Local pilot flies into history
By Tiffanie Reynolds
For Lee Lauderback, flying was always second nature, with warplanes as his passion.
As the president, CEO and founder of Stallion 51 Corporation at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport, Lauderback was honored for his passion and involvement in flight by being inducted to the Experimental Aircraft Association Warbird Hall of Fame early in November. Lauderback credits one plane, the P51 Mustang, for taking him there.
Lauderback was born into aviation and grew up with it, with his dad a U.S. Navy pilot. Flying specialized planes became a niche for him, and he founded Stallion 51 in 1987 to fill the need for specialized training at the Navy Test Pilot School. Once his company contract with the Navy was up, Lauderback began to see a different need: bringing warplane training to civilians.
More specifically, he wanted to be the first to develop a training program for the P51 Mustang, a plane used in World War II for aviation combat. After the war, many of the P51 Mustangs were sold as surplus, and the Mustang became involved in 10 percent of plane crashes in the 1980s. It became Lauderback’s goal to lower that number.
“It’d be like you getting in one kind of car and then jumping in a mini-van. They’re different, but they drive the same. The rules of the road are the same. The basics of flying an airplane are fairly similar. So, it just became specialized training in a sense that it’s really tailored to this kind of airplane,” Lauderback said.
Before he established Stallion 51, Lauderback flew private charter flights for professional golfer Arnold Palmer, and went through specialized training to fly jets and helicopters. For the P51 Mustang, Lauderback took the same kind of training program he went through for Arnold Palmer and applied it to the warplane. The biggest challenge starting out was getting the right team to maintain and later train others on the plane, as well as getting insurance companies aboard for the program.
“Getting the insurance companies to embrace it and push it forward was key for the program, and then, obviously, instructors that know how to fly it and teach it,” Lauderback said.
For insurance with many kinds of planes, companies require pilots to go through training for that plane before they offer the insurance. Lauderback wanted to design the training program for the P51 Mustang.
The plane, during World War II, was the best in combat. But, that didn’t make it the easiest to maneuver. The plane has some differences compared to modern aircraft, such as the landing gear. It’s located at the tail of the plane instead of the front. And the biggest difference is that the controls are all manual. The core of the training program is to get potential pilots up to the skills needed to fly the P51 Mustang safely, and tailors the program to the pilot’s starting skills in aviation.
For Lauderback, getting the chance to train others in the types of planes he loves is a dream job. And, with four of his five brothers working for Stallion 51, these planes are a passion that’s shared in the whole family.
“I’ve done a lot of neat things in life, and flying the Mustang is truly special. You know, it’s, in a sense, almost like taking a national monument out for a ride. Because of the history of it. Guys flew it in combat, which really made a difference in the outcome of the war. To get to fly with some of these guys, know some of those guys, it’s sort of like a real treasure of going back into history. And, today, I get to fly the airplane without anybody shooting at me too, which is sorta fun,” Lauderback said.
The EAA Sport Aviation Hall of Fame was established to honor the outstanding achievements of men and women who share the spirit of EAA’s founder: a passion for the freedom that flight offers. Those inducted into the Hall of Fame are selected by their peers for the myriad of contributions made to their particular realm of flight – and aviation as a whole.