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P-51 Mustang - History

P-51 Mustang - History

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P-51 Mustang

Originally designed just for the British,the Mustangs success was purchased by the US after the British raved about its performance. It became the lead escort fighter. Over 15,000 P-51 were produced, for a cost of a little over $50,000

US B-17

Manufacturer: Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas

Engines: 4 1200HP WR

Speed: 317MPH

Length: 74.4ft

Range: 2,400mi

Wingspan: 103.9ft

Weight: 2,804lbs(max)

Ceiling: 19,700ft

18 Facts About the P-51 Mustang, One of America’s Greatest Fighter Planes

Viewed by many as one of the all-time greatest fighter planes, the P-51 Mustang served the US military well in World War II and beyond.

Designed for the British

The Mustang wasn’t originally built for the US armed forces. It was designed to meet a specification provided by Great Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) during the early days of World War II.

Built for Speed

The Mustang had remarkable speed for such a complex and expensive machine. The first model was designed and built in just 117 days.

North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang

First Flight

The first Mustang test flight took place on 26 October 1940. It proved to be an impressive machine, able to outperform any other American fighter in use at the time.

Early Limits

Despite this promising start, the Mustang’s use in the European theater of war was at first limited. It lacked power both at altitude and in a climb, so it was relegated to an armed reconnaissance role.

North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang

First over Germany

In October 1942, a group of RAF Mustangs became the first British single-engine planes of the war to take to the skies above Germany, during an attack on targets around the Dortmund-Ems canal.

A Royal Air Force North American Mustang Mk III.

Changing Engines

The early Mustangs were equipped with Allison engines, which provided adequate performance and let the plane get into the war. But it was the replacement of these engines in 1942 that turned the Mustang into one of the most effective fighters in the world.

P-51 Mustangs

The new Rolls-Royce Merlin engines let the Mustang overcome its earlier limitations. It could now provide great performance in long-range aerial operations.

Aerodynamic for Speed

The Mustang’s clean lines made it incredibly aerodynamic. Following its upgrade, it achieved top speeds faster than the famous RAF Supermarine Spitfire, which was equipped with an equivalent engine.

P-51 Mustangs of the 375th Fighter Squadron, Eighth Air Force

Transforming Bombing Runs

By 1943, the Allies were carrying out a campaign of heavy strategic bombing against Germany. While the RAF flew at night, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) preferred to attack during the day, as this made their attacks more accurate.

The problem with daytime raids was that it was easier for German pilots and anti-aircraft gunners to identify and target American planes. There were no Allied fighters that could provide the bombers with the protection they needed on these long-distance raids, so American losses soared. In October 1943, the bombing runs were suspended.

Mustang Mark I, AG431, of No. 16 Squadron RAF. © IWM (CH 10222)

The arrival of Mustangs with Merlin engines changed that. When equipped with external droppable fuel tanks on the wings, it could escort the bombers on raids as far away as Berlin.

Fighting well even at that range, it out-performed most aircraft of the German Luftwaffe, protecting bombers from their attacks.

Equipped with the Mustang, the Allies could dominate the skies over Germany day and night. Bombs rained down on German cities, factories, and transport links. The Mustang made possible an incredible campaign to cripple the enemy’s economy.

P 51 Mustang.

Dive Bomber

The early model Mustang was also turned into a dive-bomber, the A-36 Invader. This was used to great effect by the USAAF in Sicily, as the Allies began the conquest of Italy in 1943.

A-36A of the 86th Fighter Bomber Group (Dive) in Italy in 1944.

A Comfortable Aircraft

The Mustang was designed with the pilot’s comfort and convenience in mind, recognizing the importance of supporting the human component on long missions. The ergonomically laid out cockpit made sure that all the controls were right at hand, and there was excellent visibility.

Mustang P-51C-10-NT.

A Physically Demanding Fighter

Though comfortably designed, the Mustang wasn’t always an easy machine to fly. At high speeds, the pilot had to exert himself physically to get the best performance out of the plane.

It was worth the effort, providing the great maneuverability that let the Mustang out-fight so many enemy planes.

Mustang P-51D-15-NA

Continuous Improvement

Like many vehicles, the Mustang was continuously refined and improved over the course of WWII. The P-51D, equipped with Merlin engines, was the most numerous, but the best was the P-51H, the final model of the war.

Its weight was reduced by a thousand pounds compared with the P-51D, giving it greater speed. It became the fastest piston-engined plane the Allies fielded in the whole war, beaten in speed only by the jet fighters that appeared in the final months.

Mustang P-51H

Massive Production

An International Aircraft

Though originally built by the Americans and for the British, the Mustang later served in at least 55 air forces around the world. A license was even provided to an Australian manufacturer to produce their own Mustangs in the late 1940s.

Mustangs 44-15238, 44-15053 over Sarasota FL.

Service in Korea

The Mustang continued in service after the end of WWII, most notably in Korea. There, the South African and Australian air forces brought their Mustangs, while the US fetched remaining P-51s, now redesignated F-51s, out of storage.

The planes were used as fighter-bombers and in aerial combat against communist forces.

North American P-51B Mustang. By Alan Wilson – CC BY-SA 2.0

Service in Indonesia

The Dutch took Mustangs to the Dutch East Indies in 1946 as part of their efforts to protect their colonies. When the Dutch withdrew, they handed the planes over to the air force of the fledgling nation of Indonesia.

The Indonesian Air Force used these planes until the 1970s. In 1962, they were even sent into action against their former owners, when Indonesia launched a failed invasion of Dutch New Guinea.

Mustang P-51 (F-6K-10-NT “199” 44-12223).

Arab-Israeli War

Another nation to field the Mustang was Israel. The Israelis used these fighters in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1956.


The quality of the Mustang design was so remarkable that production was revived in 1967, more than 25 years after it first saw service. This time, it was to be used as a counter-insurgency aircraft.

P-51 Mustang of the 332nd Fighter Group

The pairing of the legendary Merlin engine and the P-51 Mustang eventually resulted in the P-51D, which provided the US Army Air Forces with a high-performance, high-altitude, long range fighter that could escort heavy bomber formations all the way to Berlin and back. The changes significantly reduced the unacceptable loss rates bomber crews had suffered since the daylight bombing campaign began in the summer of 1942.

Between 1941 and 1946, roughly 1,000 African American pilots were trained at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Alabama. The most famous of the Tuskegee Airmen were the 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the “Red Tails” for the distinctive markings of their planes. The 99th Pursuit Squadron, later renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron, also distinguished themselves in combat. Together they flew more than 15,000 sorties and lost 66 men in the line of duty. This aircraft is painted in the markings of one of the aircraft known to have been flown by the squadron.

Made possible through a gift from the Ricketts Family



Date Introduced: 1944
Manufacturer: North American
Number Produced: 8,000


Crew: 1 (Pilot)
Wingspan: 37 feet
Length: 32 feet
Maximum Speed: 437 miles per hour
Cruising Speed: 275 miles per hour
Maximum Range: 1,000 miles
Engine: Packard Rolls Royce Merlin V-1650-7 (1,695 hp)
Maximum Load: 2,000 pounds of bombs, or ten 5-inch rockets
Armament: Six .50 caliber machine guns

P-51 Mustang returns home to Kentucky Air Guard after 63 years

By Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs / Published April 26, 2019

A P-51 Mustang arrived back on the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here April 12, more than six decades after departing.

