BANGOR – Residents and service members alike were buzzing Thursday afternoon, as a piece of history landed at the airport.
A World War 2-era P-51 Mustang touched down safely on the tarmac, but the last time it was in Bangor its pilot wasn’t thinking about photo opportunities.
The plane, named “Berlin Express,” was part of a group that helped win the war in Europe, escorting bombers that, up until that point, were being slaughtered in the skies above German-occupied France.
Though it was part of a larger effort, the plane has an astonishing story all its own.
“It’s in the paint job of a guy, Captain Bill Overstreet. One of the things he did very unique was, [he] actually flew underneath the Eiffel Tower in pursuit of a German fighter,” said Lee Lauderback, the man in charge of piloting “Berlin Express.”
He has been flying Mustangs nearly every day for 31 years, and since Capt. Overstreet passed away in 2013, he’s one of the most well-versed men in the world when it comes to the plane.
“It’s really a terrific airplane,” added Lauderback. “Even by today’s standards it’s really high performance.”
Lauderback and his escort plane are tracing the exact 5,470 mile route Overstreet and thousands of others took to get to Europe during mass troop surges in the early 1940s.
The trip culminates with an air show in Duxford, England on July 4th. But while they were in town, Lauderback was happy to speak about the man he’s representing, and his flair for personality.
“Each pilot and crew chief got to name and paint their own plane,” said Lauderback. “And Overstreet actually had his crew chief paint white walls of all things [on the tires]. This is the only P-51 in existence, trust me, with white walls. And we have to recreate them versus try to have white walls manufactured today.”
Lauderback says he’s a quiet man, and that the trip is about honoring the men who piloted these planes so long ago, as well as the men and women who serve now. But he does allow himself one fantasy.
“If someone said, ‘what’s your bucket list?’ I’d say i just want to shoot the guns one time.”
When asked if the air force would let him he said, “Well, I’m still working on it.”
He’ll have plenty of time to role play as he crosses the Atlantic.
To track Lee Lauderback on his journey, visit pursuitaviation.com/berlin-express