The North American P-51 Mustang was a single engined, long rage fighter/escort that was used also as a single engine bomber during World War II.
In the early days of the Korean conflict, the P-51 Mustang was the primary fighter in the United Nations arsenal. Then came the jet fighter age and the P-51 was used in a utility role such as recon aircraft, night fighter and other specialty roles.
Today, the P-51 is a favorite not only with air racing pilots and but a favorite with aviation enthusiasts.
The list of airworthy Mustangs is dwindling due to age and the high cost of keeping them flying, but there are many available for viewing at your local museum.
Design and Deverlopment
In early 1940, Britain was involved in World War II with Germany. The “Battle of Britain” was on and the British need a fighter to compete with the Luftwaffe aircraft.
Most of the United States military aircraft, at the time, were substandard and the only competent fighter was the P-40 Warhawk, but it was in short supply as the Curtis Aircraft Company was working around the clock to supply the U.S. military (The great American arsenal had not gone into full swing until after December 7, 1941).
Thus North American Aviation, at the request of the British government, built from an original design the (NA73X) in 1940. It originally used an Allison V-1710 engine which proved to be rather inadequate at altitudes above 15,000.
The British replaced the Allison with a Rolls Royce Merlin inline engine that exceeded the abilities of most of the Luftwaffe aircraft.
In later years, the Packard V-1650-7 a U.S. licensed engine version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 two stage, two speed super-charged engine that proved to be the best engine ever made for the P-51.
This version came out in 1944 as did the P-51D. The “D” had 6/50 caliber M2/AN Browning machine guns.
In the pre-war strategy, the American military looked at large 4-engine bombers flying in a tight formation, assuming the combined fire power of the bombers machine guns would withstand any enemy opposition.
This turned out not to be the case as large bomber losses occurred from German interceptors like the ME-109 and Focke Wulf WF-190 as well as flack.
The military first looked to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning which was fast and deadly. However it had one major flaw, it did not perform well at high altitudes. This was where all the fighting was going on. Later in the war the P-38 overcame this flaw and proved a formidable fighter.
The United States Army Air Corp then turned to North American Aviation for the definitive long range fighter. The British had already had North American develop the NA-73X in 1940. The prototype became the P-51 Mustang.
This is what the U.S. military needed a long range escort fighter that could handle anything the Luftwaffe currently had until the German jets-ME 242, and others were developed.
When the British first acquired the P-51 Mustang, the original Allison engine was totally inadequate above 15,000 feet.
But Rolls Royce came to the rescue with a Merlin 61, two speed, two staged inter-cooled engine that already was used in the Spitfire.
The cruise speed went from 390 mph to 440 mph. Now the Mustang could perform at altitudes of over 41,000 feet.
Just as the P-51A had poor performance at higher altitudes, the German FW-190 was near useless at the bombers altitude while the Messerschmidt Bf-109G did well at high altitudes, but it’s air frame was too light and thin that the P-51 did quick work on both of these interceptors.
Inspite of the P-51 superiority, military strategy played the most import part of the air war When the P-51 started escorting the bombers to and back from their targets, they stayed in formation with the bombers.
The Luftwaffe would assemble “a line of fighters/(interceptors )” and attack in a single sweep thus trapping the bombers and P-51 escorts.
The Mustangs could not react quick enough to defend the bombers. When Major General Jimmy Doolittle took over the 8th AF in February 1944, he developed a plan of “fighter sweep” of his own.
This plan was to send the escort P-51 ahead of the bombers and attack the assembling Luftwaffe when they were most vulnerable.
This plan proved successful until the German military devised a code named “Company Front” plan where 8 of the most devastating interceptors flew abreast into the bomber formation destroying nearly everything in sight.
So it was the American turn to counter this effect. The P-51s were assigned to destroy Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground. At first the escorts returning after the bomber raid would strafe the German airfields.
Later on, P-51 squadrons were assigned to attack the airfields only. This resulted in a lot fewer Luftwaffe aircraft in the skies. This was the beginning of victory in the air war over Europe for the Allies.
Mustangs on Display
Here is a list of countries that have P-51 Mustangs on display:
Australia – Canada – China – Dominican Republic – France – Germany – Indonesia – Israel – Italy – Mexico – Netherlands – New Zealand – Philippines – South Korea – Sweden – Switzerland – South Africa -United Kingdom – Venezuela.
Check with you local air museum on the P-51 Mustang.
In the United States, here is a partial list of places to see a Mustang:
Ferocious Frankie Museum of Aviation Warner Robins GA.
Wham Bam Charleston ANGB West Virginia.
Bad Angel Pima Air & Space Museum Tucson AZ.
Bunnie San Diego Aerospace Museum San Diego, CA
Derailer Battleship Memorial Park mobile, AL
Miss Judy Yanks Air Museum Chino, CA
Willit Run? National Air and Space Museum Washington DC
Second Fiddle Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum Cleveland OH
Even today there are several P-51s still flying. Some are used in air races, others give aviation enthusiasts ‘air rides” at a healthy price. It certainly is worth it for anyone that has opportunity to get a ride in the Mustang.
I treasure the memory of a event that occurred back in the “sixties” when an acquaintance of mine offered to give me a ride in a P-51D.
We took off from Van Nuys airport in California and flew out over the ocean, buzzing several sail boats, flying up a beautiful canyon and climaxing with a couple of loops and barrel rolls.
What a flight that was!
The final comments I will leave you with is the unanswered question that leads to many debates with aviation buffs. What was the best American fighter of World Was II ? The candidates are:
- F4U Corsair
- P-38 Lighting
- P-51 Mustang
I don’t think there can be a conclusive answer as each had its’ own special qualities and mission assignments.
But the debate will go on for many more years I suppose. I have covered the F4U and P-51. In the near future, I plan to review the P-38. So stay tune.
TECH SPECS for the P-51 MUSTANG
Wing Span: 37 ft 1 in
Length: 32 ft 3 in
Height: 13 ft 1 in
Weight: 9,200 lbs (MTOW)*
Max Speed: 437 mph/Cruise 362 mp
Ceiling: 41,900 ft
Range: 1,650 miles w/external tanks.
Engine: 1 Packard Merlin V1650-7 2 stage, 2 speed inter-cooled supercharger rated at 1,490 HP (Licensed by Rolls Royce).
*Maximum Take-Off Weight
THANKS FOR READING! I HOPE THIS WAS INFORMATIVE!