The Mustang, serial number of 44-74202, was once assigned to the unit as a military fighter aircraft from 1953 to 1956. Now, it was returning home as a fully restored civilian warbird to fly in the 2019 Thunder Over Louisville air show.

The P-51’s new owners, R.T. Dickson Jr. and his father, R.T. Dickson Sr., purchased the Mustang in 2012 after more than 50 years of storage and restoration.

The younger Dickson has been flying aircraft since the age of 3, when his father let him take the stick of a Globe Swift. He’s piloted a multitude of aircraft ever since, but the South Carolina resident said he was especially pleased to be flying the Mustang in Thunder.

“I’m very excited about it,” Dickson said on the tarmac of the Kentucky Air Guard Base, recalling how his appearance in the show came to be.

He met the Kentucky Air Guard’s Maj. Josh Ketterer, a C-130 Hercules pilot, in December 2018 during an air show planning conference that Ketterer was attending as a Thunder coordinator. Dickson noticed the Kentucky patch on Ketterer’s flight suit, and the two struck up a conversation. Dickson told Ketterer how his restored Mustang, now known as “Swamp Fox,” had once belonged to the Kentucky Air Guard.

“We started talking about the airframe, and Josh said, ‘You should come up for Thunder,’” Dickson recalled.

They both loved the idea of giving the aircraft a “homecoming,” and Ketterer talked to wing leadership about bringing this piece of aviation history back to Kentucky.

Tail no. 44-74202 was manufactured by North American Aviation and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on May 7, 1945. It was first assigned to 445th Fighter Squadron at Bakersfield Army Air Field, California, before being transferred to more than a half-dozen units in California, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas. It arrived at the Kentucky Air Guard in July 1953 and remained here until October 1956, when it was moved to McClellan Air Force Base, California. The following year, it was declared surplus property.

The aircraft was purchased at auction by a private individual in 1957 but was damaged a few years later in a landing accident, according to an article in Warbird Digest. For the next 50 years, the plane changed hands several times, although it remained unflyable until a major restoration project returned it to the air in 2012 as the Dicksons’ Swamp Fox, painted in honor of World War II pilot Will Foard, who was a member of the 357th Fighter Group.

The 357th scored more combat air-to-air victories than any other P-51 Group in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.

Dickson has now traveled around the nation with Swamp Fox, which has given him an opportunity to learn more about the history of the P-51. While in Louisville, he stopped by the Kentucky Air Guard’s “Heritage Hall” and saw photos of his aircraft when it was assigned here.

“The most awe-inspiring thing that has come out of (owning this aircraft) is meeting the men and women that flew them,” he said.

“It’s a very visceral experience to fly. It’s loud, it vibrates, and it has smells — the fuel, the oil and the hydraulics. It’s a neat experience to convey to people that haven’t been inside something like this.”

He said the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing has adopted him, partly because they share the name Swamp Fox. Recently, the unit hosted a family day that gave hundreds of people the chance to see the aircraft up close.

“We had kids crawling all over this thing, and I had the opportunity to take some kids up into the cockpit,” he said. “It’s really interesting to inspire the next generation.”

Ketterer finds inspiration in the Swamp Fox, too.

“As a Guard unit, we have a lot of family legacies around,” he said. “Having a legacy aircraft here that our families worked on is pretty special. We’re delighted about R.T.’s generosity of sharing his plane with us and bringing it back to its roots.”

Two P-51 Mustangs shimmer against the parking ramp over Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ while practicing formation flying during a USAF Heritage Conference 2002 training flight. The USAF Heritage conference brings together civilian Heritage pilots and USAF Demonstration Team pilots to discuss safety and practice formation flying in a non-airshow environment. The USAF heritage aircraft and modern day fighters routinely team together to perform at airshows in the “Heritage Flight” formation but must be certified to fly together before the airshow season begins each year. USAF Photo by SSgt. Greg L. Davis.


The North American P-51 “Mustang” was a single-engine, air-superiority fighter and bomber escort which served the Army Air Corps during World War II in all theaters. The sleek design was built around the massive V-12 engine driving an even larger propeller. The aircraft was famously used in the European theater to escort massive formations of allied bombers striking deep in to the heart of the Third Reich.

According to official Tinker history documents and photographs, the Oklahoma City Air Depot conducted maintenance and modifications to 25 Mustangs from Jan. 1951 to Dec. 1953.

The P-51 was generally armed with six .50 cal. machine guns, three in the leading edge of each wing root. It could also carry up to 2,000 pounds of external stores including bombs, rockets and long-range drop tanks. The V-12 engine is very efficient at high altitudes which allowed it to remain with striking bomber formations. There were five distinct versions of the Mustang beginning with the P-51A, P-51B, P-51C, P-51D with high-visibility bubble canopy, and P-51K. There were also multiple reconnaissance variants and even a Twin-Mustang two P-51s joined together with a center wing and flown by one pilot, known as the P-82.

The all-black pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, and flew P-47 Thunderbolt and multiple versions of the P-51 Mustang. The “Red Tailed” Tuskegee Airmen gained not only fame, but the everlasting respect of the bomber crews they escorted over Europe by attaining one of the lowest combat loss rates of any escort unit in the European theater.

The P-51 had moved from front-line service to a dependable, but aging mount with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves by the time the Korean War kicked off. The Air Force was quickly transitioning in to the jet age by this time, but soon found it still needed tough aircraft like the F-51 which could handle rough airfield and maintenance conditions. The F-51 Mustang was put in to the fight flying from airfields in Japan and the Korean Peninsula in support of United Nations troops. Some of the Air Force’s most recognizable combat leaders at the time and in later years, such as General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., flew the Mustang during their early careers. The final operational F-51s were retired from service with the Air National Guard in 1957.

Manufacturer: North American

Aircraft type: P-51

Nickname: Mustang

Power plant: One Rolls Royce/Packard-Merlin V1650 in-line V-12 piston engine creating 1,490 horse power

In-service dates: 1940-1957

Number produced: 14,068

Tinker connection: Maintenance and preparation for Korean War use

A view of the North American P-51D Mustang and the Republic P-47D (Bubble Canopy Version) before restoration crews at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force moved the aircraft into the WWII Gallery on Aug. 14, 2018. Several WWII era aircraft on display were temporarily placed throughout the museum to provide adequate space for the Memphis Belle exhibit opening events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

The Mustang was among the best and most well-known fighters used by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Possessing excellent range and maneuverability, the P-51 operated primarily as a long-range escort fighter and also as a ground attack fighter-bomber. The Mustang served in nearly every combat zone during WWII, and later fought in the Korean War. Af.mil

North American P-51B 3/4 front view called “Shoo Shoo Baby” of the 357th Fighter Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 1940 the British approached North American Aviation to license-build Curtiss P-40 fighters for the Royal Air Force. North American offered to design a better fighter, which flew as the NA-73X in October 1940. Production of the aircraft — named Mustang I by the British — began the following year.

