10/16/06 — Obsession takes flight

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Obsession takes flight

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 16, 2006 1:45 PM

More than 60 years ago, Capt. Jeff Michael's 'Obsession' was likely providing air support for Allied forces over Germany -- escorting bombers and ensuring air superiority.

Sunday, the restored P-51 Mustang was one of many pieces of military history on display at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, as crowds packed the flight line for the Wings Over Wayne Airshow.

Michael, a Lexington native, landed in Goldsboro Saturday.

Every time the 65-year-old climbs into the cockpit and takes flight, he gets a sense of what it must have been like to engage the enemy during World War II, he said.

"It's strange being up there and thinking, hey, these guys, this is what they saw 60 years ago," Michael said. "Well, except they were seeing bullets flying by."

He thinks about the pilots of those days, too -- young men fresh out of high school, jumping at the chance to fight for their country, he said.

"Those kids were flying it at 19, 20 years old," Michael said. "Can you imagine? It'd be like your mama giving you a hotrod and saying 'go on and have fun.'"

He, too, had decided to fly after high school graduation.

But instead of manning fighter aircraft for a living, he stuck to commercial planes, he said.

"That's why I got a war plane," Michael said. "Cause I never got to fly one."

He purchased the single-seat fighter more than 20 years ago from a hangar in California -- and ever since, it's lived up to it's name, he added.

"Just imagine that you get a car or whatever," he said. "You get obsessed with it. That's why it's called 'Obsession.' Instead of going to the ballgame, I'd work on the plane."

He found a sense of freedom and thrill inside its cockpit he hadn't experienced before.

"One thing with flying commercial, you fly like you're driving a Sunday car," Michael said. "But with this one, you go where we want and do what you want -- and if you go upside down, you won't have anyone screaming at you."

Shortly after 2 p.m., Seymour airmen gave him the signal. It was almost his time to fly.

He knew what the crowds had said already -- and what they would surely say -- as the blue and yellow antique made its way across the sky at more than 300 mph, he said.

"That thing was really moving," Michael said. "Most people think it's bigger than they thought it was. But then again, some will say it's smaller."

After the show, screaming spectators didn't see him land with the other pilots.

Michael was on his way home -- a mere half-hour flight for an aircraft traveling anywhere between 300 and 500 mph.

"Flying (the P-51) is a lot of fun, but you have to work at it, you see," he said. "You have to continuously maintain it."