Atlanta-area resident Paul Crawford last had his hands on the controls of a P-51 Mustang 79 years ago. He flew 29 missions in China before he was shot down. But thanks to Georgia’s Inspire Foundation, the Liberty Foundation, and dual-control TF-51 Mustang owner Bob Bull, Crawford got a chance to feel the power and maneuverability of a Mustang once again, yesterday, in celebration of his 100th birthday.

Bull’s TF-51, with Crawford handing the rear-seat controls, was joined by three other Mustangs, whose owners pitched in to fly on Crawford’s wing for the 30-minute flight from Atlanta’s Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (KPDK). The gaggle of World War II fighters assembled on the ramp at the Atlantic Aviation FBO, which supported the event.

Crawford recalled he had about 250-275 hours total flight time – 100 hours in Mustangs – when he was sent to Chengtu, China, to join the 529th Squadron of the 311th Fighter Group to protect B-29 bomber bases. The group was later reassigned to Xi’An in central China, with Crawford having logged another 60 hours. On his last mission, he was shot down by ground fire while strafing a railroad facility and trekked some 200 miles to safety, evading Japanese forces with the help of Chinese guerillas.

Surrounded by family, friends and admirers next to the Mustang on the ramp at PDK, Crawford said, “There’s nothing in the world like that airplane. I loved doing the maneuvers again.” He added, “When I recall my time in World War II, I always start by saying, ‘I was not a hero! I was just there!’ That is not false modesty, because it is the way I have always felt. I flew the P-51 Mustang.”

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