P-51D Mustang North American F-82 (S/N 44-83887) in flight with North American P-51 (S/N 44-8474). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Mustangs for the USAAF
In the summer of 1941, the USAAF received two Mustang Is under the designation XP-51. Although flight tests of the new fighter showed promise, the USAAF did not immediately order the Mustang. After the personal intervention of Gen. Hap Arnold, however, the USAAF retained 55 Mustangs from a British order. Most of these became F-6A photo-reconnaissance aircraft, which equipped the first USAAF Mustang units, the 154th and 111th Observation Squadrons in North Africa in the spring of 1943.

In March 1942 the USAAF accepted the first production P-51A fighters. Although excellent at lower levels, the P-51A’s Allison engines severely limited performance at high altitude. The USAAF employed P-51As in the China-Burma-India theater, where most combat took place at low altitude.

In April 1942 the USAAF ordered an attack version equipped with dive brakes and bomb racks, the A-36 Apache. A-36s entered combat in June 1943 and served in North Africa, Italy and India.

A Winning Combination
In the fall of 1942, Mustangs in the United States and Great Britain were experimentally fitted with British Merlin engines. One in the United States flew a remarkable 441 mph at 29,800 feet — about 100 mph faster than the P-51A at that altitude. Mass production of the Merlin-powered P-51B and P-51C soon followed (nearly identical, North American produced the “B” in Inglewood, Calif., and the “C” in Dallas, Texas).

In December 1943 the first P-51B/C Mustangs entered combat in Europe with the 354th Fighter Group “Pioneers.” By the time of the first U.S. heavy bomber strike against Berlin in March 1944, the USAAF fielded about 175 P-51B/C Mustangs. Along with P-38 Lightnings, these P-51s provided sorely needed long-range, high-altitude escort for the U.S. bombing campaign against Germany.

“Bubble-top” Mustang
The P-51D incorporated several improvements, and it became the most numerous variant with nearly 8,000 being built. The most obvious change was a new “bubble-top” canopy that greatly improved the pilot’s vision. The P-51D also received the new K-14 gunsight, an increase from four to six .50-cal machine guns, and a simplified ammunition feed system that considerably reduced gun jams.

The P-51D arrived in quantity in Europe in the spring of 1944, becoming the USAAF’s primary long range escort fighter. The versatile Mustang also served as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Few Luftwaffeaircraft could match the P-51D — by the end of the war, Mustangs had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other USAAF fighter in Europe.

P-51Ds arrived in the Pacific and CBI theaters by the end of 1944. In the spring of 1945, Iwo Jima-based P-51Ds started flying long-range B-29 escort and low-level fighter-bomber missions against ground targets in Japan.

Continuing Development
North American eventually developed a considerably lightened Mustang, which became the P-51H. With a remarkable top speed of 487 mph, it was 50 mph faster than the P-51D. Although it was in production before the war ended, the P-51H did not reach frontline units in time to see combat.

With the last of 555 P-51Hs completed in 1946, the production run of the Mustang ended with over 15,000 of all types built.

Korean War
Although Mustangs continued in service with the newly-formed U.S. Air Force and many other nations after the war, more advanced jet fighters relegated them to secondary status. Many of the USAF’s Mustangs (redesignated the F-51) were surplused or transferred to the Reserve and the Air National Guard (ANG).

At the start of the Korean War, however, the Mustang once again proved its usefulness. After the initial invasion, USAF units were forced to fly from bases in Japan, and F-51Ds could hit targets in Korea that short-ranged F-80 jet fighters could not. Mustangs continued flying with USAF, South Korean Air Force (ROKAF), South African Air Force (SAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter-bomber units on close support and interdiction missions in Korea until they were largely replaced by F-86F jet fighter-bombers in 1953.

F-51s flew in the Reserve and ANG until they were finally phased out in 1957. Obtained from the West Virginia ANG in 1957, the aircraft on display was the last Mustang assigned to a USAF tactical unit. It is painted as the P-51D flown by Col. C.L. Sluder, commander of the 325th Fighter Group in Italy in 1944. The name of this aircraft, Shimmy IV, is derived from the names of his daughter, Sharon, and his wife, Zimmy.

Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and 10 5-in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs
Engine: Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650 of 1,695 hp
Maximum speed: 437 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,000 miles
Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
Span: 37 ft.
Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
Height: 13 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 12,100 lbs. maximum
Serial number:44-74936

North American P-51D Mustang

The classic P-51 Mustang history is one of the greatest success stories of military aviation. Originally designed for Great Britain, the North American fighter was adopted by the U.S. Army Air Force and upgraded with the powerful, reliable Rolls-Royce Merlin which powered the Supermarine Spitfire. With altitude, range, and performance, the Merlin Mustang became a world-beater.
Ironically, the P-51 owed its existence to a Royal Air Force query for North American to build Curtiss P-40s at a time when British forces were being pushed off the European continent in 1940 and badly needed additional armament. North American proposed a better performing aircraft and quickly drafted the NA-73.
The Allison-powered Mustang flew 12 months after the first RAF query and logged its first combat missions in May 1942. Intended for reconnaissance, their primary "armament" was a camera, though two .30 and two .50 caliber guns were installed. Eventually, 15 RAF squadrons flew the type. Meanwhile, the Army Air Force tested the XP-51 and was impressed with its performance, which exceeded the P-39 and P-40 and some marks of Spitfire in low-level performance. Beginning in 1943 the USAAF began operating photo-reconnaissance Mustangs (originally the Apache in US service) and A-36 Invader dive bombers, also with Allison engines. However, the promise of improved high-altitude performance had been noted, and a Merlin-powered XP-51B first flew in late 1942. Production B and C models began rolling out of the Inglewood and Dallas factories in 1943, and by year-end the 354th Pioneer Mustang Group was escorting heavy bombers over Germany. The D model, with its 360-degree full-vision canopy, appeared in March 1944 and replaced the "razorback" models by year-end.

