The Best American Fighter Of World War Two – The P-51 Mustang

 
 
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The P-51 Mustang Fighter, a North American Aviation, is one of the most iconic fighters / fighter-bombers that is single-seated and was used during World War 2. In total over 15,000 of these were manufactured.

The Mustang was designed originally to be used with the Allison V-1710 engine – making it a very good aircraft. When the B & C models were made of the P-51, they added a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and this completely transformed its performance at high altitude (15,000+ feet) which meant it matched or even bettered that of the Luftwaffe’s fighter jets.

The final version of the P-51 was the P-51D, and this was powered by yet another engine, the Packard V-1650-7, and was fully armed with .50 caliber M2 machine guns (6 in total on each jet).

From late in 1943 P-51’s were used to escort bombers in raids over occupied Europe and over Germany, all the way to Berlin. The P-51’s with the Merlin engines were also used as fighter-bombers which made sure that the Allied ruled supreme in the air in 1944.

1. Built in Texas & California

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

2. Prototype

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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.

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.

3. First Use

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

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.

4. They were everywhere

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

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.

5. The P stands for

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

6. Model D

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

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

7. Ordnance

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.

8. Rockets

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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

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

9. Specs

A USAAF armorer of the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, 15th U.S. Air Force checks ammunition belts of the 12.7 mm machine guns in the wings of a North American P-51B Mustang in Italy, ca. September 1944.

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.

10. Building one

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

11. All the way

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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.”

12. Aces

North American P-51D Mustangs of the 335th Fighter Squadron, 1944

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

13. Kills

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

14. The jig was up

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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.”

15. The Far East

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

16. Korean War

F-51 Mustang, laden with bombs and rockets, taxis through a puddle at an airbase in Korea.

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.

17. Conjoined twins

The last piston-engined fighter that was ordered into production was the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. Unfortunately, the war ended before development of this long-range escort had finished and they never saw active service.

18. Last one

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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.

19. Civilian use

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P-51D “Janie.” – War History Online

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.