.

          * Supporting aircraft available for rides all day

 

Sunday, September 22, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

          * B-29 flies at 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m

          * B-24 flies at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

          * Aircraft tours available after 12:00 p.m.

          * Supporting aircraft available for rides all day

As News Director, Jennifer oversees news gathering and production for KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio; in her role as Content Coordinator, she makes sure all programs on KSMU, including those produced locally, nationally, and internationally, flow seamlessly over the air. She trains the student reporters and announcers and hosts the monthly program Engaging the Community. Follow her on Twitter @jennwritesmoore.