General P-51 Mustang Dimensions

Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)

Wingspan: 37 ft 0 in (11.28 m)

Height: 13 ft 4.5 in (4.08 m) tail wheel on ground, vertical propeller blade

Wing area: 235 sq ft (21.83 m2)

Empty weight: 7,635 lb (3,465 kg)

Gross weight: 9,200 lb (4,175 kg)

Max takeoff weight: 12,100 lb (5,488 kg) 5,490

Fuel capacity: 269 US gal (224 imp gal 1,020 l)

Powerplant: 1 × Packard (Rolls Royce) V-1650-7 Merlin, 12-cylinder liquid cooled engine, 1,490 hp (1,111 kW) at 3,000 rpm 1,720 hp (1,280 kW) at WEP

Propellers: 4-bladed constant speed, variable pitch Hamilton Standard, 11 ft 2 in (3.40 m) diameter

P-51 Mustang Engine Specifications & Aerial Performance

Maximum speed: 440 mph (708 km/h, 383 kn)

Cruise speed: 362 mph (583 km/h, 315 kn)

Stall speed: 100 mph (160 km/h, 87 kn)

Range: 1,650 mi (2,656 km, 1,434 nmi) with external tanks

Service ceiling: 41,900 ft (12,800 m)

Rate of climb: 3,200 ft/min (16.3 m/s)

Wing loading: 39 lb/sq ft (192 kg/m2)

Guns: 6 ×0.50 calibur (12.7mm) AN/M2 Browning Machine Guns with 1,840 total rounds (380 rounds for each on the inboard pair and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pair)

Bombs: 1,000 pounds (450 kg) total on two wing hardpoints

Each hardpoint: 1 × 100 pounds (45 kg) bomb, 1 × 250 pounds (110 kg) bomb or 1 × 500 pounds (230 kg) bomb

Mustang Chronology

June '40 - British Request

In the Spring of 1940, the British Purchasing Commission, headed by Sir Henry Self, visiting the U.S. asked Dutch Kindelberger, head of North American Aviation, to build Curtiss-designed P-40's for them. While his company had never built a fighter, Kindelberger's designers, led by Edgar Schmued had started design work on a modern fighter. Already, in 1940, the Curtiss P-40 and the Bell P-39 were inferior to aircraft being flown by Germany and Britain. Kindelberger offered to design and build the first prototype of the new fighter in 120 days. They signed the contract for 300 of the aircraft in late May.

The new fighter incorporated many of the latest developments in aeronautics, notably the laminar flow wing, a wing that was relatively symmetrical and offered less drag at high speed. The wings were designed to be easy to manufacture, with only two spars. As specified by the British requirement, the new airplane, designated the NA-73X, employed an in-line engine the Allison V-1710 fit the bill, although it lacked a turbo-supercharger for high-altitude performance. The main wheels were set twelve feet apart, for good stability on landing.

In the original design, the British required eight machine guns: four .30 caliber and four .50 caliber. Ultimately, most Mustangs would carry the usual American weaponry of six .50 caliber Brownings. It carried twice as much internal fuel as a Spitfire, 180 gallons in self-sealing wing tanks.

102 days after contract signing, in Sept. 1940, the protoype NA-73X rolled out. Apparently no one quibbled over the fact that it didn't have an engine, nor brakes, nor paint, nor actual gun mounts.

Oct. '40 - Flight of NA-73X Prototype

Oct. '41 - Mustang Mark I Reaches Britain

Nonetheless, the Mustang was so promising that in late 1941 the RAF ordered another 300 and the USAAF 150. As the exigencies of war demanded, 93 of these 150 (factory designated NA-91) ended up in British service, as Mustang IA's, equipped with four 20mm cannon. The remaining 57, equipped with four .50 caliber machine guns, and known as P-51's, ended up in US service.

Feb. '42 - Tactical Recon: No. 26 Sqn Issued Mark I's

These early Allison-powered Mustangs were fast, strongly constructed, had a long range, and packed a wallop with their eight guns. But their poor high-altitude performance relegated them to the low-level tactical reconnaissance role with British Army Cooperation Command (ACC). Outfitted with a K24 camera behind the pilot, the Mark I Mustangs could photograph enemy dispositions, provide ground support, and fight their way out of a jam. And they could do so better than the ACC's existing Tomahawks and Lysanders. By summer 1942, 15 RAF squadrons were flying the Mark I, photographing invasion targets, shooting up trains, barge-busting, and probing German defenses.

July '42 - First Long Range Recon Mission

On July 27, sixteen RAF Mustangs undertook a long-range reconnaissance mission, photographing the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

Aug. '42 - Dieppe Raid

The "reconnaissance in force" on August 19 gained little for the Allies, except the expensive and bloody lesson in how tough the German defenses were, both on the ground and in the air. The raid, Operation Jubilee, introduced the Typhoon and the Spitfire Mk. IX, and marked the first Mustang aerial victory. Four Mustang squadrons, No. 26, 239, 400, and 414, provided tactical recon for the ground troops.

Flight Officer Hollis "Holly" Hills, an American serving with No. 414 Sqn of the RCAF, took off from Gatwick in the pre-dawn darkness, as "weaver" (wingman) to Flt. Lt. Freddie Clarke. Flying at wavetop level, the glow from the searchlights and AA fire at Dieppe permitted him to stay with his leader. Once over the target, they were promptly separated both returned safely. On the second mission that morning, they saw a huge dogfight filling the sky over Dieppe, and Hills spotted four Fw 190s off to their right. With his radio out and unaware of the German fighters, Flt. Lt. Clarke left himself open and was hit. Then Hollis caught one of the FW's with a deflection burst. It started smoking and flaming, then the canopy popped off. Hollis fired again, and the plane fell to ground. He headed for home, shepherding Clarke as he went, dueling another Fw 190 for miles. In his fight with the Fw's, he lost sight of Clarke. After that, Hollis flew home uneventfully, to a dinner made rather somber by Clarke's apparent loss. But next morning, Clarke re-appeared over Hollis' bunk, smelling of seaweed he had ditched off Dieppe and been rescued. He had witnessed and could officially confirm Hollis' victory over the Focke-Wulf, the first of many aerial victories for the Mustang. And Clarke had the dubious honor of being the first combat Mustang to be shot down in the war by the Germans.

Read more about Clarke's and Hills' mission in this email from Clarke's son.

Mustang Aces of the Ninth and Fifteenth Air Forces and the RAF tells more about Dieppe and the RAF's use of the Mustang.

Oct. '42 - the Merlin Engine

As early as May, 1942, Ronald Harker, a Rolls Royce test pilot, first recommended mating the Mustang airframe to the Merlin engine, an idea which would transform the P-51 into a decisive weapon, capable of escorting American bombers all the way to Berlin. Harker test-flew an RAF Mustang on April 30, 1942, and noted that it was 30 MPH faster than the Spitfire Mk V and had almost double the range. Harker's memo recommending the Merlin-Mustang combination (in which he erroneously identified Edgar Schmued as a former Messerschmitt employee) got the attention of Rolls Royce management, who borrowed five RAF Mustangs to test the idea. The British flight-tested the Mustang X in October, and found that the experimental craft significantly out-performed the Allison at high altitudes, generating 200 more horsepower at 20,000 feet and almost 500 more HP at 30,000 feet. While the British research was valuable, the American Merlin Mustang program proceeded almost independently.

In the summer of 1942, Packard Motors was negotiating with Rolls Royce to license-build the Merlin engine at its Detroit plant. Learning of Rolls Royce' Merlin-Mustang plans, Major Thomas Hitchcock, the American military attache in London, and others, pushed for the development of a Mustang powered by the Packard-built Merlin. Authorized in July, 1942, North American began its Merlin Mustang development in August.
The XP-51B included these changes:

  • a Packard Merlin engine, instead of the Allison V-1710
  • a four-bladed propeller
  • stronger underwing racks
  • a strengthened airframe
  • a relocated carburetor air intake, from above to below the nose, as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd, www.ospreypublishing.com
  • an intercooler radiator
  • larger ducts and doors for the radiator system
  • a deeper scoop under the rear fuselage
  • removal of the nose-mounted guns - (see illustration above)

The USAAF, desperately needing a long-range bomber escort, contracted for 2200 P-51B's. North American geared up for Mustang production, moving the B-25 program to Kansas City, dedicating the Inglewood plant to the Mustang, and expanding the Dallas plant for the Mustang (Dallas-built versions of the -B model were designated P-51C). P-51B's began rolling out of Inglewood in May, 1943 eventually 1,990 of the -B models would be made. The first of 1,750 P-51C's produced at Dallas flew in August.

