P-51 Mustang

US long-range escort fighter plane

P-51 D Mustangs of the 8th Air Force

A fine picture of P-51 D Mustangs of the 8th Air Force 361st Fighter Group, based at Bottisham but soon headed for a base in France (St Dizier). Furthest from the camera is a P-51 B.

North American P-51 Mustang
Type:
Long-range escort fighter.

History

P-51 B Mustang

A P-51 B Mustang from the final batches in the very first production block in early 1943, still in olive drab and with red-bordered insignia.

Many claims have been made for the P-51 Mustang: that it was the best combat aircraft of the WW2, that it marked the transition from the piston-engined to the jet fighter, and that it was the type that gave the Allies final supremacy in the skies. The truth is perhaps slightly obscured by all these assertions. The P-51 was the product of two advanced technologies. The American aircraft industry, in 117 days, designed an airframe that was extremely advanced in structure and aerodynamics. The British engine industry, with its outstanding Rolls-Royce Merlin, provided the ideal complement. The P-51 Mustang would not have become immortal without the British engine, which had already made the Supermarine Spitfire famous.
A total of 15,469 P-51 Mustangs were built. The type destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in air combat and 4,131 on the ground in the course of 213,873 missions in Europe alone. P-51s also saw duty with the U.S.A.F. during the Korean War, and they served in the air forces of some twenty other countries. A few Mustangs are still flying in private hands today, notably the pilots of the U.S. Unlimited air-racing circuit.

In April 1940 the visiting British Purchasing Commission suggested to North American that Curtiss P-40 fighters be built under licence for the R.A.F. The president of North American, J. H. ‘Dutch’ Kindelberger, was not enthusiastic. He said that his company could produce a fighter that was even better than the P-40 on the power of the same engine, the V-12 Allison V-1710. The British accepted the proposal but made it a condition that the prototype be ready in no more than 120 days because the situation in Europe was extremely serious. Two North American designers, Raymond Rice and Edgar Schmued, got to work at once. The resulting prototype, the NA- 73X, was ready three days ahead of schedule, albeit without an engine and with wheels borrowed from an AT-6 trainer. The first flight took place on October 26, 1940. The aircraft had exceptionally pure lines and its performance was outstanding, with a top speed about 25 mph (40 km/h) greater than that of the Curtiss P-40.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Government had approved the R.A.F. order for 320 aircraft, provided that the U.S.A.A.C. was supplied with two examples for testing. The first production Mustang, which took to the air on May 1, 1941, remained at North American for technical evaluation. The second reached Britain in November and was officially designated the Mustang Mk. I. These aircraft, considered by the R.A.F. to be far superior to any other American fighter, were put into service in April 1942 in the tactical reconnaissance role. At the same time the British ordered another 300 which differed only in equipment and armament.

Despite its brilliant performance in flight tests with the U.S.A.A.C., only 50 Mustangs were ordered, for photo­reconnaissance duties. Subsequently, however, 500 of the A-36A dive­bomber version were ordered. These aircraft were delivered between September 1942 and March 1943. Another order was received für 310 P-51 As, deliveries of which began in the spring of 1943. However, the Mustang’s best days were still to come. The idea that led to the realisation of the type’s full potential came to British and American engineers almost simultaneously. The R.A.F. gave Rolls-Royce four Mustangs for testing with the Merlin 61 engine. In the United States, meanwhile, two airframes were sent to North American for testing with the Merlin that the Packard company built und licence, the V-1650-3. Thus, in September 1942, the P-51 B prototype came about.

Only minor changes were made to the forward fuselage to accommodate the new engine, but performance was spectacularly improved. The new aircraft could reach a speed of 440 mph (710 km/h) at 30,000ft (9,000m), climbing to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) in five minutes 54 seconds. This was a remarkable improvement on the P51 A’s top speed of 390mph (628km/h) at 20,000 ft and more than nine minutes time to height.
The type went into mass production in the summer of 1943, being built at the Inglewood factory as the P-51 B (1,988 aircraft) and in the new Dallas plant as the P-51C (1,750 aircraft). Britain received about 1,000, designating them Mustang Mk.III. The first P-51 B commenced operations with the 8th Air Force in England on December 1.

The following spring saw the appearance of the main production model, the P-51 D. The R.A.F. had experimented with its Mustang Mk.III to improve the visibility from the cockpit. A frameless bubble canopy, the Malcolm (named after its inventor), was introduced. North American also tackled the problem, cutting down the fuselage decking behind the cockpit, adding to the vertical tail surface to make up for the loss of keel area, and fitting a teardrop-shaped, fully transparent canopy. A total of 7,966 P-51 Ds were built. This, variant was powered by a 1,700 hp engine and had a top speed of 437 mph (703 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,620m). The fastest Mustang, however, was the next version, the P-51 H, which took part in the final operations against the Japanese and had a top speed of 490 mph (784 km/h) at 25,000 ft. A total of 555 Hs were built.

Users: Australia, Canada, China, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, Soviet Union, Sweden, UK (RAF), USA (AAC/AAF).


Pictures of P-51 Mustang


Data for North American P-51 D Mustang

Technical data
North American P-51 D Mustang data
Type long-range escort fighter
Power plant one Packard V-1650-7 (licence-built R-R Merlin 61-series) with 1,590hp
Accommodation 1
Wing span 37 ft 0 1/2 in
Length overall 32 ft 2 1/2 in
Height overall 13 ft 8 in
Weight empty 7,125 lb
Weight maximum loaded 11,600 lb
Max level speed 437 mph
initial climb 3,475 ft/min
Service ceiling 41,900 ft
Range combat range 950 miles, operational range with drop_tanks 1,300 miles, absolute range to dry_tanks 2,080 miles
Armament
North American P-51 D Mustang data
in wings six 0.5in Browning M3 with 270 or 400 rounds each [1100 rpm, velocity 2500 ft.sec, bullet weight 1,71 Oz.]
external load wing racks for tanks or two 1,000lb bombs
Service statistics
North American P-51 D Mustang data
First flight (prototype) 26 October 1940, with Merlin engine 13 October 1942, XP51-D November 1943
Service delivery May 1941 (P-51A), late 1943 (P-51D)
First long-range escort operation 13 December 1943 (45 P-51B/C to Kiel)
P-51D combat missions in quantity from March 1944
Final delivery November 1945 (P-51H)
Unit cost $ 50,895
Total production figure 15,686 (of this 7,966 P-51D)
No. of Sorties in Europe 42-45 213,873
Bomb Tonnage in Europe 42-45 5,668 ts
US Lost in Combat in Europe 42-45 2,520
Enemies claimed Destroyed in air, Europe 42-45 4,950
Enemies claimed Destroyed on ground, Europe 42-45 4,131

Animated 3D model of P-51 D Mustang


Call of War
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