My Other Vehicle Was a Spacecraft
Now that the space shuttle has retired, astronauts are rediscovering the joys of flying airplanes.
- By Phil Scott
- Photographs by Robert Seale
- Air & Space magazine, July 2012
What does Bill Anders love about his P-51 Mustang? Speed. He also finds the Mustang fun to fly in formation. Takeoffs, though, can be tricky due to the aircraft’s high-torque engine, says Anders, who was part of the three-man Apollo 8 crew that circled the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.
After Anders purchased his P-51, he oversaw a restoration that lasted several months and included rebuilding the engine and installing avionics. A U.S. Air Force pilot before he entered NASA, Anders decided to paint the Mustang in the colors of one of his old fighter squadrons, the 57th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, which was based in Iceland. Since his wife’s name is Valerie, he named the aircraft Val-Halla.
Anders flew Val-Halla for five years at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, before donating it to his family’s Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, Washington. At $2,500 an hour, the Mustang is not a cheap ride. Fortunately for Anders, he can still fly Val-Halla at airshows.