Dreams still do come true. Fly Sally, fly

By Jaco Kotze


Imagine spending more than a decade painstakingly building one of the most detailed remote controlled (RC) scale model of your favourite World War 2 warbird and then being personally invited by the owner to have a flight in the exact plane you spent those countless hours building. It certainly sounds like the plot to a feel-good Hollywood blockbuster, but alas this is in fact the real-life story of Randy Claypool and Mustang Sally.

Randy, who lives in Michigan USA, started the build of his 1/5th scale Mustang Sally P-51D more than 13 years ago. Randy owns a high-end automotive painting business in the US called Gold Horizons and really wanted to do something special for this RC plane build. With a standard Top Flite P-51 Mustang build kit as the base, he started looking around on the internet for possible paint scheme candidates which he could adopt for his build, ultimately choosing that of South African based Mustang Sally. On asking Randy why he specifically chose Mustang Sally, his reply was that he was looking for a paint scheme to adopt for his build and when he found Mustang Sally with her clean yet striking look, it simply resonated very well with him and he knew this was the one he would adopt.

Photo: Randy Claypool

Photo: Randy Claypool

Unfortunately, the build kit he started with simply was not detailed enough to satisfy the perfectionist Randy, and he committed to meticulously replicated every possible detail of Mustang Sally from photos he researched on the internet. One luck was that Mustang Sally, owned by South African private aviation legend, Menno Parsons, is currently the only flying P-51D in South Africa and is much loved and photographed by the general public and media. With it being a regular highlight at air shows for South African aviation lovers, there definitely wasn't a shortage of photos of this particular plane to reference to! Randy replicated the paint scheme and decals of Mustang Sally to the tiniest detail - the only detail he is still missing is Menno's trademark bright neon orange pilot helmet!

Photo: Randy Claypool

Randy who is a master tradesman with a superb attention to the finest of details, innovated much of the bespoke workings of the model. One particular area of interest is that surrounding the retractable gear, which the original build model did not have. That was not acceptable to Randy and he set out to design a pneumatically retractable wheel system with closing cover doors with interconnecting linkages and all! Just this aspect by itself should be enough testimony to his dedication to making this build as true to the original as possible. As previously mentioned, this build is a 1/5th scale RC model with a DLE 55RA 5.5 horsepower two stroke engines. True to the original, Randy also opted to use a four bladed propeller on this model, much to the disdain and some split opinions by his peers in the RC build community. Randy however is not easily discouraged and he keeps true to his build and believes that this would perform perfectly.

Photo: Randy Claypool

Kitplanes for Africa

Nearing the completion of this spectacular build, Randy proudly shared his progress with the RC build community, where this was noticed by Gareth Van Der Merwe. Gareth who is the maintenance engineer for Mustang Sally, has the enviable position of being tasked to look after all these beautiful machines in Menno's fleet, maintaining them and keeping them in perfect condition. Gareth immediately shared this remarkable build with Menno, who true to his selfless caring nature, contacted Randy and enquired about the build and about Randy in general. Menno then gave Randy the once in a lifetime invite; if ever he was in South Africa and close to Rand Airport where Sally stays, he would gladly take him up for a flight! This was an opportunity which Randy simply could not let slip by, and he started to make his plans to visit South Africa to meet the real Mustang Sally.

Photo: Randy Claypool

P-51D Mustang Sally, original U.S. registration number N72FT 44-74494, was built in 1943 by North American Aviation. Like all these World War 2 warbirds, Mustang Sally also has an interesting history and in her previous lives she was known as “Mangia Pane” & “Iron Ass”. Sally's heart beats with the much revered, 27 litre V12 Rolls Royce Merlin engine, producing in excess of 1800 horsepower (~1340 kW). Now that is quite a few horses pulling this magnificent plane around! There are really no words to describe the sound of this engine; from the first lazy smoking (and sometimes feisty flaming) throat clearing stutters when she wakes up, to the most amazing thrumming sound when running at full RPM.

