Mustang file photo

P-51 Mustang

CountryUnited States
ManufacturerNorth American Aviation
Primary RoleFighter
Maiden Flight26 October 1940

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

When North American Aviation President "Dutch" Kindleberger approached Sir Henry Self of the British Supply Committee for the sale of the B-25 Mitchell bombers in 1939, Self responded with a more urgent need for fighters. Self initially asked if North American could produce the Curtiss Tomahawk fighters under license, but Kindleberger responded negatively. Instead, he promised, North American was to deliver a better design, and in less time than what the company would need to gear a new production line for the manufacturing of the Tomahawk design. By Mar 1940, the British ordered 320 of the new Mustang fighters. On 26 Jun 1940, production was expanded when Packard was given a license to build the design with a different, Rolls-Royce Merlin, engine.

It would be interesting to note that, initially, the United States Army Air Corps disliked the new design. Not only that it did not show any interest in purchasing aircraft of this design, it also attempted to block the export to Britain based on its protectionist philosophy. Relieved that USAAC eventually abandoned its effort to lobby against the export, North American promised that two examples would be given to the US Army at no cost. These two examples would be the first to carry the US Army designation P-51.

The first prototype, designated NA-73X, took flight on 26 Oct 1940, merely 117 days after the order was placed. It handled well, and most significantly, offered a long range with its high fuel load. It also had room to house heavier armament than the British Spitfire fighters. The first design suffered some performance drawbacks at high altitudes, but otherwise it still impressed RAF Air Fighter Development Unit's commanding officer.

The first combat action the Mustang fighters participated took place on 10 May 1942, when RAF pilots flew them against German counterparts.

In early 1943, a new Mustang design went into production. Designated Mustang X during prototype stages and P-51B and P-51C Mustang III after production began, these P-51 Mustang fighters equipped with Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 engines had much better performance in high altitudes, something the prior variants lacked. One improvement that had longer lasting effect was the possibility of a drop tank in these Merlin-equipped fighters, which provided the Allies candidates for long-range bomber escorts. Many of these new fighters began arriving in Britain in Aug 1943, while fewer numbers went to Italy late that year. By late 1943, they were the favored fighters to escort bombers on bombing missions deep into Germany. Their high speed also allowed them to pursue German V-1 rockets.

The next stage of development resulted in the P-51D variant, which was considered the definitive Mustang model; bubble canopies that provided much greater field of vision and six M2 machine guns were the key characteristics of the P-51D fighters. When they first saw combat over Europe, gunners of US bombers were unfamiliar with their appearance, and there were incidents of bombers firing at their escorting "enemy Bf 109 fighters". By mid-1944, regardless of US Army's initial dislike for this design a few years prior, they quickly became the United States Army Air Forces' primary fighters. While their armament, reliability, and self-sealing tanks were all favorable attributes, the characteristic that the USAAF leadership liked most was the P-51 Mustang fighters' long range, allowing them to escort heavy bombers deep into Germany. The P-51D variant would also become the most widely produced variant of the Mustang design. By the end of 1944, 14 out of the 15 groups of the US Army 8th Air Force flew Mustang fighters of various variants. American pilot Chuck Yeager of later test pilot fame flew a P-51D Mustang fighter at this time, skillfully shooting down a German Me 262 jet fighter during its landing approach, making him the first American to shoot down a German jet fighter.

Two American pilots flying P-51 fighters were awarded the Medal of Honor during WW2, Major James H. Howard of the 354th Fighter Group for action over Germany on 11 Jan 1944 and Major William A. Shomo of the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron for action over the Philippine Islands on 11 Jan 1945.

By late 1944, P-51 Mustang fighters were seen in the China-Burma-India Theater as well. They operated in both ground support and bomber escort roles.

The P-51H variant entered production just before the end of the war, yielding 555 of the fastest production Mustang fighters built, but none of them saw combat during WW2. Because of the lower availability of spare parts, most P-51H fighters would not see much action even during the Korean conflict, unlike their P-51B, C, and D siblings.

