The company, which provides flights and training in the iconic P-51 Mustang from its headquarters at Kissimmee Gateway Airport near Orlando, brought some friends to the show to help it celebrate.
On April 5, a gaggle of Mustangs landed at SUN ’n FUN, then were ushered to the Warbird Ramp.
“We’ve reached out primarily to graduates of our program,” said Stallion 51’s Lee Lauderback, noting there are more than 180 graduates. “It’s a pretty intense program of learning to fly the Mustang safely.”
Stallion 51 held a variety of seminars the day before SUN ‘n FUN opened at its headquarters at KISM for those graduates. Then the Mustangs made their way to SUN ‘n FUN in groups of four so as not to overwhelm the volunteers on the Warbird Ramp.
On April 6, it was Mustang Day at SUN ‘n FUN.
“We’ll have a big block of time to do single ship demos, hopefully some formation aerobatic demos and some bomber stuff,” Lauderback said before the show. “And, it looks like possibly a Heritage Flight featuring the P-51 with, I think, the F-16.”
“To cap it off, on Saturday, I’ll be opening the evening airshow with a Mustang demonstration,” he continued.
Stallion 51 began in 1987 after Lauderback retired as golf legend Arnold Palmer’s pilot. The initial mission was to fulfill a military contract for the Navy Test Pilot School. But what Lauderback noticed is that the test pilots would walk away from the F-18 and gather around the Mustang.
He then developed a curriculum to train today’s pilots in the P-51, as well as offer orientation flights.Besides the more than 180 alumni of the training program, Stallion 51 has given orientation flights to thousands of people — too many to count. Those flights are among his favorites, Lauderback notes.
“I get to fly the Mustangs a lot, but to share it with other people who have never had a chance to fly the airplane is just really special,” he said, adding he has more than 9,000 hours in the P-51, making him the highest time pilot in the Mustang, right ahead of Bob Hoover, who logged more than 7,500 hours.
But Lauderback says he couldn’t do what he does without the incredible team at Stallion 51.
“We couldn’t do what we do, flying wise, without two of my brothers, Peter and Richard, the identical twins,” he said. “They are some of the top P-51 mechanics in the world. They keep us going. The standard joke is that I break them, they fix them. And, they build them, and then my little brother, John, sells them.”
The company has 12 employees now, which Lauderback says is an “incredible team that make this operation really fun and safe and get the job done.”
When Lauderback performs at SUN ‘n FUN and other airshows, he notes his demonstrations are “a tribute to the Mustang and the guys who actually flew it in combat — the reason we aren’t all speaking German or Japanese,” he said.
“Figuring this airplane was designed in late 1930s, early 1940s, with slide rules and drafting tables in 120 days, it is just a terrific accomplishment,” he said. “To let people see just exactly what the airplane will do down low is sort of fun. Then you tie it up with an Air Force Heritage flight with the F-16 or the F-35, and the Mustang holds its own pretty well.”
“Let’s put it this way: Just having fun in the P-51,” he concluded.