The Wizard and the V-12
28º 17′ 36″ N / 81º 26′ 35″ W
Merlin — the name evokes memories of the mythic Arthurian wizard.
Although Rolls-Royce named their iconic V-12 engine after a raptor, I think of the wizard as the more apt metaphor. Both had great power, both lived quite long and were historical beyond measure.
The Rolls-Royce Merlin powered Supermarine Spitfires, Avro Lancasters, Fairey Battles, Hawker Hurricanes as well as two dozen more aircraft types for Great Britain in WW II. Many power modern racing hydroplanes today. The Royal Air Force (RAF) mated the Merlin V-12 with an uninspiring performer from North American — the P-51A Mustang/A-36 Apache. These were originally powered by another engine and were not relegated to the primary production categories by the American forces. Great Britain, desperate for more aircraft, contracted North American for P-51A Mustangs. Wanting better performance above 15,000 feet (4500m) the RAF engineered the aircraft to accept the Merlin and created one of the most successful aircraft of WW II. The Mustang had long-range, was well armed and agile — it was the first long-range fighter escort for the Allies in WW II and made daylight (and relatively more accurate than night-time missions) strategic bombing possible.
Sixty-five years after the end of WW II I found myself at Kissimmee Gateway Airport witnessing a two seat Mustang, named Crazy Horse 2, start-up. She along with another TF-51, Crazy Horse, comprise the pair of Mustangs operated by Stallion 51, a top-notch flying operation for training pilots.
Thanks to pilot, Steve Larmore , I was able to stand just yards away as the airplane was towed out of the hangar and made ready for flight. He is tall, much taller than me and I am not short, with an infectious smile and a focused mind. Passenger and pilot had mounted the Mustang in the hangar. After a last minute emergency procedures reminder the canopy was hand cranked to a half way closed position. The pilot then started Crazy Horse 2 and the exhaust stacks belched beautiful grayish black wonderfully pungent smoke! She was alive now and I recall how these stacks deliver enough thrust to add more than 20 mph (30kph) to her maximum speed. The propeller was now glistening in the sunlight, the pilot in communication with the tower, the ground crew removing the tow Jeep … and then she was under taxi.
It was quiet now. I walked about and took more photographs, checked my cell phone for calls and messages, recalculated how much time it would take me to get to Gainesville and investigate their airport, Gainesville Regional Airport. I was waiting. I have learned to wait as things take their time and will not go faster or slower. So I waited.
A powerful engine tearing into the air, straining to break free of the ground — yes, that is it, Crazy Horse 2 was on her take off roll and I was upwind! Her twelve cylinders combusting the amount of air contained inside of a Greyhound bus every minute. As I saw the blue nose and silver fuselage I became more excited — all right, I reminded myself, stay steady and remember to be smooth with the camera due to the slow shutter speed I had selected. And I saw the Mustang approaching but not climbing! She was fifty feet above the runway and accelerating! I watched the Mustang as it was led into a moderate zoom climb and I was lucky to have very favorable light for the photography. Sometimes a person cannot take a bad photograph, and when you have a model like Crazy Horse 2 piloted by Steve Larmore a photographer would have to work hard, indeed, to take a bad picture.
Perhaps Merlin still is working his magic after all of these centuries?