By Jay Bess.
When the CAF Dixie Wing travels to air shows, rides events and celebrations, our dedicated group of volunteers – mechanics, ground crew, pilots, ride sales and more – are lucky to hear some of the greatest stories of “why” someone wants to fly in our P-51 Mustang, SBD Dauntless or LT-6. Sometimes it’s a “bucket list” item after a long career of flying airliners, a log book entry for future bragging rights, a childhood dream or someone who last sat in one of these historic aircraft in their youth while serving their country 70 years previously. It’s the reason we volunteer. We just returned from a long week at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, and here’s an e-mail we received from Jon Piette:
“Good morning Jay,
I wanted to say thank you again for helping me fulfill a dream I have had for several years and scratching the number one thing off my bucket list, a ride in a P-51 Mustang.
I wanted to recap my story for you. My Dad flew B-25’s, B-17’s and B-29’s. He was the youngest commissioned B-29 pilot at age 19. Prior to being sent overseas he was pulled from his crew, and kept State-side to test and train pilots. After he passed away five years ago, we started going through his military history and flight logs. At that time we found a notation in his flight log referencing ‘Very Heavy Bomber’. Through some research we discovered this meant he flew the Silverplate B-29 which was built in very limited numbers for the sole purpose of dropping the atomic bomb. His flight records show he was at Kirkland AFB at the time the Silverplates were there, and his transfer papers to Albuquerque, NM were at the same time the Silverplates headed there for bomb testing. His flight logs show he flew a B-29 from Albuquerque to Cuba, to Minneapolis, back to Albuquerque which is about the distance the Enola Gay flew on her mission. He didn’t talk much about what he did, but he did tell me as a kid about that flight. His flight log also shows he flew a 12 hour mission on the same day the ‘Enola Gay’ made her flight.
We discovered he took a lot of things with him when he passed away five years ago. As we were going through pictures for a memory board I came across a picture of a B-25. On the back of that picture it reads “Best ship out wish I were flying them yet”. As a kid, listening to my Dad talk and then attending the EAA, I fell in love with the P-51 Mustang so it came to me as a big surprise when I found a picture of my Dad standing by a P-51, and the caption on the back reads “The ship I’d like to fly”. He never talked about wanting to fly anything but his bombers and was very proud that he got to fly the three he did. He logged most of his hours in the B-17.
I have been talking about getting a ride in a P-51 since I was 12, and after Dad passed away and I found that picture, I put it as number one thing on my bucket list. Every year for the past five years I have said I will get a ride next year, and next year always comes and goes. Well, as you know, this year was the year and what a ride it was! Captain Alan “Big Al” Armstrong was fantastic, and gave me (and my Dad in spirit) a great ride. It was a spontaneous decision that I made on Friday, and that made the experience all the better.
I have included the pictures I mentioned above, and I have attached a picture of me and “Big Al” after our flight.
Thank you again for the great flight and for fulfilling my dream of riding in a P-51. Also, thank you to all the folks that work on restoring and keeping the pieces of history in the air for us to enjoy.”
Editors note: Many thanks to John Piette for writing to share his father’s story. It’s these sorts of moments which we can all rejoice in, as it’s the human stories which make these aircraft so precious and relevant to today. Thanks also go to Jay Bess for reminding us why we all work so hard to keep these memories alive.