By KT BuddeJones
Joe “Rifle” Shetterly’s pre-flight of Stallion 51’s Mustang “Crazy Horse” started over a century ago because of a chance encounter by his great-grandfather with the Wright brothers.
That meeting sparked an interest in aviation, putting into motion a chain of events that ended with Rifle sharing Stallion 51’s cockpit for a week in May.
Rifle comes from a family of fliers. His Mom soloed at age 19 and told stories of how her grandfather met the Wright brothers. His Dad was a classic aviation junkie who spent his youth building countless balsa wood airplane models and spending endless youthful days biking to airports to hang out and dream of flying.
Little did his Dad know while hanging on that airport fence he would grow up to marry a pilot, become a flight instructor, run a small Florida airport and flight school, and make a career in aviation.
Rifle’s Dad, Greg, also flew freight and it was during one of these trips that his Mom bought the family a new car.
“When Dad got home and saw the new car in the driveway, he said to Mom, ‘I just have one question: When you get to 50 on the highway and pull back on the wheel, does anything happen?’ So they returned the new car and we bought a Citabria instead.”
Dad then taught his Mom, older brother, Jeff, and Rifle to fly, soloing Rifle on his 16th birthday and having him take his private pilot check ride a couple days after his 17th birthday.
While he was in college, Rifle and his Mom completed their commercial, instrument, and CFI ratings at the same time, often studying together for the written exams.
During those same days he began flying local aerobatic competitions in the Citabria. After college, Rifle moved to middle Tennessee to work as a civil engineer.
“Having grown up on Beech 18 stories, the silver lining in the Tennessee assignment was fulfilling one of many flying dreams — getting to fly a twin Beech for two summers dropping skydivers,” Rifle recalls. “From there I was picked up for Air Force pilot training and went on to fly the mighty A-10 Warthog.”
In 2010, Rifle met Stallion 51’s owner and chief pilot Lee Lauderback while flying the A-10 Warthog as a USAF Demo and Heritage Flight pilot.
“Many of my most vivid flying memories to date involve rejoining with a Mustang to fly in a Heritage Flight,” Rifle shares.
“With no shortage of desire to fly anything I could get my hands on, especially warbirds, antiques and aerobatic platforms, I started flying my RV-8 in airshows in 2011,” Rifle continues. “I talked my brother into buying a T-6. Dad, Jeff, and I have been flying airshows together since then as the Shetterly Squadron.”
Last summer at an airshow near Kansas City, Rifle was approached by the caretakers of the P-51 Mustang “Gunfighter” and was invited to be a part of their team — another one of his many flying dreams.
That led to a week of training and a checkout in the P-51 at Stallion 51’s facility at Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM) in Florida.
“I was absolutely thrilled and humbled for this opportunity,” Rifle recalls enthusiastically. “Between my Dad’s instruction, Air Force pilot training, and training at a legacy U.S. air carrier, I feel like I’ve been exposed to the best aviation instruction in the world. Stallion 51 was no exception to this rule.”
Rifle’s instructor at Stallion 51 was Marco Rusconi in Stallion 51’s dual cockpit-dual control TF Mustang.
“Before joining the Stallion 51 team, I had the pleasure to fly with Marco during a Snowbirds practice in Toronto in 2011,” Rifle recalls.
Marco was a member of Canada’s National Aerobatic Flight team, the Canadian Forces Snow Birds, from 2008 through 2011.
“Sharing the Mustang cockpit with Rifle was great,” Marco reports. “I have always been a big fan of how naturally he and his entire family embrace flight as a state of being. His professionalism and skill, coupled with his positive attitude, translated in a rewarding and fun training experience.”
Rifle notes that during his week at Stallion 51, the ground instruction was “very thorough, covering everything from aircraft systems to the finer details of stall progression in every conceivable situation.”
“During the flying training I was particularly impressed by the buffet tracking exercises, which included airspeed transitions from slow-to-fast and fast-to-slow, as well as through various configuration changes,” he says. “This training gave me a deep understanding and feel for exactly what the Mustang wing can and can’t do for me in every situation.”
Stallion 51’s program covers all aspects of flying the Mustang, including a maintenance brief by Richard Lauderback of Stallion 51 Maintenance, who maintains and restores Stallion 51’s Mustangs, as well as other privately owned P-51s.
“Rifle made it a point to dedicate himself to understand and embrace the Mustang ‘language’ early and applied his vast aeronautical knowledge to master each of the training mission objectives with expertise and finesse,” Marco adds. “Rifle is a true aviator and sharing the cockpit with him again was outstanding.”
After several days of training sorties, Lee Lauderback climbed into the cockpit with Rifle to give him his check ride. Lee is the highest time Mustang pilot in the world with almost 10,000 hours in the P-51.
“Thanks to his family flying background, Rifle has ‘Aviation DNA’ throughout his body and it shows,” Lee notes. “His abilities and professionalism have always impressed me and I know he will excel in the P-51 Mustang.”
On May 3, 2018, his dream of being checked out in a Mustang was fulfilled, as Joe “Rifle” Shetterly became graduate number 189 from Stallion 51’s Mustang Check Out Training Program.