North American P-51 Mustang facts – scale model aircraft plans & drawingsPosted in: World War II Aviation | Wednesday January 16, 2013
Tags: aircraft profiles, fighter, Military Aircraft 1939-1945, USA
North American P-51 Mustang historical facts
Created as a private-venture project by a company that was not officially recognized in its own country as worthy of designing fighter aircraft, the North American P-51 Mustang grew out of Britain’s overwhelming need for large quantities of modern high-performance fighters in the early stages of the Second World War. It was not, as incorrectly claimed by many published source, the product of a British requirement or specification. Rather, it was one of the very few successful warplanes in history that was conceived without an official specification ever being raised before its creation. Indeed, it was born as the result of amicable and unofficial negotiations between North American’s company officials and British government representatives in the USA.
In 1940, The British Purchasing Commission (in the U.S.) wanted North American (NAA) of Inglewood, CA, to build the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk under license. NAA Engineers had been researching a new fighter design that would overcome some of the notorious deficiencies of the designs used early in the war. The design would also incorporate a new aerodynamic feature: the lamina-flow wing.
In 120 days, NAA built a prototype that used the same 1,100hp Allison V-1710-F3R engine then being used in the P-40. The first flight of the NA-73 (the company-funded prototype with civil registration NX19998) was made on October 25, 1940. Production models with British-specified armament of six .303-caliber guns were flying in May 1941. NAA had originally called it the “Apache,” but this was soon changed to “Mustang”. The initial British contract was for 320 North American P-51 Mustang Is, and this was soon increased by another 300.
Two similar aircraft were evaluated by the US Army as XP-51s, after which one hundred and fifty P-51s were ordered for Lend-Lease to the RAF as Mustang IAs. In the event, fifty-five of these were repossessed by the USAAF and converted to F-6A photo-reconnaissance aircraft, while two others became XP-78s (later XP-51Bs) when fitted in 1942 with Packard-built Merlin engines. (This followed similar British experiments with Merlin 60 series engines fitted in four Mustang Is.) The Merlin was to become the Mustang‘s standard powerplant on both sides of the Atlantic.
The U.S. Army wasn’t particularly interested in the new design, but it did direct that the fourth and tenth production Mustang Is be tested by the Army as “XP-51”. The 150 supplied to Britain as “Mustang IA” under Lend-Lease with four 20mm cannon were designated “P-51” though their armament and other details differed from the XP-51. These carried both U.S. Army and British serial numbers.
The first Army order to NAA was for 500 examples of an odd type – an Allison-engined, single-seat dive-bomber variant designated “A-36A.” This had dive-brakes, racks for two 500-pound bombs and an armament of six .50-caliber machine guns (four in the wings and two in the lower nose). The engine was the 1,325hp Allison V-1710-87.
The RAF received fifty P-51As (Mustang II), and thirty-five others were converted to F6Bs. The A-36A was briefly named Invader (and the P-51 named Apache), but the British name Mustang was later adopted for all P-51 variants. One A-36A was evaluated by the RAF, but no production aircraft were received. First Merlin-engined production models were the P-51B and P-51C (RAF Mustang III), the combined US production of which totalled three thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight. The nine hundred and ten supplied to the RAF were fitted with bulged cockpit hoods to improve visibility. Ninety-one US conversions of P-51B/C Mustangs into F-6Cs were carried out. A major design change appeared with the P-51D, in which the rear fuselage was cut down to permit the fitting of a ‘teardrop’ cockpit canopy affording all-round vision. Production totalled nine thousand two hundred and ninety-three of this model and the basically similar P-51K. Eight hundred and sevent-ysix became Mustang IVs with the RAF, and two hundred and ninety-nine became reconnaissance F-6Ds or F-6Ks. Next production model was the P-51H, five hundred and fifty-five of which were completed in 1945 before outstanding contracts for more than another three thousand Mustangs were cancelled at the war’s end.
The A-36A first flew in 1942, and production models took part in the invasion of North Africa and Sicily. The dive-bombing tactic, however, was soon abandoned, and the dive brakes were wired shut.
