By JONI M. FISHER
The hardest part of flying the P-51 for 91-year-old retired endodontist John D. Hartness of Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, was climbing into the plane. He rented time in the P-51, owned by the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), at the Annual Triple Tree Fly-In at the Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina.
With Pilot Stan Musik, Hartness took an hour’s flight on Saturday, Sept. 6, that included barrel rolls, aileron rolls, a low pass, and steep turns.
During the pre-flight briefing, Musik said they would avoid negative-G maneuvers and that he would perform the takeoff and landing.
Hartness has been flying since he was 16 and his favorite plane was his Pitts Special (S1).
“You could do anything in the Pitts that you could conceive of — any type of maneuver.” He spoke softly with the expression of a man recalling his first love.
“When I started flying I worked at night earning 25 cents an hour. I had to work three days for an hour of flying in a J-3 Cub with an instructor,” he said.
He earned his private pilot’s license at 20. While serving in the Army from 1943-1946, he served in the Joint Assault Signal Company in preparation for going into Japan. He flew radio-controlled target planes which had a 12-foot wingspan.
He said he rented airplanes wherever he was stationed in the Army. Now he owns a 1964 Mooney 20E Super 21 (N1337W).
After Hartness climbed out of the P-51, a bystander quipped, “So every flight after this will be a letdown. This is the pinnacle.”
Smiling, Hartness replied, “Every flight is a pinnacle,” as he headed for shade.