by Morgan Montalvo
A Central Texas “warbird” owner says last weekend’s fatal crash of a restored World War II P-51D “Mustang” fighter plane does not reflect the overall safety record of flyable vintage aircraft, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Two men aboard the privately owned 1940s pursuit aircraft died when it went down Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of a Fredericksburg apartment complex.
It was the second crash involving a Second World War plane in the Hill Country in less than six months.
Joe Enzminger, an Austin pilot who owns two vintage military aircraft, says warbird owners and restoration groups embrace the challenges of keeping decades-old planes airworthy, a responsibility measured in thousands of man-hours and often hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“They’re usually the guys flying the airplane, so their safety is obviously something important to them,” says Enzminger, who has been flying his U.S. and Chinese aircraft for 17 years.
He says “corner cutting” is not tolerated, and anyone who tries is quickly identified and does not stay in the hobby for long.
Growing interest in warbirds over the past 60 years has led to a well established, worldwide vintage aviation specialty industry, “building the expertise in the particular area, whether or not be it a rare type of engine or a rare airframe, and then also making sure that they build something sustainable around it.”
Says Enzminger. Warbird specialty shops in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand employ hundreds of technicians and generate hundreds of millions of dollars or more in revenue. The vintage aviation restoration industry, Enzminger says is “big enough to where we don’t know everybody, but it’s small enough where just about everybody knows who to call if we need something.”
With access to decades-old blueprints and surviving examples of components readily available for reproduction using modern fabrication techniques, some warbirds are almost new-made.
Enzminger says when it comes to public concern over the safety of warbird operation, "people take bigger risks when they pull their cell phone out to check a text message on I-35."
The National Transportation Safety Board has not issued a ruling on the cause of Saturday’s crash in Fredericksburg.
In July, a C-47 “Skytrain” belonging to the Commemorative Air Force’s Highland Lakes Squadron crashed on takeoff in Burnet. Fourteen people on board the Second World War-era cargo plane survived the mishap.