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HARRISON – Sometimes things are well-planned in advance. And sometimes fun just falls out of the sky. That’s what happened Saturday at the Clare County Airport Fall Fly-In when pilot Lane Taylor [as well as another pilot] decided to drop in to get breakfast at the airport’s restaurant – and found themselves part of the fly-in event.
It’s a good thing they did, because as it turned out, they comprised 50% of the turnout. Terry Acton, Airport Committee chairman, was quick to say suggest the traditionally cool-weather event really needs to be moved up a bit.
“We’re going to move it up next year to Street Fair weekend,” Acton said. “We could do a couple fly-ins.”
It seems that every year there is a particularly interesting/unusual participant. This year it was the T-51 Mustang, a three-quarter scale replica of the iconic full-size P-51 Mustang fighter. The P-51 Mustang [the “P” stands for “pursuit”] is highly recognizable as a fighter used the Pacific and European theaters of World War II, the Korean War [when the “P” became an “F” for “fighter”], and beyond. The Mustang was ultimately used by 55 nations. The “T” in this T-51 stands for Titan, the company which manufactures the three-quarter scale replica kits.
There are some things that can always be counted on: grandparents will happily talk about their grandchildren, race drivers will eagerly talk about their race cars – and pilots will always take the time to share some insights and stories about their planes. Taylor represents the first and third in that group.
It should be noted that Taylor’s Mustang sports not only the classic, dramatic Mustang paint colors, it is also emblazoned with five swastikas, a nod to the WWII pilots who placed stickers of Nazi swastikas near the cockpit to track their kills. Five swastikas indicated the pilot was an ace. Still more importantly, the plane also lists the names of Taylor’s 12-member family ground crew – 11 PFCs and one PVT. He revealed that those names belong to his grandchildren, and that there are an additional four not listed.
Taylor said that he spent a cumulative total of eight years working with the U.S. Marines. He also served in the U.S. Navy as an orthopedic physician’s assistant and also worked in the Medical Service Corps in health care administration before retiring in 2000. Taylor then retired from a local health system four years ago and said that now, depending on weather, he flies about five to six times a week.
“And almost every Saturday and Sunday, if there’s something going on,” Taylor said. “This plane… really the joy of owning a plane isn’t so much flying it – because a plane’s a plane – it’s the experience on the ground. I have never, including my military experience, have never had the experience with people on the ground that I have with this plane. With all ages.”
Taylor explained that the fuselage on his plane is technically 80%.
“It’s neat, ’cause I’ll fly someplace and I’ll come out and see some elderly gentleman walk up and put his hand on the side of the plane,” Taylor said. “Never says [anything], and I’ll leave him alone and he’ll spend maybe 5 minutes, then just walk away. And it’s the only plane I’ve had complete strangers come to me – it’s happened at Oscoda twice, and in both cases it was a husband asking for a wife – and it would be her dream to go for a ride. They get in the plane and they never ask for credentials, they don’t know anything about me – they don’t even know if it’s my plane – and they get in the back seat. I would never do that. It’s the only plane that’s ever happened to me.”
The T-51 Mustang is the 11th plane Taylor has owned since he retired from the Navy, and he said his most unusual of the planes was a Long E-Z. Taylor also said he has given more people rides in the Mustang than any of the others.
“It is by far the most widely-recognized plane,” he said.
Taylor said he has taken the plane to the EAA Airventure Oshkosh in Wisconsin, and that it is recognized by people from every country.
While not many pilots took advantage of the event Saturday, those who did seemed to enjoy their reception and the camaraderie they found there – not to mention the coffee, cider and doughnuts.
“I’ll be back for sure,” Taylor said.
With any luck, the warm welcome received by Taylor and the other pilots will indeed encourage them to return for next year’s fly-in(s), affording area residents and visitors a chance to enjoy a peek at the T-51 Mustang – and other equally exciting planes – flying machines that the Wright Brothers never could have imagined.