After WW2, P-51 Mustang fighters were selected as the main propeller-driven fighter of the US Army Air Forces, but the advent of jet fighters had already eclipsed the design. Nevertheless, they remained in service in 30 countries around the world, and remained in production in the form of a license-built variant by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia until 1948. By 1950, most of the American P-51 fighters, now designated F-51 under a new designation system in the US, were relegated to Air National Guard units. During the Korean War, many F-51 fighters were used as tactical ground attack aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft, particularly of the F-51D variant. After the Chinese-North Korean push that nearly conquered all of South Korea, F-51 Mustang fighters could actually reach targets that their jet counterparts could not.

After the Korean War, the United States continued to employ Mustang aircraft until 1957, then again after 1967 with Mustang aircraft built by Cavalier Air Corporation, which had purchased the design rights from North American in the early 1960s. The last US military use of the F-51 aircraft was in 1968, when the US Army used them as chase aircraft during the development of the YAH-56 Cheyenne helicopter. Many of them continued to be in service abroad, with the Dominican Republic Air Force being the last to retire them, in 1984.

Mustang aircraft were sold to the civilian market as early as immediately after WW2, some for as little as US$1,500. Many of them entered air racing, such as the P-51C aircraft purchased by Paul Mantz, who won the Bendix Air Races in 1946 and 1947 and set a US coast-to-coast record in 1947. Today, Mustang aircraft are among the most sought after "warbird" aircraft on the civilian market, with some transactions exceeding US$1,000,000.

In total, 15,875 units were built, making the P-51 Mustang design the second most-built aircraft in the United States after the P-47 Thunderbolt.

Sources:
Robert Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets
Wikipedia

P-51 Mustang Timeline

26 Jun 1940 Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, United States received the license from Rolls-Royce to build Merlin engines for the P-51 Mustang fighters.
26 Oct 1940 The P-51 Mustang fighter, NA-73X, took its maiden flight.
10 May 1942 P-51 Mustang fighters saw combat for the first time with RAF pilots in the cockpits.
23 Nov 1943 The USAAF commenced operations with the new P-51A fighter in Asia when eight P-51 fighters from Claire Chennault's 23rd Fighter Group escorted B-25 Mitchell bombers in an attack on the Japanese airfield in Shinchiku Prefecture (now Hsinchu), Taiwan.
1 Dec 1943 US IX Fighter Command aircraft began operations from the United Kingdom when 28 P-51B fighters flew a sweep over north-western France. The mission also marked the debut of the Merlin-powered Mustang fighter in USAAF service.
25 Jun 1944 Following a visit to British No. 617 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in England, United Kingdom by USAAF Generals Carl Spaatz and James Doolittle, a crated Mustang fighter was delivered as a gift from the United States to Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire. Cheshire wanted to use it that evening for a raid on the V-bomb site at Siracourt, France, and his mechanics worked all day removing the grease and the guns. One hour after the Lancaster bombers had taken off Cheshire followed in the Mustang fighter (which type he had never flown before) and he arrived in time to mark the target at low level for the heavy bombers.

SPECIFICATIONS

P-51D
MachineryOne Packard Merlin V-1650-7 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 1,695hp
Armament6x12.7mm machine guns, optional 907kg of bombs or optional 10x127mm rockets
Crew1
Span11.28 m
Length9.83 m
Height4.17 m
Wing Area21.83 m˛
Weight, Empty3,465 kg
Weight, Loaded4,175 kg
Weight, Maximum5,490 kg
Speed, Maximum703 km/h
Speed, Cruising580 km/h
Rate of Climb16.30 m/s
Service Ceiling12,770 m
Range, Maximum2,655 km

P-51H
MachineryOne Packard Merlin V-1650-9 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 2,218hp
Armament4x12.7mm Browning machine guns or 6x12.7mm Browning machine guns
Crew1
Span9.83 m
Length11.28 m
Height3.38 m
Wing Area21.83 m˛
Weight, Empty3,195 kg
Weight, Loaded4,310 kg
Weight, Maximum5,215 kg
Speed, Maximum784 km/h
Rate of Climb16.30 m/s
Service Ceiling12,680 m
Range, Maximum1,865 km

Photographs

XP-51 prototype aircraft, circa late 1940 or early 1941British Mustang X fighter AM203 at rest, 1942P-51 Mustang fighter under construction, North American Aviation plant, Los Angeles, California, United States, circa 1942P-51A Mustang fighter in flight, viewed from the top, Oct 1940-May 1942
See all 110 photographs of P-51 Mustang Fighter



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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    14 May 2007 10:36:01 PM

    Nice, the Tankbuster.
  2. Hobilar says:
    11 Sep 2007 11:49:14 PM

    As mentioned above the first
    prototype was wheeled out of the factory after 117 days. It had no engine and the wheels had been borrowed from a Trainer, but the factory had beaten the construction deadline.
  3. Alan says:
    2 Feb 2008 02:38:46 AM

    The first British Squadron to receive the Mustang was No.2 Squadron RAF. Fitted with the F.24 camera the Mustangs were initially employed on Photographic Reconnaissance missions commencing on the 27th July 1942. The pilots were given strict instructions not to get involved in combat with enemy aircraft but to take their photographs and then use their superior speed to escape.

    The first Kill was achieved on the 19th of August 1942 when Pilot Officer Hollis H. Hills of No. 414 squadron Royal Canadian Air Force shot down a German Focke-Wolf FW190.

  4. BILL says:
    11 Mar 2009 03:29:50 PM

    The British named the P-51 "THE MUSTANG"
  5. Anonymous says:
    20 May 2010 08:54:55 AM

    add clips
  6. Alan says:
    15 Jan 2012 08:40:16 AM

    A common legend is that North American aviation created the P-51 from scratch in lightning time. In actual fact North American’s Vice President Lee Attwood had, for several months, been working with the Curtiss Company alongside Curtiss designer Don Berlin on a sleek fighter project designated XP-46.

    Whilst the P-51 would ultimately share very little with the Curtiss design, North American (with no previous fighter experience) gained much useful knowledge from this collaboration. Some 78,000 engineering hours and 127 days went into building the first NA-73X prototype which, when first wheeled out of the factory had no engine and wheels borrowed from a trainer.

    NA-73X made just five test flights and, on the last, a new Test Pilot, Paul Balfour, on his familiarisation flight managed to crash the aircraft by switching off the fuel feed to the engine at a critical moment. NA-73X was rebuilt and continued to operate as part of the initial development programme flown initially by Paul Balfour and later by Bob Chilton.

    The USAAC initially lacked interest in the new fighter, but the British Purchasing Committee’s order would ensure the survival of the project.
  7. Old Crow says:
    9 Jan 2013 07:54:24 AM

    Very excellent information. My grandfather would be pleased to see this if he was still here today....
  8. Anonymous says:
    25 Jan 2014 05:29:43 PM

    Packard was given a license to build the Merlin engine NOT THE P51 MUSTANG. North American Aviation built the Mustang..Where did that info come from??? P51 Mustang time line Geez get it right..
  9. C. Peter Chen says:
    26 Jan 2014 06:54:50 AM

    To Anonymous of 25 Jan 2014: Thank you, this error has been corrected.
  10. Anonymous says:
    12 Oct 2014 04:42:33 AM

    ...time line for the introduction of the Merlin
    Mustang began in late 1942 not as described. The appearance of the FW190 from August 1941 and its superiority over the MkV Spitfire focused Rolls Royce's resources to developments that saw the emergence of the MkIX Spitfire with the Merlin series 60 engine, which restored air parity/superiority. This shortage of the Merlin 61 (60 series, later to become the Packard variant that went in the Mustang P51D) meant that engines were unavailable for the conversions planned for the 5 Allison engined Mustangs sent down to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, work championed by RR test pilot Ronald Harker....The earlier licensed Packard Merlin's were not manufactured for the Mustang but for the P40F...fyi you have acknowledged errors in your 'story' but as yet do not appear to have made the changes to your text....

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XP-51 prototype aircraft, circa late 1940 or early 1941
See all 110 photographs of P-51 Mustang Fighter



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