A Ride in “Spare Parts”

By Lee Maudlin, Radio Operator

Transcribed from “BAD News – Journal of the BAD2 Association” Vol. 11, No. 2, April 1988

© 1988 BAD 2 Association

As I understand, this all started at the docks, in Liverpool. One P-51, being unloaded from a cargo ship, was dropped, quite by accident, just outside the hangar where our Flight Test Radio Office was located. I don’t know whose idea it was to try to rebuild this poor mustang, but it was a good one. Most of the work was done on our own time, scrounging parts where we could, hence the name “Spare Parts”.

My job was to remove the oxygen equipment and relocated the SCR522 radio aft, to make room for a second seat and install an intercom. When she was finally finished and passed inspection, the crews that worked on her drew lots to get a ride. I was “lucky” enough to be first.

“Smilin’” Lt. Jack Knight was the pilot. I had flown a number of times with him on flights as a Radio Operator….

Now this little jewel was built before the “bubble canopy” models. The piggyback passenger squeezed through the rear window, and (looking back) if there had been any trouble, I don’t believe you could have gotten out. However, to someone 19 or 20 years old, this was of little concern.

When Lt. Knight started up the merlin, I was surprised at how noisy it was, even with a headset on. We taxied along the perimeter track. I can still hear the snap and pop of the engine and the rumble of the tail wheel. All quite different sounds than I had experience in B-24s and B-17s.

As we sat at the end of the runway, running up the engine, I could feel the power trembling through the airframe. Spare Parts was alive and well!

Receiving clearance from “Farum” (the control tower call sign), we pulled up on to the runway and took off. What a thrill! My heart was beating like a triphammer. Up the tail came… now I could see ahead better. I think Lt. Knight retracted the gear almost while we were still on the runway, because we went the full length then STRAIGHT UP!! My red corpuscles and white corpuscles were stumbling all over each other to rush headlong to my feat. The next thing I was aware of we were 5000 feet above the field. I had blacked out at takeoff!

Lt. Knight then tried to see how many rolls he could do without losing any altitude. I counted nineteen. It got so I’d look up and see the ground. Then a couple of snap rolls. Now, THAT will shake your insides up, especially if you’re not expecting it. Lt. Knight said there was a “barf bag” if I needed it.

Next came a split “s”… you roll upside down, drop the nose into a dive, and pull out going in the opposite direction. At the bottom of the pullout, I image the airspeed must have been around 350mph or so. My glasses slipped down my nose, then started to imbed themselves… I found I couldn’t raise my arm to pull my glasses back up. My arm weighed a ton! How in the world could Lt. Knight fly this thing if you can’t move! He kept asking me if I was OK. Of course I was! I was air crew, wasn’t I?

However, I was getting mighty close to making use of that barf bag!

Finally he called the tower for permission to land, which was granted. I’ll have to admit, I’d had enough. Then came a request for a “tactical approach”. Oh boy! That meant dropping to the deck, screaming the full length of the runway, then a pull up for a quick slowdown, and drop the gear.

As we taxied up to the hangars, it was noticed that several of those who had turns coming decided to pass. I guess from the ground it looked even worse than it actually was.

It was a thrill of a lifetime, and you couldn’t run fast enough to catch me to do it again!

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