Total production was 15.586 North American P-51 Mustang aircraft. Mustang and P-51 variants served mainly in Europe, their prime mission being the almost incredible one of flying all the way from British bases tot target of the 8th AF deep in Germany – Berlin or beyond – escorting heavies and gradually establishing Allied air superiority over the heart of Germany.
North American P-51 Mustang saw service far beyond WW II. Two models (F-51B and F-51K) equipped active operational forces until 1951. Moreover, two other types of the redesignated P-51 (F-51D and F-51H) were flown by Air Reserve and Air National Guard units for several more years.
The F-51 was one of the first USAF fighters to participate in the Korean War, arriving in the fall of 1950. Twenty-two ANG units also served there, flying combat F-51s and their reconnaissance counterparts (RF-51Ds and RF-51Ks). The obsolete and tired F-51 finally withdrew from combat on 26 January 1953. The ANG retired its last propeller-drive F-51s in 1957.
The North American P-51 Mustang was one of the greatest and most versatile fighters ever built, and a firm favourite with all who flew it; as the British journal The Aeroplane commented in July 1942: ’Pilots who fly the Mustang praise it so lavishly that they exhaust their superlatives before they have finished their eulogies.’
North American P-51 Mustang operational history
The RAF Service
On 10 May 1942 (a number of source claim that it was on 5 May) a low-level armed reconnaissance in the area of Berck on the northern French coast to the south of Boulogne was flown by a single P-51 Mustang Mk I of 26 Sqn from Gatwick. Its pilot, Fg Off G.N. Dawson, thus began what was to become the Mustang‘s illustrious combat career. On this first-ever operational North American P-51 Mustang sortie Dawson ‘beat-up’ Berck airfield and fired at a goods train before returning safely to Gatwick.
This initial P-51 Mustang combat operation had come several months after the Mustang had entered squadron service, but the comparative lethargy with which the North American P-51 Mustang was committed to combat illustrated the fact that at that time there was no immediate need to hurry the aircraft into action. Rather, the Mustangs mixed working-up and exercises with army units, and well into the Mustang‘s combat service these joint air-ground exercises continued to be rotated with operational flying. They gave valuable training in the developing use of air and ground assets in a much more combined way that allowed both to work effectively together, a factor that would be very important in the later stages of World War Two, following the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. One of the most important of the e was a major exercise codenamed Spartan, which took place in East Anglia in March 1943.
After several weeks of comparatively limited but increasingly widespread operations, the real blooding for the RAF’s P-51 Mustang squadrons came with the abortive Dieppe operation in August 1942. Codenamed Operation Jubilee, the amphibious landing by a combined Allied force on the French coast at Dieppe on 19 August 1942 were a complete shamble, resulting in considerable loss of life. Although valuable lessons were learned for future operations, this sort of ‘reconnaissance in force’ was not tried again. The Dieppe operation also saw the first really widespread use of the North American P-51 Mustang in strength. Specifically supporting the landings were four P-51 Mustang squadrons that had been drawn into a new organization within ACC ,a wing comprising several squadron based at the same airfield. Number 35 Wing included 26,239,400 and 414 Sqns and was based at Gatwick. Of course, many other Allied air asset were involved in the Dieppe operation, including a considerable number of fighters and medium bombers, but the Mustangs were tasked with reconnaissance of German position and deployments in and around the Dieppe area, plus the support, where practical, of the Allied forces on the ground and landing areas. In performing these tasks the Mustangs encountered considerable anti-aircraft fire from the ground, and a number of combats took place with German fighters. During the course of seventy-two sorties that day no fewer than nine Mustangs were shot down, including five from 26 Sqn and one Canadian operated aircraft. The day’s operations marked the real combat debut for 35 Wing’s Canadian squadron. However, there was one piece of good news. During the Dieppe operation the North American P-51 Mustang reached a very significant milestone. An American volunteer flying with 414 Sqn RCAF, Fg Off Hollis Hills, claimed an Fw 190 in the vicinity of Dieppe, the very first enemy aircraft to be shot down by a P-51 Mustang. It would certainly not be the last.
