The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends

Rickenbacker ANGB, Columbus, Ohio

September 27-30, 2007

Airshow report written on October 8, 2007.


Every once in a while there is an airshow trip that must be taken as a result of a) a special airshow that is likely not going to repeat anytime soon, or b) just wanting to go to that particular show site after so long.  The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends started out as a show that featured the two things in its name, the P-51 Mustang and the pilots that flew them back in World War II - and the pilots that were made famous as a result of flying the aircraft.  This time last year, I was not sure if I was going to go to this show, since I imagined it to be just what I described.  When the Thunderbirds announced they would be at the Gathering, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to go - though the fact that the organizers of the show, the Stallion 51 Corporation, were promising this show to be the largest gathering of P-51s in a very long time, I was thinking about it.  When the ACC demo team schedules came out and listed the Gathering as having an F-15, F-16, and F-22 demonstration, that sealed the deal.  Not only was this going to be a gathering of Mustangs and the Legends that flew them, it was going to be a full-fledged airshow.

The original plan of attack for this show was to fly out to Columbus and rent a car, as I had found a roundtrip ticket through US Airways for $82 (including all taxes), but seeing how much it would cost to rent a car for each show day as well as Wednesday practically shot down that plan.  I then decided to drive the eight and a half hours out to Columbus and back, knowing the long drive - which was actually slightly less in mileage (530 miles) than going to North Kingstown, RI and back in one day (550 miles) - I knew it would be well worth it.  Originally I had envisioned the show being like Dayton's show in 2003 - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday would all be full-blown airshow days, but as the show dates got closer and closer, it was basically a traditional airshow weekend, only with Thursday and Friday open to the public (Thursday being open only to those who bought a four-day pass, which was an excellent move by Stallion 51).  I did just that, and upgraded to the grandstands for all four days, since I knew the crowd line might get obstructed by something.

Thursday's weather turned out to be nearly a complete washout.  I don't know how some of the aircraft managed to arrive safely in a pouring rain and thunderstorm, but I will give Max, Buzzer, and their backup pilots props for doing a great job landing in such terrible weather.  Luckily I had taken shelter in an empty hangar for most of the morning and early afternoon (and got drenched getting lunch!).  The rain did stop in the middle of the afternoon, allowing the Thunderbirds to arrive, along with a bunch of static aircraft and about thirty P-51s.  There were plans on Sunday to do a massive 51-plane formation of P-51s but it was scrapped since the practice flights for that formation was to take place on Thursday, and the weather at, around, and to the west of Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus prevented that from happening.  Frankly, I'm very glad that it was scrapped, as I did not want to witness any incident that might have occurred as a result of no practice and no brief.  The weather forecast was for Friday through Sunday to be absolutely perfect with highs in the upper 70s to low 80s each day, but downright chilly each morning.

Let's just say Friday turned out to be a typical summer day, sky-wise:  clear in the morning and very early afternoon, cumulus clouds building in the afternoon, and dissipating as the temperature got cooler and cooler.  Saturday's weather was absolutely perfect throughout the entire day, with the exception of the winds picking up as the day grew on.  Friday's winds were breezy through the entire day, but the wind was blowing away from the crowd, while Saturday and Sunday featured an on-crowd wind.  An on-crowd wind's advantage is that the aircraft noise is blown towards the crowd, making the plane seem louder, while the disadvantages are with the audio system for the airshow being louder and any smoke - if it is from pyro or from smoke systems on the aircraft - is blown into the crowd, reducing visibility for the crowd and ruining any photo and video opportunities (anyone with video actually has it better).  Having the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and the Red Baron Squadron at the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends Airshow doesn't help much in the smoke department, but heck, they are both awesome performers.