After production of the B/C model began, three more changes appeared:

  • an up-rated Packard Merlin engine, the 1650-7 replacing the 1650-3, for a small increase in HP
  • an 85 gallon fuel tank installed behind the pilot, giving critically longer reach, but moving the center of gravity aft, thus reducing directional stability until most of the fuel was consumed
  • the bulbous Malcolm hood, giving much better all-around visibility (a field modification), as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd, www.ospreypublishing.com

June '43 - A-36's with USAAF in MTO, Sicily

300 A-36A's (a variant of the Mustang known as "Apache" and "Invader") made a larger impact, when the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups began flying them. In June, 1943, the 27th BG flew missions against Pantelleria, in the build-up for the Sicily invasion. Dive bombing was a challenge, the recommended technique being a dive from 8,000 - 10,000 feet at 90 degrees, with dive brakes extended to keep speed below 400 MPH. At 3,000 feet, the pilot dropped two 500-pound bombs and pulled out at 1,500 feet. With this extended straight-in bomb run, they were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire.

German and Italian fighters engaged also engaged them. One A-36 pilot, Lt. Mike Russo of the 27th BG, made ace, the only man to do so while flying an Allison-powered Mustang. He counted four different types among his five aerial victories: two Fw-190's, a Bf-109, a Ju-52, and a Fieseler Storch.

The 27th and 86th were reduced to three squadrons each in September, due to the heavy losses they had incurred. As the Italian campaign progressed, they increasingly used strafing and glide bombing tactics, which reduced their losses to flak. In early 1944, both Groups transitioned to P-47's and turned over their A-36's for training.

The P-51 Mustang: The War-Bird that defeated the Luftwaffe

The heroic story of the P-51 Mustang has been told before. But it’s such a remarkable story that it bears retelling. No fighter plane in World War II had more impact on the outcome of the air war in Europe as the Mustang. No fighter plane can boast of the deeds that were perpetrated by the legendary Mustang.

The P-51 Mustang helped end the war and saved thousands of lives. The Mustang made it’s appearance late in World War II in early 1944, but proved to be the catalyst that the allies needed to out-class the Luftwaffe and end their air superiority in Europe.

What the allies were in desperate need of was a long-range fighter that had the horse-power and range to effectively protect bombers flying missions over Germany.

The original P-51 Mustang had some bugs and needed to be redesigned with a better engine, “The Packard-built version of the Rolls-Royce 12-cylinder Merlin engine” before it became a serious threat to German air might.

Flying Fortresses (B-17’s) and other Allied bombers had been easy victims for Axis “War Birds” until the arrival of the P-51 Mustang. Thunderbolts and Lightning’s had been the primary escorts up until this point, but with their limited range were unable to provide protection all the way to the target and back.

The P-51’s were hot-rod’s of the air in 1944 and were well-made and durable. They sported six Browning .50 mm machine guns, and could reach speeds of up to 440 mph at 30,000 feet.

The P-51 had been designed to have the performance of a fighter plane and the long-range capabilities of a bomber. The Mustangs were faster, could out-climb, and out-perform nearly any aircraft the Luftwaffe possessed including the Junkers, Me-110’s, FW-190’s, and even had remarkable success against the advanced twin-jet Messerschmitt 262s.

The P-51 became the conflict’s most deadly and notorious aircraft and met and conquered every German plane that Hermann Goring (Luftwaffe Supreme Commander) could put in the sky.

With the accomplishments of the Mustang, the Allies were not only able to hold their own and protect Flying Fortress( B-17‘s) and other bomber’s missions, but became aggressive and began penetrating deeper into German territory.

The P-52 Mustangs were the first single-engine plane in the U.K. to breach the heart of Germany and reach Berlin and the only fighter to purposely seek out and destroy Luftwaffe “War Birds.”

The Mustang pilots started leading daring raids on German airfields and destroying Luftwaffe planes on the ground. If the Luftwaffe wouldn’t come out and play, the Allied Aces were determined to track them down and eliminate them before they reached the sky.

With the security the Mustangs offered and with the almost complete decimation of the Luftwaffe’s air force, Allied bombers were free to annihilate Germanys manufacturing capabilities thus preventing them from replenishing their air force.

Once called, “The Most Aerodynamically Perfect Pursuit Plane in Existence” the P-51 Mustang took a major role in shortening the war in Europe and defeating the German Luftwaffe, and achieved a well deserved place in aviation war history.

Today, only a hand-full of original P-51 Mustangs exist and are mostly owned by private collectors, I am fortunate and have personally born witness to their graceful, fluid motions, and spectacular dives as they soared and dipped through the morning air at Reno’s world famous Championship Air Races, which are held in my hometown every September in Reno, Nevada.

20 Facts About The P-51 Mustang – The Best US Fighter of WWII

North American Aviation (NAA) built the P-51 Mustang in factories based in Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas.

P-51A Mustang during a test flight near the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California, United States, Oct 1942

It took them 102 days to build the engineering prototype. The NA-73X prototype first flew on October 26, 1940.

P-51 Mustang fighters being prepared for test flight, North American Aviation, Inglewood, California, United States, Oct 1942

The first Mustangs were the P-51As. They had Allison V-1710 single stage V-12 engines. On November 30, 1942, the Merlin-powered XP-51B fighter was test flown.

This model added speed and a ceiling above 40,000 feet. Flight tests confirmed the potential of the new model.

P-51 Mustang fighters at rest at an airfield in Burma, date unknown

The RAF were the first to use the P-51, beginning their use in January of 1942.

Starting in late 1943, the US Army Air Force Eighth Air Force used P-51B fighters to escort bombers on raids over Germany. They later supplemented with P-51D fighters, starting in mid-1944.

US pilot Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Older in the cockpit of a P-51D Mustang fighter, China, circa Feb-Mar 1945

P-51 Mustangs were used in both the Pacific and the European theaters. After WWII, more than 55 countries used the P-51 in their militaries.

P-51D Mustang aircraft ‘Tika IV’ of the US Army 361st Flight Group, Jul-Dec 1944

The “P” in P-51 stands for “Pursuit.” This was changed in 1948 to “F” for “Fighter.”

The most widely produced version of the P-51 was the P-51D, recognizable by its bubble canopy and Rolls Royce Merlin engine.

American ground crew preparing to arm P-51 Mustang fighter at an airfield with six M2 machine guns and 0.50 caliber ammunition, date unknown

The P-51D had six .50 caliber Browning machine guns holding 1,880 rounds (400 rounds in each gun and 270 rounds in each outboard.

