By Henry M. Holden
The countdown has begun for the celebration of the Gathering of Mustangs & Legends, a momentous event that will be held Sept. 27-30, 2007, at Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK), in Columbus, Ohio. A kickoff event at Rickenbacker Charter Terminal on Sept. 27, 2006, featured several speakers who described the upcoming event, its goals and history of the P-51 Mustang and the legends who flew that famous warbird.
The speakers were Elaine Roberts, president and CEO, Columbus Regional Airport Authority; Lee Lauderback, president and CEO, Stallion 51 Corporation; Maj. Gen. Donald Strait, World War II ace; Col. Lee Archer, Tuskegee Airman and World War II ace; and Ron Kaplan, executive director, National Aviation Hall of Fame.
The upcoming event celebrates longevity. The P-51 Mustang turns 65 years old next year. The United States Air Force celebrates its 60th birthday, and the USAF Heritage Flight, part of the USAF aerial demonstration team’s air show programs, commemorates its 10th birthday. The host airport, Rickenbacker International Airport, which began as Lockbourne Army Air Base, will be celebrating its 65th anniversary. What better way to honor these aviation milestones than with another history-making event, The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends—The Final Roundup.
Angela West, GML events director, and Lauderback have a goal of attracting 100 Mustangs, and creating a massive 51-Mustang formation flight to honor the aces and legends that will be guests at the gathering. They’re almost to the goal, with more than 71 Mustang owners committed to attending the gathering to celebrate the men and the machines that helped win the war.
“Eleven of the 12 legends who were at our 1999 gathering are still alive, and they have all committed to return next year,” said West. “We expect to see Robin Olds, Chuck Yeager, Donald Strait, Frank Borman and other legends.”
Four P-51s were on display at the kickoff: Old Crow, Moonbeam McSwine, Worry Bird and Excalibur.
“This is the event that no one should miss,” said West. “Visitors will see warbird formations that haven’t been seen in 60 years.”
Of the 15,875 Mustangs originally built, approximately 284 survive today, but only about 150 are in flyable condition. As rare as the Mustang has become, the great pilots of WWII are even rarer.
“There were 1,279 aces in WWII, of which 274 scored five victories or more in the P-51 Mustang. Today, there are approximately 80 surviving Mustang aces. The men who have gone on, and those who are still with us are why we’re having this gathering,” said West. “We want to remember the thousands of veterans who served in fighter groups, bomber groups and ground crews all over the world, for their contributions to all that we enjoy today.”
After WWII, the Tuskegee P-51 pilots of the 447th Composite Group, 332 Fighter Wing served at Lockbourne. During the war, The Tuskegee Airmen flew the famous “Red Tail Mustang” in more than 200 bomb sorties, never losing a bomber to enemy fire. Before desegregation of the Armed Forces, they were the first and last all-black fighter wing in the newly formed USAF.
The anticipated 100,000 Gathering of Mustangs & Legends attendees
will have opportunities to photograph the planes and meet and honor the aces, legends and heroes who flew the P-51 Mustang, a machine they loved to fly.
For more information, visit [http://www.gml2007.com].