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WWII 'Gunfighter' joins Fly Iowa show in SL

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Storm Lake will become the flying capitol of Iowa for the weekend, as Fly Iowa 2008 is expected to attract up to perhaps 15,000 people to the community - and everything from an antique biplane to cutting edge new model planes are expected to taxi into the airport.

None of them are likely to make an entrance to surpass the roaring "Gunfighter," a genuine WWII P-51 Mustang fighter en route to the show.

The event, held at one selected city in Iowa each year, brings four aerobatic shows with four different nationally and internationally known profession stunt pilots, aircraft for up-close ground display, exhibits, an air force fighter jet and simulator, vendors and more.

The morning airshows at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday will be shorter shows, with a couple of pilots participating. The afternoon shows at 1:30 Saturday and 2 on Sunday will be full shows, expected to be over an hour in length, with all four acts.

A special 9 p.m. night flight show is planned for Saturday, conditions permitting, as Manfred Radius, one of the world's best known glider pilot, plans a show over King's Pointe, with special lighting on his aircraft. The show will be set to waltz music, and Radius hopes to be able to provide in-flight commentary over local radio. The routine will be fairly brief - with no engine, the pilot must conserve altitude to make it back to the airport to land.

On Friday, a special aviation camp will be held for a number of participating Iowa children to be introduced to the world of flight. A full house is expected.

And in keeping with the Storm Lake event's theme - "Wings, Wheels & Water" - there will even be displays of motorcycles and boats to go with planes from seven different manufacturers.

"The purpose of Fly Iowa and the Iowa Aviation Promotion Group is to create interest in flying and promote the airport resources that we have in Iowa," local organizer Bob Ohrlund says. "People in the community often don't understand the value of our airport and how vital it is to a business community."

Radius arrived in Storm Lake Wednesday with his glider. World Freestlye Flying champion Greg Poe also made an appearance at the airport, but had to fly out to Osh Kosh, Wisc. to pick up his show plane and quickly return.

Both showmen said they are excited about the Fly Iowa show and eager to launch their performances. They will be joined by Friday by Herb Backer with his antique Navy T-28C, and Mike Niccum with his handbuilt Staudacher aerobatics monoplane.

One of the stars of the show will spend most of the weekend parked where visitors can get a close-up view - a genuine WWII P-51D Mustang known as "The Gunfighter" - one of the best known warbirds on the national air show circuit today.

The Great Plains Wing of the Commemorative Air Force operates the 1940s vintage plane from its base in Council Bluffs.

The P-51 was designed by The North American Aviation Company in 1940, from specifications provided by the British Government. The D model was powered by a famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The Packard Motor Car Company was licensed to build the Merlin in the United States to bump up production as military demand for the P-51 increased.

A combined total of over 15,000 Mustangs were produced in California and Texas, but only about 150 planes like The Gunfighter still exist today, many in museums and not flying.

The Mustang's maximum speed is 505 mph, with a cruising speed of 437 mph (at 25,000 feet). The average fuel consumption is 60 gallons per hour at economy cruise. During WWII combat conditions, pilots confirmed speeds of 600 MPH in a vertical dive in pursuit of enemy aircraft.

The P-51 originally cost the U.S. government $51,000. By the late '50s they were being sold off at auction as relics, for an average of barely $1.000. Today these aircraft are valued in excess of $1,000,000.

The Dominican Republic was the last country to fly the aircraft, retiring their Mustangs in 1985.

The plane now known as The Gunfighter was completed in spring, 1945 and immediately send to England to join the 'Mighty Eighth' Air Force. After the war, it returned to the states and saw duty with four different National Guard units in various parts of the country before being sold off as surplus in the late 1950s.

The plane is restored in the colors of the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group - the first American Air Force combat unit to fly over Berlin and was one of the units to provide top cover over the Invasion Beaches at Normandy on "D-Day", June 6th, 1944.

The planes are "living monuments to the thousands of men and women who built, serviced, and flew them," according to the historical group that maintains it. "These aircraft are being preserved in flying condition for future generations of Americans to see them in action."

The Great Plains Wing started in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area in 1984, originally known as the Nebraska Squadron. In 1990, the P-51 "Gunfighter" joined the wing.

All armor plate and armament have been removed from Gunfighter and the average gross weight is approximately 7,500 lbs. The current maximum fuel capacity is 184 gallons.

Retired Brigadier General Reg Urchler has most often served as the pilot for the WWII campaigner. With 32 year in the service, he has logged more than 13,000 flying hours.

"People will know it when the P-51 arrives in Storm Lake. With all 12 cylinders hammering, that's a plane that will make you sit up and take notice when it flies over," Ohrlund said.

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