Watch a P-51 pilot skilfully ditch in a cornfield

by FliteTest | May 21, 2018 | (8) Posted in Just Fun

During the 2017 Duxford Airshow, located near Cambridge in the UK, an original WW2 P-51D made an emergency landing after experiencing engine problems. 

A year after this incident, the Air Saftey Institute interviewed British warbird pilot Mark Levy who was part of the 21-airplane formation flying that day. Here's the video which first shows the onboard footage of the crash from two angles and then an in-depth interview. 

The immediate aftermath saw a plume of dust rising from the cornfield. Thankfully there was no fire. During the landing, the open canopy of the warbird launched forwards and broke away.

The P-51, named Miss Velma, was damaged in the crash but is currently being repaired and should be flying again with a couple of months. 

The Pilot Mark Levy had only flown a handful of sorties with the Mustang before the incident. Previously he had flown all sorts of aircraft ranging from airliners during his commercial aviation career to Yak 50's at airshows. Given his limited experience and familiarity with the cockpit of the warbird, he handled the situation with precision. During the interview, Levy talks about reaching down to raise the deployed landing gear seconds before impact. Landing with wheels down would have almost certainly resulted in the aircraft flipping. 

One of the key points Levy talks about in his interview is the decision-making process of this emergency. One issue that complicated the situation was that the aircraft didn't experience an all-out engine failure. If it had, the decision to ditch in a field would have been easier to make - it would have been the only option! As power intermittently returned to the Mustang, Levy wrestled with the thought that he could get the aircraft back to the airfield. In hindsight, he wished that he had decided to commit to an off-field landing far sooner. 

'I really should have had the magnetos off and I was disappointed I hadn't done that.'

This incident could have been much worse. As Levy attempted to bring the Mustang closer to the aerodrome for a wheels-down landing, he was faced with several obstacles. One was the busy motorway between him and the runway. The second was spectators beyond the road who were watching the airshow. Boiling it down, the conundrum was one of risking more (and others lives) to save the airplane or risking less but potentially destroying the airplane by ditching in the bordering field. As you see in the video footage, Levy rolled the P-51 away from the crowds and into the cornfield. 

I see a lot of discussions online about the nature of flying vintage aircraft at airshows. Some think original aircraft shouldn't be flown for the risks involved. If these planes are to be flown, however, it must be remembered that there's always something more important than the airplane itself. Levy sums it up well: the airplane has let you down. Don't try to save it. Save yourself.

If you'd like to hear two experienced pilots discussing emergency situations and what to do in them, make sure to watch the interview

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Article by James Whomsley

Editor of

Instagram @jameswhomsley


jtude1313 on May 21, 2018
An Expert pilot relying on his training with a successful result. Instincts would have turned this beautiful plane and its pilot into a smoking hole in the ground.
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Watch a P-51 pilot skilfully ditch in a cornfield