The pace of the airshow was an interesting one - there were short gaps in the show to allow cargo departures and arrivals, since Rickenbacker is a major cargo hub for Columbus, as well as arrivals of show performers and guests.  The morning show featured aerobatic performers John Klatt, Ed Hamill, Patty Wagstaff (who did not fly her Extra as a result of a rudder cable problem, but she did fly on Sunday), and Michael Goulian, whose performances were interspersed with warbird acts that told a story of how one became a Mustang pilot.  For instance, John Mohr started the flying display with his Stearman act, and was immediately followed by the Red Baron Squadron with their four Stearmans.  At another point, a pilot from the Stallion 51 Corporation flew a solo T-6 Texan act and was immediately followed by the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team.  Finally, Lee Lauderback flew a solo aerobatic display in Crazy Horse, a TF-51 Mustang.  He was followed by Jim Beasley and Ed Shipley in Princess Elizabeth (P-51C) and Twilight Tear (P-51D), respectively, with the Horsemen Mustang Performance.

The Air Force hour featured a solo demo by Major Jason "Buzzer" Koltes in the F-16, followed by a Heritage Flight with Vlado Lenoch in his P-51D Mustang Moonbeam McSwine.  Major Koltes flew a decent demonstration with the Viper each show day, with the best part being his takeoff sequence, which matched that of Baron's takeoff sequence at Westfield last year.  Speaking of Baron, he flew a spectacular demonstration each day with the F-15, and was teamed up with Brad Hood and Steve Hinton in two P-51s (Shangri La and Double Trouble Two, respectively) for another Heritage Flight.  Finally, Major Paul "Max" Moga flew yet another amazing demonstration with the F-22 Raptor each day, and was flanked by THREE P-51 Mustangs (Dale Snodgrass flew Excalibur, Jim Beasley flew Princess Elizabeth, and I'm not sure who flew Hell Er Bust).  Vlado Lenoch flew Moonbeam McSwine in formation with the F-15, F-16, and F-22 on Sunday for that day's only Heritage Flight, and Rob Reider was quick to point out that it was one of the few times that a Heritage Flight has been flown "by the patch", i.e. a formation that is similar to one that is on one of the many different Heritage Flight patches that has been made since the program originated in 1997.  Saturday's show also featured a B-2 Spirit, which made three passes following the Thunderbirds' performance.

The Thunderbirds were not the stars of the show, and flew in the middle of the afternoon each day.  Friday's practice also featured a photo flight with three P-51 Mustangs and the six Thunderbird jets at about 6,000 feet above and circling Rickenbacker.  The photo plane was a C-130J-30 Hercules from the Rhode Island ANG, which was used on Saturday and Sunday, along with a new Cessna CitationJet for the 51-flight.  The Hercules acted as a photo ship while the CitationJet was a safety spotter for the 51-flight.  The Thunderbirds managed to put on a spectacular performance each day, but delayed the Saturday performance to swap out a jet while at the end of the runway, just prior to their performance.

Following the Thunderbirds was a massive warbird flight.  Two flights were flown, one with the little friends and one with the bombers.  The "little friends" flight included a P-38 Lightning - the newly named Ruff Stuff, a P-40 Warhawk, two P-47 Thunderbolts, two P-51 Mustangs, and a P-63 Kingcobra.  It was the first time I had seen a Kingcobra, and I believe this is the only Kingcobra in flying condition - at least in North America.  Pyrotechnics were provided by Rich's Incredible Pyro, as they blew up the grass between the runways at Rickenbacker each time any of the warbirds made a pass down the runways.  The bomber flight took over after all the fighters landed, and included one B-17 Flying Fortress (Yankee Lady), two B-25 Mitchells (Pacific Prowler and one other - it is in a camouflage paint job and has invasion stripes), and an Avro Lancaster - all of which flanked by four P-51 Mustangs who were playing the part of the "little friends" that escorted the "big friends" on their bombing runs.  Pyro continued and culminated with a wall of fire on Sunday that practically made the entire airfield fall under simulated instrument rules and forcing everyone to land on the far runway.