They also carried 10 “zero rail” rockets under each wing and were equipped with bomb racks. Each plane could carry 1000 pounds of bombs.

P-51D of the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group shows off it distinctive red tail, probably at Ramitelli Airfield, Italy, 1944-45.

The P-51D with the Rolls Royce 1650-7-1221 specs are as follows:

  • 500 -1000 mile range with drop tanks
  • 1490 horsepower at takeoff
  • 438 mph – maximum speed at level flight
  • 10,800 pounds gross weight
  • 90 gallons of fuel in each wing
  • 60 gallons per hour fuel burn (per hour average)
  • 16,776 P-51 Mustangs produced in a variety of models.

It cost $50,000 to produce a P-51 in 1944. That equals about $673,000 in today’s dollars.

P-51B and P-51C Mustang fighters of the US Army Air Force 118th Tactical Recon Squadron at Laohwangping Airfield, Guizhou Province, China, Jun 1945

The Mustang was the first single-engine fighter in Britain with enough range to escort bombers to the heart of Germany and back. The bomber crew referred to the planes as their “Little Friends.”

P-51D Mustangs of the 4th Fighter Squadron in flight, Italy, 1944

275 P-51 pilots achieved Ace status. They shot down a total of 2116 enemy planes – an average of 7.69 per ace.

Mustang pilots shot down a total of 4,950 enemy aircraft during World War II

View from the control tower at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, UK, of P-51D Mustangs of the 360th Fighter Squadron in sandbag revetments, 1944.

Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was quoted as saying, “When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up.”

P-51 planes were deployed in the Far East later in 1944. They were used for close-support, escort, and photo reconnaissance missions.

The Iowa Beaut,’ a P-51B of the 354th Fighter Squadron flown over the English countryside by Lt Robert E Hulderman, mid-1944. A different pilot in this plane was lost near Rechtenbach, Germany, Sep 11, 1944

The Mustang was the primary fighter plane of the United Nations at the beginning of the Korean War. They were replaced with jet fighters, like the F-86, later on.

P-51 Mustang fighters of the US Army Air Force 375th Fighter Squadron flying in formation, Europe, 7 Jul-9 Aug 1944

The last Mustang was retired from service in the US Air Force in 1978. The last Mustang in foreign service was retired in 1984 by the Dominican Republic Air Force.

P-51D “Janie.”

Post-World War II and Korean War, many Mustangs were converted for civilian use. They were used in air racing and, increasingly, preserved as historic warplanes flown at air shows.

P-51 Gunfighter Colonel Larry Lumpkin (P-51 Gunfighter)

Gunfighter is one of the world’s most famous P-51 Mustangs, having appeared on the airshow circuit and providing rides for over 35 years. The aircraft is a P-51 "D" model, serial number 44-73264. Of the approximately 15,000 P-51s produced in WWII, over 8,000 were “D” models. Today, only about 150 airworthy examples of Mustangs exist world-wide in museums, flying or under restoration.

Gunfighter was built in the Inglewood, California North American plant and accepted into the USAAF in March, 1945. That month, it was shipped to England, where it was assigned to the famous 'Mighty Eighth' Air Force. In July of 1945, after the War ended in Europe, it was returned to the U.S. and assigned to Olmstead Field in Pennsylvania. In 1947 it was transferred to the Air National Guard and it thereafter served with units in Wyoming, New Mexico, Illinois and Kentucky. In 1956 it was declared surplus and sold on the civilian market.

?? Today, Gunfighter is operated by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The CAF is the largest operator of Historic Aircraft in the world with 160 aircraft and over 9,000 members. Gunfighter is restored in the colors of the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, USAAF. The 55th Fighter Group was the first American Air Corp unit to become operational in Europe, first to fly over Berlin and was one of the units that provided top cover over the Invasion Beaches at Normandy on "D-Day", June 6th, 1944.

Gunfighter is powered by a Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. It is rated at 1,490 HP and has a displacement of 1650 cubic inches. Top speed is over 400 mph and ceiling is 41,000 feet. Gunfighter has been modified to include a second seat where the original radio gear and fuselage fuel tank were located. This is a perfect vantage point to enjoy the ride of a lifetime in a P-51!

Without the generous support of our members and the public at large, Gunfighter would not be able to fly. If you would like information about becoming a member or want to make a donation please contact us!

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and other conflicts. The Mustang was designed in 1940 by North American Aviation (NAA) in response to a requirement of the British Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under license for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather than build an old design from another company, North American Aviation proposed the design and production of a more modern fighter.

North American P-51 Mustang

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 05/27/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The North American P-51 Mustang proved an invaluable addition to the Allied cause in the latter half of World War 2. The system was designed and flown in a matter of months and made such an impact that it could clearly be considered the war-winning design for the Allies. Mustangs primarily assisted in escorting bombers on long range sorties but were able to attack ground targets with bombs and machine guns and outperform any of the German fighters that were matched against it. The Mustang exuded "classic warbird" in every sense of the phrase and went on to be one of the most recognized piston engine fighters of all time.


The British RAF need for more Curtiss P-40 production fighters led them to consider North American Aviation's manufacturing capabilities. North American designers Edgar Schmued and Raymond Rice, seeing this as an opportunity to market a new fighter altogether, seized the moment and produced a design for British review. The design was accepted under a new 1940 specification which required a heavily-armed fighter of considerable speed with the capability to operate at high altitude - all this with a flying prototype to be made available within a 120 day window. Development ensued and inevitably produced the NA-73X prototype within the allotted timeframe (some sources state the aircraft was completed in just 102 days whilst others say as many as 117 days). The NA-73X took to the skies on October 26th, 1940 with its 1,100 horsepower Allison V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) inline engine and showed off its tremendous potential. The design was accepted by the British as the "Mustang" becoming an initial production model batch of 320 Mustang I's.

Mustang I's were first flown by British pilots on May 1, 1941 - these with 1,100 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 inline engines. As tactical reconnaissance platforms, these aircraft were modestly-armed with 4 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns. The type exhibited good response and its performance at low level was exemplary, outmatching even that of the fabled Spitfire Mark V's. Though the design proved quite functional, it was soon found that performance capabilities of the system dropped off significantly at altitudes higher than 15,000 feet. As a result, British Army Cooperation Squadrons were assigned the type and utilized them in both low-level reconnaissance and high-speed ground attack roles with its primary function being the former. The first Mustang I mission was accomplished on May 10th, 1942 with No. 26 Squadron. These Mustangs successfully strafed aircraft hangars at Berck sur Mer in German-held French territory. As more and more Mustangs became available, the aircraft would eventually field some 14 total Allied squadrons by the end of 1942 - 10 RAF, 3 RCAF and 1 Polish air group. Most early production Mustangs went to Britain as Mustang Mk.IA (4 x 20mm cannons) and Mustang Mk.II models, numbering some 620 total combined examples.