Menno Parsons, CEO and founder of Master Power Technologies (MPT), is one of the most beloved figures in the South African Aviation industry. Menno founded MPT in 1999 and has become the market leader in the supply, installation and after-sales support of backup power systems for time-critical environments, as well as the design and management of modular data centre solutions. Menno currently has a fleet of around 20 aircraft, including his much-loved Bell UH-1 “Tiger” Huey and has accumulated more than 2500 flying hours with him being rated to fly on all these planes and helicopters.

Menno's relationship with Mustang Sally is one of utmost reverence and Master Aviation maintains and preserves this plane to the highest standard. He flies her with graceful respect, not overstressing the plane unnecessarily, ensuring she stays in tip top shape, to be enjoyed for many years by himself and all her supporters. The commitment to keeping her in the best condition possible is admirable - Sally's maintenance engineer Gareth has had in depth training in the USA for 6 months with the same P-51 specialists who maintains Tom Cruise's P-51D! What is truly remarkable is that even though this pristine P51D is almost priceless, Menno selflessly shares her with his friends and the general aviation community, taking to the sky for all to be in awe of this magnificent machine.

Randy arrived in South Africa on Monday afternoon after a very long 15-hour solo travel journey; his first ever cross continent visit. Team Mustang Sally hosted him and ensured that he felt at home from the very first minute. On Tuesday, the day he has been dreaming about finally dawned; he was going to meet Sally in person! The raw emotions and tears of joy when he first got to run his hand down her graceful curves was a truly special moment shared. More than 2000 build hours of creating her scale RC replica; finally, being able to investigate all these little details in person, for that moment it was only Randy and Sally. With detailed planning and arrangements made, the flight plan was finally set for the late afternoon.

Menno invited his good friends Mike Weingartz & Jason Beamish to fly formation with him on this special occasion - Mike, who would pilot Menno's Master Power L39 Albatros, which would also be my camera ship, is a veteran SAAF & Denel test pilot who is qualified on multiple high performance & supersonic jet engine fighters and trainers, including the Impala, L39, Mirage III, Mirage F1AZ & Cheetah. Mike still holds the world record for the highest accumulated flying hours on the Impala - a staggering 5000+ hours! Mike is also one of the most experienced air show display pilots in South Africa, often flying the L29 & L39 at shows.

Jason Beamish who is an accomplished aircraft engineer by trade, is also world-renowned aerobatics pilot with more than 2000 flying hours and is rated on more than 60 aircraft! He has flown across the world and competed in some of the most prestigious aerobatics events. His double display with Nigel Hopkins is definitely one of the most exhilarating shows of precision flying at any air show. On the day, Jason piloted his spectacular dark blue Extra 300 and would be flying in close formation with Mustang Sally. Flying is in his blood, with both his father Larry Beamish and his grandfather Rod Beamish being accomplished pilots, with Rod also having flown P51 Mustang's during World War 2, making this quite a special flight for Jason as well!

The formation, with fitting callsign, Mustang Sally formation, took to the sky in the late afternoon and took Randy on the flight of a lifetime. Every time I picked up the camera to shoot, I just saw smiles from across the back seat of the P-51! Menno took us around some iconic landmarks surrounding Johannesburg, including the Soccer City stadium and the Soweto Towers, finishing with a very nice formation fly past over Rand Airport. It was all smiles on the ground when we landed, with Randy's smile stretching all the way from Rand Airport to Michigan!

Photo: Ferilise Smit

Photo: Jason Beamish

Photo: Jason Beamish

Photo: Carel Smith

Pilots Post is honoured to have been allowed to document this remarkable story; from the first moment Randy saw Sally, flying formation in the L39 with Mike together with Menno & Jason and capturing all these special moments. The memories and friendships made on this day will definitely last for a lifetime - a true testament to the amazing people who all share this one universal love - a burning passion for aviation! In this broken world we live in, it is heart warming to know that there is still so much care and compassion and that dreams really do still come true, no matter how unlikely they may seem!

Randy, what a privilege it has been to meet you! We are all looking forward to the maiden flight of your Mustang Sally and together will we all share in the joy of this decade long dream!

Rand Airshow 2023

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