Very, very, very carefully!
Since the plane is worth multiple millions of dollars, the engine is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the engine weighs many hundreds of pounds and is an incredibly tight fit into an airframe that’s tilted up into the sky and six or seven feet above you, this is not a trivial endeavour.
You start with a sort of engine-shaped hole in the front of your P-51, maybe some new cables and wiring.
You need a brand new, ready-to-go Rolls-Royce engine. Zillions of horses are carefully contained within.
You get a big crane. You can try it with a fork-lift or a winch, but given the monetary sums and risks involved, let’s not and say we did, okay? Go with the big crane.
After hours of preparation, you get the engine airborne.
You move it very slowly and gently over the nose of the aircraft.
Line it up.
Start to lower it.
Move it and lower it very, very, very, very, very, very slowly, constantly checking to make sure that all of those hoses and wires are still where they’re supposed to be when they get hooked up next week. Everything on the engine has to line up correctly on the engine mount pins.
One last check as tension starts to come off the hoist.
Two months or more of preparation pays off with a perfect job. Now to hook everything up and get her flying again! We’re not there yet, but today we passed a major milestone.
Kudos to Trace Eubanks, our P-51 crew chief, his crew, and all of the other mechanics at the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force who put so much time, effort, sweat, and care into taking care of these precious and wonderful machines!!