The USAAF (United States Army Air Forces) took notice of the aircraft and received two evaluation models (from the aforementioned British 620 order total) with the designation of XP-51. The type excelled in tests but the USAAF passed on an order commitment at the time. It was not until General Hap Arnold intervened that no fewer than 55 British-bound Mustangs were reserved for use in American service. These Mustangs became photo-reconnaissance models designated as F-6A and served with the 111th and 154th Observation Squadrons. These squadrons would be the first Mustang operators for the USAAF and see deployment to North Africa in early 1943.

Purchases of USAAF XP-51's full production models began with an initial block of 150 base model P-51's in March of 1942 (note that there was no model letter assigned to these). Aircraft were armed with 4 x 20mm cannons and were utilized for their inherently good low-level operational qualities thanks to their excellent airframes and under-performing Allison engines. These early-form Mustangs were utilized in the Southeast Asia Theater where most of their action took place at these optimal low altitudes.

The A-36A (known unofficially to some as "Invader") represented a dedicated ground-attack / dive-bomber version of the P-51 and was ordered by the USAAF in April of 1942. The aircraft were armed with 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns, with two to a wing and two in the upper nose portion of the fuselage. Underwing bomb racks also complimented the offensive punch. The system - with their Allison engines - first flew in September of 1942, production eventually totaling some 500 examples. A-36As were assigned to the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups (Dive) and the first A-36A models were put into action in June of 1943. The 311th Fighter Bomber Group stationed in India also took deliveries of the type.

P-51 base models were similar to these attack aircraft and were also utilized in the low-level ground attack role, though these were built with 4 x 20mm Hispano-Suiza long-barrel cannons instead of machine guns and underwing bomb shackles for bombs. The similar P-51A models represented a total of 310 examples and were fitted with 4 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns instead of cannons.

Despite its usefulness as a low-level intruder, the Mustang had not lived to the high-altitude specifications originally laid out in the 1940 British requirement. As such, Britain and the United States individually began testing the airframe out with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine common to the superb Supermarine Spitfire (along with a new four-blade propeller). Results of these tests yielded tremendous performance gains to the extent that the Mustang was clocked at 441 miles per hour at nearly 30,000 feet -100 miles per hour faster than the preceding Mustang production models could ever hope to achieve. These new Merlin-powered Mustangs emerged as the Mustang Mk.III (RAF use), P-51B and the P-51C (the major difference for the American models being in place of origin - P-51B's were constructed at the Inglewood, California plant whilst the P-51C's at facilities in Dallas, Texas). Deliveries began to the 354th Fighter Group in December of 1943. Reconnaissance versions of the P-51C's were appropriately designated as F-6C models.

Having the benefit of seeing design work and production through an on-going war, changes relayed from pilots with operational experience of Mustangs could easily be incorporated in future Mustang models. Such was the result with the development of the P-51D, the most definitive in the Mustang series as a whole - inevitably giving the Mustang its classic warbird appearance. Visibility out of the "razorback", framed cockpit was noted as inadequate for the rigors of dogfighting. This was addressed with the implementation of the "tear drop" canopy (sometimes referred to as the "Bubble-Top" or "Bubble" canopy) and instantly allowed for near 360 degrees of visual awareness from the cockpit. With the loss of the razorback upper portion of the fuselage, the fuselage itself was cut down at the rear. Armament now increased to 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy caliber air-cooled machine guns (three guns to a wing) with an improved and simplified ammunition feed system to help iron out a consistent jamming issue. The P-51D incorporated the new K-14 gunsight as well, in an effort to help improve gunnery accuracy. Power was derived from the Packard-produced Merlin inline engine of 1,590 horsepower. P-51D models were produced in two major batches as P-51D-NA of which 6,502 were produced from Block 1 through Block 30 with the new bubble canopy and the P-51D-NT of which 1,454 examples were produced from Block 5 through Block 30 with 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns. The P-51D also existed as a 2-seat dual-control trainer and numbered 10 examples in the form of the TP-51D-NT (TP-51D-NT). A reconnaissance platform existed as the F-6D. RAF P-51D models were Mustang Mk.IV's.

The XP-51F (the P-51E designation was reserved but never used) was produced in three examples as a "lightened" light weight test model. This led to two of the aircraft being fitted with a new engine and becoming the XP-51G. Ultimately, both of these designs led to the P-51H production model.

The P-51H (P-51H-NA) appeared as a "lightened" Mustang - proving some 1,000lbs lighter than the P-51D - and improved the overall top overall speed an astounding 487 miles per hour. This particular model never saw combat due to the end of the war, though production of the type had begun before the cessation of hostilities, totaling 555 examples. Two examples of the XP-51J model followed, these based on the XP-51F with a new engine.

The P-51K (P-51K-NT), of which 1,337 were produced, represented an "improved" D-model and fitted with an Aeroproducts propeller. Production of this model encompassed Blocks 1 through 15. A reconnaissance version of this model existed in the F-6K.

P-51L (P-51L-NA) became a single example model and represented an "improved" H-model with a new engine. Similarly, the P-51M (P-51M-NT) existed as one example based on the H-model and fitted with a different engine.

Australia became just the second Mustang producer, building the aircraft under license in the late 1940's. These Mustangs were designated simply as Mustang Mk.20, Mustang Mk.21, Mustang Mk.22, Mustang Mk.23 and Mustang Mk.24.

The type did, in one other Mustang form, fight on in Korea - this becoming the F-82 Twin Mustang. The system melded two P-51 airframes to one wing assembly with 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns mounted in the center wing chord. A rectangular tailplane joined the two airframes at the rear. Each Mustang fuselage retained its respective cockpit positions with dual controls with a pilot manning the primary portside cockpit and a pilot / navigator in the starboard cockpit. The Twin Mustang concept originated in 1943 with the design being acted on in January of 1944. The system was intended for use as a long-range escort fighter in the Pacific Theater during World War 2 but the end of the war canceled the initial order of 500, leaving just 20 operational production models complete. 1947 brought about renewed interest in the design, this time as a night-fighter and the system went into production once more, just in time for use in the Korean War.

Production of all 15,469 Mustangs was completed in 1946. With the creation of the USAF in 1948, all remaining P-51 Mustangs in American service now became F-51's - the "P" for "Pursuit" dropped in favor of "F" for "Fighter". The F-51 soldiered on in the newfound air force branch though the type was slowly being relegated to supportive roles behind the new-fangled jets arriving on the scene. A limited production run of Mustangs occurred in 1967, creating a turboprop-powered variant for use in the counter-insurgency role.

Despite utilizing a traditional design approach consistent with the times, the P-51 Mustang developed a distinct look about itself by the time the design was finalized in the classic P-51D model. Early-form Mustangs were fitted with a "razorback"-type fuselage just aft of the cockpit. Couple this with the framed canopy and one can imagine vision out of the cockpit a little obstructed especially when viewing to the rear. The introduction of the bubble canopy naturally changed all this, but also shortened the fuselage somewhat to compensate.

