Mark Peterson & his P-51 Mustang
You don't have to be a pilot to appreciate aviation. At the Caldwell air show, the attraction crosses age and gender.
"Isn't it neat to see their smiles?" exclaimed pilot Mark Peterson. "There is nothing like watching the enthusiasm of a child. I think the thing that makes air shows exciting is people enjoy flying. I think it's built into our DNA. It's something we always dream of – flying like a bird. And to be able to really go up there and do it is a thrill."
Peterson was on the organizing committee for the 2010 air show, entitled "A Celebration of Flight."
"It's a lot of fun; it's a lot of hard work; and it's all volunteers. It's a matter of finding some really good people, thinking through all the details that have to happen to everything from vendors to porta potties to taking tickets at the gate. It takes a lot of hours."
And Peterson also flies in the air show. It's at air shows like the one in Caldwell, Idaho, where you can still see rare World War Two aircraft perform. The popularity of these military planes has grown with audience and pilots alike.
There's one plane in particular that has captivated Peterson. "The P-51 Mustang has been a dream aircraft of mine since I can remember," says Peterson, who now owns two of the vintage planes. "One of the things we say about Mustangs is you really don't ever own one. You're just a custodian for the next generation, and in reality they are national treasures, national monuments.
"A friend of mine who flies Mustangs said to me, 'Every time you go up, just think, I'm flying the Washington Monument around and treat it that way.' And that's the kind of respect and treatment and honor I try to give the airplane when I display it and when I fly it for people. It is really a special experience and not only because of the airplane, but its history and then the people it touched, and then the people I get to meet who were part of that whole experience. It's really phenomenal."
The P-51 Mustang was built in just 117 days and first flew in the Royal Air Force as a fighter-bomber, and later as a bomber escort. The plane helped ensure Allied air superiority during World War Two.
"It is a unique airplane because of its heritage and its design. It's primarily an American design. It was designed for the British and it uses a British engine in the majority of the aircraft. It's got a unique sound to it. It's very special, and I try to show that off. So a big part of it is getting the airplane up to speed, flying it in front of the crowd at fairly low altitude and then showing some of the maneuvers that may have been used during World War II in combat.
"So my first maneuver is a Victory Roll and I pull up into about a 30 degree nose up pitch and roll the airplane and that was a signal that the pilots used to use when they got a kill. They'd come back to the base, buzz the field, pull up into a roll and that told everybody on the ground that they got a victory."
"To me it's all about really showing the sound and grace and beauty and speed of the airplane, and the Mustang shows it well. I don't have to do a whole lot really. All I need to do is get her up to speed and fly her in the right place, and she does all the work."
The Mustang was converted for civilian use after the Korean War, and is still a favorite in air racing. Because of its popularity, in the 1960's the Ford Motor Company named a youth-oriented coupe auto after the fighter plane.
"About a year and a half ago I had just completed a post-maintenance flight where we did a few flight checks; and as I shut down and rolled the canopy back, my crew chief hopped up on the wing and he looked at me and he said, 'Are you okay?' And I said, I just can't believe that I get to do this. I was just as thrilled that day – and that was probably my 250th flight – as I was that very, very first day I flew the airplane. So yeah, it's a lot of fun. I have to pinch myself most times."
Peterson acknowledges that there is some danger involved in what he does for air shows across the country.
"There certainly are dangers. The big thing about flying is all about managing risk and the same thing in flying air shows. There are certainly some things we do that appear to be risky, but when you manage it properly, you put the airplane in the right place, point it in the right direction with the right energy, there is really no more danger being upside down than right side up. Airplanes for the most part don't care whether they are right side up or upside down. They fly equally well. I really don't look at it as a terribly risky thing, but it is something you can't take lightly.
"When I was growing up, I had a poster on the wall of my bedroom that I still remember to this day. It said, Aviation is not inherently dangerous but to an even greater extent than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect. And I think that sums up aviation."