Living the Dream: Meet Captain Larry Lumpkin and Gunfighter

The P-51 Mustang: it aided the Allied Forces of World War II and was deemed “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence” by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee in 1944. It’s a legendary aircraft and an icon of American aviation history. Just ask United Captain Larry Lumpkin, who helps keep this celebrated warbird’s legacy alive, 70 years later, by flying Gunfighter for the Commemorative Air Force (CAF).

A member of the CAF’s Great Plains Wing, near his home in Elkhorn, Nebraska, Lumpkin flies aerobatics and formation demonstrations in addition to providing rides in Gunfighter at air shows. “A lot of people like to ride in the P-51 and consider it a bucketlist item,” Lumpkin says.

It’s easy to see why so many aviation enthusiasts are lining up for a chance to ride with Lumpkin. Gunfighter features a Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650-7 engine with a top speed of 437 miles per hour, a maximum ceiling of 41,900 feet, and a range of 1,300 miles. More than 15,000 Mustangs were manufactured, but only about 150 are still in existence.

According to Lumpkin, learning to fly the high-performance airplane required three years of exhaustive training. And it all started with a chance encounter…

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