Overall, the P-51 exhibited a clean and sleek design approach thanks to its choice of in-line engine. The pilot sat at the center of the design, just above and aft of the low monoplane straight-wing assembly. The distinct air scoop was positioned to the rear and below the pilot, giving the Mustang series its distinct look while eliminating drag in the process. All wing edges were relatively straight cuts and this design mentality continued on through the horizontal and vertical edges of the empennage. The wings themselves were of a new advanced laminar-flow design and housed the potent heavy armament. Internally, the engine coolant components were strategically placed just below and behind the pilots seating position, a deviation from traditional aircraft fighter construction philosophy. The undercarriage was consistent with the times, with two main single-wheeled landing gears recessing into the wing-root / lower fuselage and a retractable tail wheel.

Armament varied throughout the life of the Mustang. Initial versions were fitted with 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns - two in the nose and four in the wings. A battery of 4 x 20mm cannons, which made it ideal in the ground attack role, or the lighter armament load of 4 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns (two to a wing) for tactical reconnaissance were also alternatives. Eventually, the legendary D-models would introduce the potent array of 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns (three to a wing) with a simplified feed mechanism to cut down on weapon jamming. Underwing bomb racks and rocket pylons increased potency of the platform as well. These could be deleted in favor of fuel drop tanks for improved range on those long bomber escort sorties.

The cockpit of the P-51 was regarded as comfortable for smaller pilots and ergonomically-designed overall. Some American pilots found its European-designed origins obvious when their shoulders could touch both sides of the cockpit at the same time. The instrument panel was regarded as well thought-out with all major gauges readily apparent on the large flat main panel. The K-14A (beginning with the D-models) dominated a good portion of the top forward viewing with its noticeable "No Hand Hold" message staring back at the pilot. The control column was a simple cylindrical form with a pistol grip at the top, this adorned with a red gun button. The flap control lever was activated from a low-set position within easy reach. The throttle control was a thick cylindrical shape positioned to the natural left of the pilot, leaving his right hand free to concentrate on the aircraft control column. Fuel controls were set between the pilots legs, just forward of the control column. Views forward, to the side and above were generally good through the original framed canopy but improved substantially with the addition of the tear drop canopy. As a whole, the attention given to the P-51's cockpit design made it a good fighter to be in on those long range escort trips. Its tight fit made for a perfect melding of man and machine.

Operational Service

In their first action, A-36As struck at targets on the island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea. These aircraft were called upon to undergo a variety of sortie types including strafing runs, bomber escort and bombing runs. Despite its low-altitude effectiveness, new model Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and newer P-51 Mustangs eventually overtook this role from the A-36 series thanks to the addition of underwing bomb racks, formidable machine gun firepower and better performance at low altitudes.

RAF use saw the Mustangs utilized in ground attack and escort sorties. Mustangs could now escort strike aircraft into German held territories and support the low-level strikes by keeping German fighters at bay. Their utilization against German anti-shipping groups in Norway eventually took their toll on enemy forces, keeping Allied shipping lanes open for another day. At least 31 RAF (Royal Air Force) and RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) squadrons were dedicated to the Mustang aircraft.

Unescorted daylight bombing raids deep into German-held territories were producing disastrous results for American warplanners of the USAAF. German interceptors knew the approximate range of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and Lockheed P-38 Lightning escort fighters and simply waited for the aircraft to return home to refuel, leaving the bomber formations at the mercy of the bothersome German Messerschmitt BF-109 and Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighters. Bomber formations tried to adapt by flying special "box" formations to bring their machine gun arcs to a more productive bear but losses continued to mount to the point that daylight bombing raids had to be suspended for a time.

The arrival of the Mustang, with its speed, firepower and - most importantly - its range, soon brought the daylight bombing raid element back to the forefront. The introduction of drop tanks improved fuel and range of these little aircraft and allowed them to reach distances well past Berlin itself (drop tanks inevitably improved the range of all other American escort fighters as well). It cannot be understated the effect that the introduction of the P-51 must of had on the war, particularly the D-models. The aircraft, for all intents and purposes, single-handedly changed the course of the war in Europe - at least in the air. The closest performing German aircraft produced in any quantity was the Fw 190, an aircraft to which famed American aviator Chuck Yeager himself admitted as being the P-51's closest rival, but not matching it outright.

With the amendments in the P-51D models in tow, the aircraft was fielded for the first time in the Europe Theater in early 1944. Instantly, the D-models were pressed into service as bomber escort fighters, fighter-bombers and reconnaissance platforms wherever they could be used. P-51D Mustangs took over the aerial playing field and created lopsided advantages when squaring off against her German-produced contemporaries. The tide of the air war in Europe had officially shifted and the end of Germany's Third Reich was now in sight.

While success of the D-models in Europe unfolded, P-51D's eventually found their way into the Pacific and South East Theaters by late 1944. The primary role of P-51's in the Pacific became escorting the new, high-flying, long-range B-29 Superfortresses on their way to Japan and back. Mustangs fought on all fronts throughout the end of the war in 1945.

Issues in the Dutch East Indies in 1946 forced the Dutch to eventually disperse from their colony, leaving P-51D and P-51K models to the Indonesian Air Force. Incredibly, these Mustangs would be in operational service up until the 1970's. Israel became another post-war combat operator of the Mustang, using it in anger during their 1948 War of Independence and, later, in the 1956 Arab-Israeli War.

The Korean War brought about a clash of aviation eras as the infant jet age was thrust into the aviation world once dominated by piston-engine aircraft. Like other World War 2-era airframes, the now "F-51" Mustang was thrown into the combat mix and would see action in the early and middle years of the conflict until replaced in quantity by more capable jet-powered types. Despite their age, their proven effectiveness at ground attack and long-range qualities made Mustangs a favored component of inland strikes - positions that were beyond the reach of the fuel-thirsty new jet fighters such as the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Mustangs in service with Australia, South Africa and South Korea all played roles in this early period and even scored several air-to-air kills in the process. With the arrival of the capable F-86 Sabre jets -particularly the F-86F fighter-bomber in 1953 - the role of the Mustang was all but over in the war. F-82 "Twin Mustangs" went on to play an equally vital night-fighter and all-weather attack role across the peninsula and was credited with the first USAF air victory in the war (a Yakovlev Yak-9).

American F-51 Mustangs flew up until 1957 with Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units before being completely removed from service. Thankfully, the aircraft still exists as a prize for aviation collectors and remains a favorite at air shows across the globe.

The impressive reach of the P-51 - both in performance and in the sheer number of operators - surely says a lot about the class of this aircraft. The Mustang exceeded all specifications and allowed for a definitive shift in the direction of the air war over Europe, forcing Germany to lose all hope of ever recovering her air support. The P-51 served with at least 55 operators across the globe and was in operational service even into the 1970's - well into the jet age - and produced in excess of 15,000+ units. At any rate, the P-51 was as important to the Allied cause in the later years of World War 2 as the Supermarine Spitfire was in the early years, making her one of the most important and successful fighter aircraft platforms of all time. Her involvement in other global wars - from the Korean War to the Middle East and beyond - sure was a testament to both aircraft and pilot.

Watch the video: P-51 Mustang Warbirds of World War II Series (July 2022).


  1. Samushicage

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  2. Guzahn

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  3. Kinney

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  4. Aenescumb

    the excellent answer is brave :)

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