'Warbird' Operators Say Vintage Aircraft Remain Safe Despite Recent Crashes

by Morgan Montalvo

WOAI News

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.

IMAGE: GETTY

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