On opening day of this year’s SUN ’n FUN, Taylor Avery, 18, had the experience of a lifetime: He got the chance to fly the P-51 “Crazy Horse.”
The flight started Tuesday morning at Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida, where Crazy Horse is based as part of Stallion 51’s fleet, and ended at 9 a.m. at the SUN ‘n FUN grounds on the Warbird Ramp.
Taylor, a senior at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA), won the ride for his “hard work and high standards in his academic career,” according to SUN ’n FUN officials.
An Air Force ROTC cadet who plans to go to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University after he graduates, Taylor also has been awarded an Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) flight training scholarship and has earned his private pilot license.
He also is a member of the STRATOS squadron, which is a group of students from Polk County selected to serve as ambassadors at the annual SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo.
The flight of two included P-51 Mustangs Crazy Horse (N41306) flown by Lee Lauderback and Taylor, and Mad Max (N51MX) flown by Louis Horschel with co-pilot John “Trunk Monkey” Posson. Lauderback is the president and CEO of Stallion 51.
Lee Lauderback said about Taylor, “He’s very serious about aviation, which is fun. He flew 90% of the flight. I did the takeoff and the close formation. It takes only seven minutes to get here, but we went out and did aileron rolls, barrel rolls, loops, and one half Cuban eight. He hadn’t done aerobatics before, which is great.”
The ACE program at SUN ’n FUN is an important launching pad for engaging young people in aviation, Lauderback added.
“I give high accolades to (SUN ‘n FUN President) John ‘Lites’ Leenhouts for pushing forward with ACE,” said Lauderback. “This is the future, the next generation of aviators. When I asked Taylor if he wanted to fly fighters, he told me he wanted to fly Air Force 1.”
Louis Horschel in Mad Max flew as wingman for Taylor and Lauderback. He said Taylor’s handling of the P-51 “looked awesome from where we were.”
Taylor calmly stood in front of the gleaming heavy metal plane for photos and questions with the poise of a professional pilot. When asked how the aerobatics were in the Mustang, he broke into a broad smile.
He said he won the flight based on merit after earning a spot on the STRATOS squadron in part for an essay on Tony Janus. He said his goals are “Plan A to serve as an Air Force pilot, then plan B to fly commercial, and C to open a flight school.” His dream job and highest goal is “to fly Air Force One.”