Back in mid-March, WarbirdsNews published a story about the last official USAF P-51 Mustang flight which took place on April 15th, 1955 with pilot Robert F. ‘Earthquake’ Titus at the controls (click HERE for the story). A California man, Leon DeLisle, wished to commemorate this significant occasion by recreating that final Mustang mission with ‘Earthquake’ Titus again in the cockpit of another P-51, and organized an event worthy of the moment. DeLisle created a website HERE to help publicize the tribute and help raise funds for the flight itself. It was quite a grand affair too with two days of celebrations over the weekend of April 18th/19th in Petaluma, California. The City of Petaluma even went so far as to declare April 18th officially as “Earthquake Titus Day”!
A P-51 Pilots Symposium took place on the Sunday in a nearby college auditorium with fellow Mustang veterans also speaking; including Capt. Ernie Wakehouse (who flew with Titus’ in Korea), Col. Joe Peterburs USAF (Ret.) and Col. Jack Krout USAF (Ret.) who flew the F-82 Twin-Mustang.
A large crowd gathered to witness Titus’ flight on April 18th, and to hear the General and other veterans speak afterwards. Titus slipped comfortably into the rear seat of Darryl Bond’s magnificent dual-control Mustang ‘Lady Jo’ with her pilot, Dan Vance at the controls in the front seat. The Mustang’s Merlin engine soon crackled to life and Vance slowly taxied the fighter to the main runway… weaving from side to side to see the route past the TF-51’s elegant nose. And then they were off… tearing down the crazed concrete slabs of Petaluma Municipal Airport’s runway and lifting gracefully into the air, the engine’s throaty music echoing off the nearby hills. The crowd cheered as they recognized what they were witnessing… one of the last of the Greatest Generation in his element… In A Mustang!
Titus was in the air for more than half an hour, wheeling through the sky and reminiscing about days gone by. In a recent conversation with WarbirdsNews, Titus remarked, “I enjoyed the flight very much! Everyone should fly a Mustang to have a pilot’s perspective of what it’s like! I have flown many airplanes but the Mustang still is my favorite of them all! Saturday’s flight went smoothly, I got some stick time and everything came back right away…. except the engine sound… from the back seat it sounds different.”
Titus noted that he loved the Mustang so much that when he was a test programs pilot at Edwards and found out that there was a P-51 tucked away in an hangar, he asked around and he was given the go ahead to fly it since nobody wanted to fly a prop plane any more. This was around 1958, which was really the last time he flew in a Mustang…. until this April 18th of course!
In the 70s Titus had another encounter with the Mustang when, during a fuel stop in Florida while flying an F-4 Phantom, he parked next to a civilian-owned P-51 based there at time. Titus got out of his jet’s cockpit and ran to the Mustang without even talking to the ground crew. He climbed in the vintage fighter’s cockpit and remembered the good old days. When he climbed out to walk back to his F-4, a sergeant asked him “Hey Colonel, I bet you got to fly this bird back in the old days?” …. Titus replied,”How do you know Sergeant?”
“I can tell by looking at your smile!” came the reply!
And with that we salute you General Titus.
‘Earthquake’ Titus standing in front of ‘Lady Jo’. (photo by Ron Close)
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Leon DeLisle, Ron Close and of course the indomitable Earthquake Titus for help in preparing this article.