Following the warbird flight, twenty P-51s of all different models, which included among other aircraft, the only flying P-51A - Polar Bear, aircraft such as Princess Elizabeth, both Crazy Horse and Crazy Horse2, Twilight Tear, Excalibur, a Mustang painted like the one flown by Bob Hoover, among others.  All twenty Mustangs took off from Runway 5R (the far runway) following the launch of the C-130J-30 and the CitationJet.  They formed up once for a large formation flyover before reforming for a much more spectacular formation.  Ed Hamill and John Mohr spent that time performing in their respective biplanes as filler time before the Mustangs returned from in front of the crowd in a formation that spelled out the number 51 in the sky.  It was the first time such a formation was attempted and probably will be the only time, as getting this many P-51s at one location is becoming tougher and tougher with each passing day.  Four of those Mustangs performed a Missing Man formation flyby before landing and officially closing out each day's airshow activities.

It should also be mentioned that Patty Wagstaff flew an aerobatic performance in Princess Elizabeth as a dedication to the Women Air Service Pilots, as well as a short performance of just a few flybys of a P-51C Mustang honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, who bravely and successfully escorted hundreds of bombers over Europe in the face of racism and oppression.  The remaining members of the Tuskegee Airmen were honored on Saturday as well as with one member singing a version of Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA, which was very touching for everyone at the show on Saturday.

And before you ask the question, YES, it was well worth the time and effort to go out to Columbus and go to this airshow.  I had run into car problems towards the end of the weekend, which were fixed on Monday morning before I made the trek home.  However, those problems were negated to an extent on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by a deer, if you know what I mean.  The only good news to come out of that was how I struck the deer (on the side of the car rather than head-on, especially at the speed I was going at the time), where I struck the deer (being only 70 miles away from home at the time) and that I came out unharmed and was able to make it home safely.  The car is still drivable, but is getting a new left side mirror but the chances of it seeing any airshows next year is slim.  Even with those problems, I do not regret making the trip out to Columbus and would definitely do the drive out there again - maybe to another Dayton airshow, since I want to go back to the United States Air Force Museum sometime soon.

The only complaints I have about the show are the placement of the jumbotrons, which impeded show left or show right, depending on where you sat - that's if you did not have box seats or grandstand seats - since I had grandstand seats, the jumbotrons were not a problem at all, and the amount of time given for the airshow weekend.  I would have taken at least one day to go through the Mustangs on the ground and another day to meet many of the legends that flew them.  There was just too much to see in too short of a period of time - and to include video of ALL of the flying displays made it nearly impossible for me to accomplish everything I wanted to do.  One goal of mine was to get a picture of every Mustang that was there, and I think I got at least 90% of the 77 P-51s that showed up, which was roughly the number I thought would appear at the show (they were promoting over 100).

There is no detailed static display list, but it included a C-5A Galaxy from Wright Patterson AFB, a C-17 from the Mississippi ANG, a C-130 from Mansfield, a KC-135R from Rickenbacker, an F-16C Fighting Falcon from nearby Springfield, two A-10s - one from Battle Creek in Michigan and the other from Martin State Airport in Maryland, two Cirrus SR-22s, a Waco, C-47 Skytrain, a T-6A Texan II in the experimental grey paint scheme, the B-17F Flying Fortress Memphis Belle, a B-52H Stratofortress from Minot AFB, and Glacier Girl, the P-38 Lightning that was involved in Operation Bolero II with Miss Velma, a P-51D Mustang.  That list, while short, did not include any of the bombers and fighters that were parked near the HUGE ramp of P-51 Mustangs.



Military Demonstration Teams

  • USAF Thunderbirds

Tentative Military Demonstrations

  • B-2 Spirit Flyby (Saturday only)
  • F-15C West Coast Demo Team
  • F-16 Fighting Falcon East Coast Demo Team
  • F-22 Raptor Demonstration

Civillian Demonstrations

  • Patty Wagstaff
  • John Klatt
  • Ed Hamill
  • John Mohr
  • Michael Goulian
  • Red Baron Squadron
  • Aeroshell Aerobatic Team
  • P-51 Mustang Flight
  • USAF Heritage Flight

Participating Organizations (among MANY)

  • Stallion 51

Announcers: Rob Reider, Danny Clisham, Major Jon "Jughead" Counsell

Gates Open: 8:00 AM

Showtime: 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM

2007 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends Home Page