Already the highest time Mustang pilot in the world, Lauderback began flying the P-51 in the mid-1970s. In 1987, he and his brothers founded Stallion 51, which offers P-51 flight training, maintenance, and sales at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM) in Orlando, Florida.
“I’ve been flying the Mustang almost every day since 1987,” he muses. “It all starts to add up.”
Flying the Mustang is a privilege, according to Lauderback.
“I’ve been blessed. I get to fly a lot of different airplanes,” he says. “But if somebody asked me ‘what do you want to fly tomorrow?’, I’d say the P-51 Mustang.”
“Early on, the airplane stole my heart and soul,” he continues. “I enjoyed it the first time I flew the airplane and I still enjoy it this many years and that many hours later. I really, truly get a kick out of flying the airplane and still even learning about the airplane.”
He explains the learning curve “never stops” on something as high performance as the Mustang.
“The little nuances and things of learning the airplane even better has been one of my challenges, but I’ve been very, very privileged to have the opportunity to fly the airplane and hopefully pass a lot of the knowledge on to other people and other generations,” he says, noting that Stallion 51 has close to 200 graduates of its Check-Out Training program.
“You don’t fly a P-51 Mustang, you wear it,” he continues. “That’s sort of a cliche that’s probably overused but Bob Hoover used to speak of the Mustang as one of the best handling airplanes he had ever flown in his career. The nuances of controlled break outs and the feel of the airplane, the harmony of the three-axis control system, the marriage of the Merlin engine with the airframe is the perfect marriage. Even today, you couldn’t come up with a better powerplant to put in a P-51 Mustang. I would be shocked if somebody came up with something better that is as economical and performs as well as the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.”
“North American Aviation had a bunch of really, really smart guys and they did some really amazing things back in the 1940s,” he says. “And they did it with slide rules and drafting tables, not super computers. It’s a real tribute to the guys who designed the airplane in a very short period of time, but did something that even today is a representation of a terrific airplane, not only from a historical standpoint, but also from performance standpoint.”
Lauderback admits that with the milestone comes a bit of a negative.
“It’s like after all these hours in the Mustang and then I walk out and you go, ‘Don’t screw it up now.’ That’s never the way I’ve approached airplanes, the trepidation, but that does go through my head now,” he says. “I’ll be happy to get past this and back to business.”
“I should have just kept my mouth shut and nobody would have figured it out,” he adds with a laugh.