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P-51 Mustang returns to Great Bend Air Fest
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P-51 Mustang pilots Larry Lumpkin and Jeff Linebaugh will be at the Great Bend Air Fest this weekend, offering rides in the vintage fighter for $1,500 for 15 minutes in the two-seater. The P-51 was a prominent WWII era fighter used to escort and protect bombers over Germany. The plane is one of 180 Warbirds owned by the Commemorative Air Force museum in Midland, Texas. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

The Great Bend Air Fest runs from Friday, Sept. 21 through Sunday, Sept. 23.  
Friday is school visitation day, with area school students and teachers welcome .  From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Warbirds arrive.  All day, there will be tours of planes, learn-to-fly introductory flights, meet and greet with pilots to hear their stories, live aircraft radio traffic, WWII displays, articles and artifacts to view, and Warbird rides on the P-51, C-45, PT-23 and US-78.
Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Experimental Aircraft Association will host a breakfast, open to the public for $5.   From 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., a general aviation fly-in is planned.  The airport expects 80-100 planes in attendance, including Stearman, Stinson and Piranha. at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., come see the WWII ground battle reenactment.  At 7:00 p.m., a ceremony honoring POWs and MIAs will be held, followed at 8:00 p.m. by the City of Great Bend fireworks display to honor WWII Vets and the 4th of July.  At 8:30 p.m., a 1940s Live Music and Dance with dance demonstrators gets underway over in the airport hangar.  Costumes encouraged but definitely not required,  
All day Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, there will be Warbird rides available, as well as a Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower impersonator on site, Learn to Fly seminars and introductory flights, plane tours, WWII displays, live aircraft radio traffic and chances to meet and greet with pilots and hear the stories behind their famous planes.  
On Sunday, in addition to the Warbirds, helicopter rides will be available.  
Concessions will be available all three days, including barbecue, ice cream, hamburgers, fried kool aid, funnel cakes and snow cones.

P-51 pilot Larry Lumpkin is no stranger to Great Bend.  During the Jack Kilby Square dedication in June, he flew his P-51 over the county building in an aeronautical display.  He returns to the Bend Friday afternoon for the Great Bend Air Fest.  Joining him will be pilot Jeff Linebaugh.  Together, the two will be available all weekend to talk about the Warbird and give private rides in the Mustang fighter.  Price tag for 15-minutes:  $1,500.

“Bucket list item is one of those terms I hear over and over again at these events, and that’s exactly what these rides are for people,” Lumpkin said.

The P-51 Mustang was one of the more prominent fighters during WWII because of its long range capability, Lumpkin said.  Outfitted with a British Merlin engine, it was able to climb to high altitudes, escorting B-25 bombers to their destinations over Germany, protecting them from enemy fire and escorting them back to Allied airspace.  

The P-51 Mustang Lumpkin and Linebaugh fly is one of an estimated 140-150 left worldwide.  It never saw actual battle in WWII.  The plane came off the assembly line in Inglewood, Calif. in March of 1945.  From there, it was flown to Newark, New Jersey, and put on a boat and delivered to RAF Wormingford, England.  It was prepared for war, but the war ended before it saw action, Lumpkin said.  

It was later returned to the United States and was used by the Army Air Corp on several Air National Guard missions until it was surplused in 1957.  It was purchased and owned by several private owners.  

“For $2,500, a person could buy the plane, a brand new engine and a container of gas back then,” Lumpkin said.  Since then, the FAA has ruled against selling military planes to the public for surplus.  These planes today are worth about $1.5 million.  

While vintage parts are difficult at best to come by, there are people in the industry that continue to develop better parts and operating techniques that make these vintage aircraft more reliable, Lumpkin said, but they have staggeringly high price tags.  For instance, a new engine would cost about $200,000 for the P-51 Mustang.  Suddenly, that $1,500 seat doesn’t seem so high.

CAF Warbird
The plane became part of the collection of the Commemorative Air Force in 1977.  The CAF is a non-profit organization with a mission aimed at education.  It acquires, restores and preserves in flying condition a collection of about 180 combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the U.S. and other selected nations for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.  It operates a museum in  Midland, Texas for the permanent protection and display of these aircraft and as tribute to the men and women that built, serviced and flew them.  

The CAF website sums it up:

“More than just a collection of airworthy warplanes from the past, the CAF’s fleet of historic aircraft, known as the CAF Ghost Squadron, recreate, remind and reinforce the lessons learned from the defining moments in American military aviation history.”

The FAA does not allow owners of ex-military class aircraft to legally sell rides.  The CAF had to apply for and received a special dispensation to be able to do what they do.  The funds generated by the history rides goes to maintain the collection.  Because it is a non-profit, the fees are considered tax-deductible donations, Lumpkin said.  

When he isn’t flying the P-51 Mustang, Lumpkin works Monday through Thursday as a senior pilot with United Airlines.  His wife accompanies him on the weekends through the summer and fall attending air shows and airfests.  He began following his passion when his son, 37 and daughter, 34, were finishing college and leaving the nest, he said.  He has one granddaughter, age 7, who has flown with him, but not in a Warbird.

“It will be a few years before she can go for a ride,” he said.  “The CAF has a rule that all riders need to be a minimum age of 12 years old.”

Linebaugh is a professional pilot also.  He flies for FedEx, and is married with a 14 year old daughter.  He lives in the Memphis, Tenn. area.  He was helping maintain a different fighter in the Memphis area when he and Lumpkin met.  Their personalities clicked, and both had matching philosophies on how aircraft should be maintained, so Lumpkin offered him the opportunity to be his partner.  Linebaugh qualified, having valuable experience from his prior Air Force training.   He’s been with Lumpkin for about five years.  

Lumpkin is a civilian trained pilot, but served in the Air Force, working on research and development of missile guidance systems.  When he was given the opportunity to fly the Mustang by his predecessor, he took lessons from a Western Iowa pilot ant Warbird specific acrobatic training from a pilot in Alabama.  He will fly in formation with two other Mustangs during the fly-in at Great Bend Municipal Airport this weekend.