A sudden burst of excessive engine power may have led to a fatal crash in California on Sunday of a P-51D Mustang that killed part-time valley resident John McKittrick on his first solo flight in the $1.8 million World War II war bird.
McKittrick, 42, a bond trader, an experienced pilot in other single- and twin-engine aircraft, had purchased the Mustang five months ago with the intention of entering next year's Reno Air Races in the high-speed, unlimited aircraft class, according to a close Ketchum friend of 14 years and fellow P-51 owner-pilot, Bill Rheinschild.
Rheinschild told the Mountain Express that based on accounts of witnesses at Camarillo Airport north of Los Angeles, McKittrick was flying the Mustang--nicknamed "Lou IV"--solo for the first time since taking some 50 hours of dual instruction in the modified, two-seat former Air Force fighter.
His unidentified instructor had cleared McKittrick for takeoffs and landings and flying in the airport pattern.
"On landing," Rheinschild said, McKittrick "made a perfect approach but ballooned (bounced) when his tail wheel touched down too early."
He said McKittrick "added too much power" on the 1,850-horsepower Rolls Royce Merlin engine to neutralize the porpoising, which caused the aircraft to "torque roll." The high-speed aircraft whipped over into an inverted attitude and immediately crashed, killing McKittrick instantly. There was no fire.
"Whenever you get into a situation like that," Rheinschild explained, "it's every aviator's reaction to give it power. But you can't do it in this kind of airplane."
Rheinschild said McKittrick has owned a single-engine Beech Bonanza, a twin-engine Beech KingAir C-90 and a World War II T-6 trainer, and had contracted for construction of a Hawker Sea Fury with complete parts he'd bought.
McKittrick, whose fulltime residence is in Thousand Oaks, Calif., had about 1,500 hours of flying experience, Rheinschild said. Rheinschild is president of a southern California home-building corporation, but lives in the valley.
The P-51 (later the F-51) was the first U.S. fighter capable of accompanying World War II heavy bomber raids deep into Europe to ward off German fighters. The Mustang also was a superb ground attack aircraft in support of ground troops. McKittrick's Mustang had the telltale black-and-white wing stripes painted on aircraft involved in the D-Day Normandy invasion.
He is survived by his wife, Michele, and two children.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Calvary Christian Church, Westlake, Calif., with a reception following at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.