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The Wizard and the V-12

16 June 2010

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.

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Stallion 51 — photo by Joe May

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Stallion 51's North American TF-51 Mustang "Crazy Horse" — photo by Joe May

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.

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Crazy Horse 2's Merlin running and prop spinning — photo by Joe May

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.

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Crazy Horse 2 roaring down the runway — photo by Joe May

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Crazy Horse 2 zooms up into the sky — photo by Joe May

Perhaps Merlin still is working his magic after all of these centuries?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 June 2010 12:58

    You certainly did well listening to your own advice, smooth and steady — good shots.

  2. travelforaircraft permalink*
    17 June 2010 12:22

    Thanks 🙂 Sometimes there just is no substitute for patience and it helps to skip the afternoon espresso 😉

  3. Marty Davis permalink
    22 June 2010 15:45

    The article made me want to take a flight in Crazy Horse 2. Did you consider taking a flight?

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      22 June 2010 16:59

      I would go in a heartbeat … alas, too rich for my wallet — but a good value all the same.

  4. 28 June 2010 15:37

    Our of curiosity, what did it cost to ride along?

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      28 June 2010 18:51


      I am not sure — I didn’t ask since my budget is so low that anything more than the cost of an espresso will break my bank. That being said here are two web sites that will answer your question. The first site is for the outfit that will take you up in those gorgeous yellow North American SNJ aircraft

      There is another operation at the same airport called Stallion 51 who will take you for a ride or flight qualify you in another North American aircraft — the P-51 (inn this case a TF-51). I wrote a post on them as well — type in “Stallion 51” and you will see the link for it. Their web site is

      Good flying,


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