The P-51 Mustang, an iconic World War II fighter plane, is lauded for many things—and one of those distinctions is its role in helping the Allied forces achieve air superiority over Europe.
A P-51 named “Gunfighter” landed Thursday night at the Branson Airport as part of the Commemorative Air Force’s “AirPower History Tour.” The air show, running through Sunday, features some of the most iconic planes from the war.
Pilot Jeff Linebaugh told KSMU that aviation enthusiasts love the Mustang because of its smooth, powerful capabilities in the air—and also because of its historical significance.
“Our American bombers were just getting decimated by enemy fighters going in Germany. They were unescorted,” he said.
Originally, US forces thought bombers like the B-17 would be able to provide their own protection, but that didn’t prove to be true.
And other fighter planes available for escort protection were not able to make the long haul to Germany and back.
“The P-51 was really the first airplane that was able to accompany them all the way to the target and back, and provide them with the support that they needed, and the protection,” Linebaugh said.
One of the main attractions at the CAF event at the Branson Airport is the P-51 named “Gunfighter,” one of the most famous Mustangs in the world.
“It came out of the factory, Inglewood, California, outside L.A. in 1945—in March of 1945. It got on a boat. It went to Europe, but it was there too late to see any kind of action,” Linebaugh said.
After WWII, it was part of National Guard units for a number of years before it was sold into the private sector. It became part of the Commemorative Air Force in the 1970s, Linebaugh said.
“It’s a wonderful flying airplane, but it’s a national treasure. It’s like somebody threw me the keys to the Washington Monument and said, ‘Go fly it,’” Linebaugh said.
He said his favorite part is just being able to share the experience with people who appreciate it, including family members of former P-51 pilots.
Other aircraft at this weekend’s airshow at the Branson Airport are the B-29 Superfortress “Fifi,” a B-24 Bomber, a T-6 trainer, and the open-cockpit planes the Boeing Stearman and a PT-19. The event takes place at the Branson Jet Center, located at 130 Wright Brothers Road in Hollister, Missouri.
Linebaugh is one of a few select pilots who flies this plane; he began flying as a teenager before he was even legal to drive a car alone. He served in the United States Air Force as a flight instructor and is currently a Boeing 757 Captain and Check Airman for a major cargo airline, according to the CAF website. He has acquired over 500 hours in the P-51 Mustang and has also flown more than 80 different types of aircraft, including the CAF’s B-29 Bomber, “Fifi,” which is also in Branson this weekend.
Times and events at Branson Airport: