|North American Aviation
|26 October 1940
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseWhen 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.
ww2dbaseIt 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.
ww2dbaseThe 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.
ww2dbaseThe first combat action the Mustang fighters participated took place on 10 May 1942, when RAF pilots flew them against German counterparts.
ww2dbaseIn 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.
ww2dbaseThe 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.
ww2dbaseTwo 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.
ww2dbaseBy 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.
ww2dbaseThe 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.
ww2dbaseAfter 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.
ww2dbaseAfter 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.
ww2dbaseMustang 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.
ww2dbaseIn 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.
Robert Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets
Last Major Revision: Sep 2007
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, with an order at the size of US$130,000,000 being placed. The first Packard-built Merlin engine, designated V-1650-1, would be ready in Aug 1941.
|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.
|23 Mar 1944
|Loaded with 204 US Army personnel as passengers, 12 P-47 Thunderbolts, and 50 P-51 Mustangs, escort carrier USS Card departed Staten Island Army Base, New York bound for Casablanca, French Morocco.
|23 Apr 1944
|With fleet carrier USS Ranger loaded with 76 US Army P-38 Lightning aircraft and escort carrier USS Card loaded with 100 US Army P-51 Mustang fighters and 204 US Army personnel, both ships, along with their escorts, departed New York bound for Casablanca in French Morocco.
|2 Jun 1944
|US suttle-bombing between Italy and the USSR (Operation Frantic) began. Under command of Lieutenant General Ira C Eaker, 130 B-17s, escorted by 70 P-51s, bombed the railway marshalling yard at Debreczen (Debrecen), Hungary and landed in the Soviet Union; the B-17s at Poltava and Myrhorod, the P-51s at Pyriatyn. 1 B-17 was lost over the target.
|6 Jun 1944
|Operation Frantic shuttle bombing continued as 104 B-17s and 42 P-51s (having flown to the USSR from Italy on 2 Jun) attacked the airfield at GalaÈ›i, Romania and returned to Soviet shuttle bases; 8 German fighters were shot down and 2 P-51s were lost.
|11 Jun 1944
|126 B-17s and 60 P-51s departed Russian shuttle bases for Italy to complete the first Operation Frantic operation. On the way, 121 B-17s bombed the FocÅŸani, Romania airfield.
|21 Jun 1944
|145 B-17s began an Operation Frantic shuttle bombing mission between the United Kingdom and bases in Ukraine. 72 P-38s, 38 P-47s and 57 P-51s escorted the bombers to the target, the synthetic oil plant at Ruhland, Germany. 123 B-17s bombed the primary target while the rest bombed secondary targets. The fighter escort returned to England while fighters based at Pyriatyn, Ukraine relieved them. 1 B-17 was lost to unknown causes and 144 B-17s landed in the USSR, 73 at Poltava and the rest at Myrhorod. During the night, the 73 B-17s at Poltava were attacked for 2 hours by an estimated 75 German bombers led by aircraft dropping flares. 47 B-17s were destroyed and most of the rest were severely damaged. Heavy damage was also suffered by the stores of fuel, ammunition, and ordinance.
|22 Jun 1944
|Because of the attack on Operation Frantic B-17s at Poltava, Ukraine the night before, the B-17s at Myrhorod and P-51s at Pyriatyn were moved farther east to be returned before departing to bases in Italy once the weather permitted. The move was fortunate as German bombers struck both Pyriatyn and Myrhorod during the night.
|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.
|25 Jun 1944
|At daybreak, B-17s and P-51s were flown from dispersal bases to Poltava and Myrhorod and loaded and fueled with intentions of bombing the oil refinery at Drohobycz (Drohobych), Poland before proceeding to bases in Italy as part of Operation Franticâ€™s shuttle-bombing plan. Bad weather canceled the mission until the following day. The aircraft returned to dispersal bases for the night as precaution against air attacks.
|26 Jun 1944
|72 B-17s departed Poltava and Myrhorod, Ukraine, rendezvoused with 55 P-51s from Pyriatyn, bombed the oil refinery and railway marshalling yard at Drohobycz (Drohobych), Poland (1 returned to the USSR because of mechanical trouble), and then proceeded to Italy as part of Operation Franticâ€™s shuttle-bombing plan.
|2 Jul 1944
|41 P-51s, temporarily in Italy while en route from the USSR to the UK during an Operation Frantic shuttle mission, joined Fifteenth Air Force fighters in escorting Fifteenth Air Force bombers against targets in the Budapest, Hungary area, claiming 9 aircraft destroyed and suffering 4 losses.
|3 Jul 1944
|55 B-17s in Italy on the return leg of an Operation Frantic shuttle mission join Fifteenth Air Force bombers in bombing railway marshalling yards at Arad, Romania. 38 P-51s also on the shuttle run flew escort on the mission. All Operation Frantic aircraft returned to bases in Italy.
|5 Jul 1944
|70 B-17s on an Operation Frantic shuttle mission (UK-USSR-Italy-UK) flew from bases in Italy and attacked the railway marshalling yard at Beziers, France (along with Fifteenth Air Force B-24s) while on the last leg from Italy to the United Kingdom. 42 P-51s returned to England with the B-17s (of the 11 P-51s remaining in Italy, 10 returned to England the following day and the last several days later).
|22 Jul 1944
|76 P-38s and 58 P-51s began the second of the Fifteenth Air Forceâ€™s Operation Frantic shuttle missions, attacking airfields at ZiliÅŸtea (ZiliÅŸteanca) and BuzÄƒu, Romania (claiming the destruction of 56 enemy aircraft) and landing at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
|26 Jul 1944
|Fifteenth Air Force fighters on an Operation Frantic shuttle mission leave Ukraine bases, strafed enemy aircraft in the Bucharest-PloeÅŸti, Romania area, and returned to bases in Italy.
|4 Aug 1944
|In an attempt to comply with the first direct Soviet request for USAAF air strikes, over 70 P-38s and P-51s left Italy, attacked the airfield and town of FocÅŸani, Romania, and landed at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
|6 Aug 1944
|In an Operation Frantic mission, 75 B-17s from England bombed aircraft factories at Gdynia and Rahmel, Poland and flew on to bases in Ukraine. 23 B-17s were damaged. Escort was provided by 154 P-51s. 4 P-51s were lost and 1 was damaged beyond repair. Further, 60 fighters from the previous dayâ€™s strike took off from Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine, attacked Craiova railway marshalling yard and other railway targets in the Bucharest-Ploesti, Romania area, and landed at bases in Italy.
|7 Aug 1944
|In accordance with a Soviet request, 55 B-17s and 29 P-51s of the USAAF involved in Operation Frantic flew from bases in Ukraine and attacked an oil refinery at Trzebinia, Poland without loss and returned to Operation Frantic bases in the USSR.
|8 Aug 1944
|Operation Frantic shuttle missions continued as 78 B-17s with 55 P-51s as escort left bases in Ukraine and bombed airfields in Romania; 38 bombed BuzÄƒu and 35 bombed ZiliÅŸtea. No German fighters were encountered and the force flew on to Italy.
|10 Aug 1944
|45 P-51s in Italy during an Operation Frantic shuttle mission are dispatched with Fifteenth Air Force aircraft to escort a troop carrier evacuation mission.
|12 Aug 1944
|The Operation Frantic shuttle-bombing mission UK-USSR-Italy-UK is completed. 72 B-17s took off from bases in Italy and bombed the Toulouse-Francazal Airfield, France before flying on to England. 62 P-51s (part of the shuttle-mission force) and 43 from the UK provide escort; no aircraft are lost.
|11 Sep 1944
|75 B-17s of Operation Frantic shuttle missions left England as part of a larger raid to oil refineries at Chemnitz along with 64 P-51s that continued on and landed in Ukraine.
|13 Sep 1944
|73 B-17s, escorted by 63 P-51s, continuing the Operation Frantic UK-USSR-Italy-UK shuttle-bombing mission, took off from Ukraine bases, bombed a steel and armament works at DiÃ³sgyÅ‘r, Hungary and proceeded to Fifteenth Air Force bases in Italy.
|15 Sep 1944
|As part of Operation Frantic, 110 B-17s were dispatched from England to drop supplies to Warsaw resistance fighters and then proceed to bases in the USSR but a weather front was encountered over the North Sea and the bombers were recalled. Escort is provided by 149 P-51s and 2 P-51s collided in a cloud and were lost.
|17 Sep 1944
|An Operation Frantic UK-USSR-Italy-UK shuttle mission was completed as 72 B-17s and 59 P-51s fly without bombs from Italy to England.
|22 Sep 1944
|The last Operation Frantic mission ended as 84 B-17s and 51 P-51s return to England from Italy.
|22 Jul 1945
|P-51 Mustangs flying from Iwo Jima made a fighter sweep of southern Japan. One fighter was badly damaged and the pilot had to bail out 15 miles off the Japanese coast. His parachute was seen from the lifeguard submarine USS Silversides who picked up the pilot, 2Lt James Hinkle, uninjured.
|One Packard Merlin V-1650-7 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 1,695hp
|6x12.7mm machine guns, optional 907kg of bombs or optional 10x127mm rockets
|Rate of Climb
|One Packard Merlin V-1650-9 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 2,218hp
|4x12.7mm Browning machine guns or 6x12.7mm Browning machine guns
|Rate of Climb
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