Sunday, December 20, 2015

Flying Tiger, age 91, flies again, in a restored P-51

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, Paul Crawford, 91, a fighter pilot during World War II, enjoyed a few barrel rolls in a restored P-51 Mustang — the same sort of plane he flew over China. It was the first time he’d been aloft in a Mustang since 1945. The plane is owned by the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, based out of Peachtree City’s Falcon Field, and his pilot was Al Armstrong. 

Some pilots say if you’ve flown a P-51 Mustang, you don’t ever want to fly anything else.

“There’s nothing in the world like that airplane,” said Paul Crawford, 91, a fighter pilot who flew a Mustang in 29 missions over China during World War II. (The AJC wrote about his exploits here.)

Crawford, a part of Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, was shot down over the Yellow River in 1945, hiked 200 miles through Japanese-held territory and came back alive. But he hadn’t flown a Mustang since then. Until this morning.

At about 11 a.m. under sunny skies Crawford went aloft in a restored P-51D Mustang, taking off from Falcon Field Atlanta Regional Airport and tooling around for about a half hour.

His pilot was Al Armstrong, a Navy captain and a member of the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to flying and restoring World War II aircraft. Based in Dallas, Texas, the organization has more than 12,500 members and operates a fleet of more than 160 World War II aircraft.

Atlanta resident Paul Crawford flew with Gen. Claire Lee Chennault’s Flying Tigers in World War II.

Six of those aircraft are at the Peachtree City airport, and one of them is a P-51D Mustang. Back in World War II Crawford flew a one-seater, but the P-51D is a modified two-seater aircraft, with a front and back seat and dual controls. “It has an extra stick in the back,” said Crawford.

Armstrong took off at a steep angle and treated Crawford to some aerobatics, including barrel rolls, a chandelle and some inverted flying.

“I loved that part of it,” said Crawford, still exhilarated, as he ate lunch after the flight. Sitting in the back seat isn’t quite the same, he said, “but it’s still a Mustang.”

The Commemorative Air Force considers itself “a flying museum,” dedicated to teaching the next generation about aviation history through ride-alongs and other experiences. It is sponsoring a fund-raising effort called “The 12 Planes of Christmas” to help with the costs of restoring and flying vintage aircraft. You can learn more about the campaign at

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