Rickenbacker Wins 3-way Race to Host Legendary P-51 Mustangs

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rickenbacker Airport is to host a historic gathering of P-51 fighter planes and pilots next year.

Rickenbacker beat out two Denver-area airports to hold the event that organizers hope will attract at least 100,000 people Sept. 27-30, 2007.

"This is going to be a worldwide event," said Angela West, the event director for Stallion 51 Corp., a P-51 Mustang flight operation based in Kissimmee, Fla.

Rickenbacker was selected over Front Range and Jefferson County airports in Colorado because of its ability to accommodate the event. The airport's history also played a part.

Rickenbacker was the post-World War II home of the Tuskegee Airmen, a black military unit that flew P-51 Mustangs, and was a B-17 training base during the war. "All that added up," West said.

Once known as Lockbourne Army Air Base, Rickenbacker will celebrate its 65 th anniversary in 2007.

"It is just such a wonderful fit," said Angie Tabor, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. "We think it will appeal to so many people, not only the aviation enthusiasts and historians but families who will want to come in and spend the day."

P-51 Mustangs were used mostly to escort American bombers in raids over Germany in World War II. They also saw service against the Japanese air forces and in the early stages of the Korean War. The planes remained in service with some air forces throughout the world into the 1980s.

Organizers of the event hope to attract about 100 Mustangs and 51 veterans who flew the plane.

"It is going to be a celebration of flying the Mustang, putting it up in formation, letting people get up close and personal with the airplane and the veterans, what we call the 'legends,' " West said.

Organizers also hope to attract other aircraft that flew with and against the P-51 Mustang.

About 130 P-51 Mustangs, most privately owned, are flying in the United States, West said. A total of 65 showed up when the company held a similar event in Florida in 1999.

The event is being called the "Gathering of Mustangs and Legends -- The Final Round Up." It is expected to be the last event bringing together the aircraft and the veterans who flew them.

"Unfortunately, the veterans are passing away so quickly and so frequently," West said.

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