In the following months the TacR ACC Mustangs gradually widened their operations as the aircraft’s true potential became apparent. At the time of Dieppe some fifteen squadrons were either operational or working-up on the North American P-51 Mustang, and eventually at least twenty-one RAF/RCAF squadrons flew the Allison-engined P-51 Mustang, either as their primary equipment or for a short time while transitioning on to another type. The scope of North American P-51 Mustang sorties grew to encompass considerably increased front-line use, and name were given to specific type of operations. Among the best known, and at the time quite widely publicized, were ‘Rhubarbs’, comparatively small-scale but often effective tactical operations generally flown in bad weather against targets of opportunity. There were many targets in occupied northern France that were suitable for attack, including German road transport, railways, airfields and the whole range of small-scale German military installations and individual target spread across Normandy and beyond. In this role the Mustangs excelled, their eight-gun armament being effective against a wide variety of light targets. There were also ‘Circus’ operations to escort light bombers or other fighter-bomber; ‘Ramrods’, which refined the Circus into a specific attack against a designated target; ‘Ranger ” in which two P-51 Mustangs worked together in low-altitude attacks against targets of opportunity; ‘Lagoon’ operations against shipping off the Dutch coast; ‘Popular’ which were low-altitude photographic reconnaissance (PR) operations, usually in coastal regions; ‘Haunch’ sorties directed against German aerial efforts using converted Junkers Ju 52/3m minesweepers to detonate Allied-sown magnetic mines; and general fighter ‘Sweeps’. Some of these were specifically planned in advance and often aimed at encouraging the Luftwaffe to engage in battle, as the RAF carried out the long process of chipping away at the enemy’s strength and effectiveness over northwest Europe. North American P-51 Mustangs were also tasked on occasion with the very necessary fighter role of trying to combat fast, low-flying Luftwaffe fighter-bombers that were mounting often destructive raid against towns along the south coast of England during 1942 and well into 1943. Much of this activity was carried out under the umbrella of the RAF Fighter Command, as it was somewhat different from the work assigned to ACC.
There is an oft-repeated and interesting story about the long-range capabilities of the Allison-engined RAF Mustangs. The first Polish-manned squadron to operate the Allison-powered P-51 Mustang was 309Sqn, which started to convert to the Mustang in June 1942. A pilot from this squadron, Flt Lt J. Lewkowicz, performed a remarkable long-distance flight on 27 September 1942 from the unit’s base at Dalcross near Inverness in Scotland, across the North Sea to Norway and back. While over Norway he attacked some enemy positions near Stavanger. The round trip was some 700 miles (1,125km), which was a proof, if any was needed, of the Mustang‘s exceptional range capabilities. Indeed, on 21 October 1942 an armed reconnaissance was flown by 268 Sqn to the Dortmund-Ems Canal in the northern Ruhr area of Germany, the first time that British-based fighter had been able to perform an effective round-trip into German airspace in strength from British bases. Such flight illustrated the Mustang‘s exceptional range capabilities, a source of growing concern to the Germans, and the type’s range of operational tasks gradually increased. Indeed, trial were carried out at Boscombe Down and at various weapons ranges in Britain to increase the Mustang‘s offensive capabilities. One installation saw Mk 1 AG357 fitted with very cumbersome, drag-producing rocket rails in test to determine if the North American P-51 Mustang was a suitable platform for rocket projectiles (RPs). That particular installation was not used by the Mk I in combat, and neither was an equally burdensome installation tried on Mk 1AMI06, comprising a 40 mm Vickers ‘S’ gun mounted beneath each wing. A much more bizarre experiment, however, was carried out with Mustang Mk I AG386, which was fitted with a Maclaren ‘drift undercarriage’. This strange concept allowed the angle of the aircraft’s wheel to be adjustable, depending on the amount of crosswind at the airfield on which it was trying to land, so that even if th aircraft was ‘crabbing’ at an angle on its approach to compensate for the crosswind, the aircraft’s wheels would still be in line with the runway. Needless to say, this mechanically-complicated and rather unsafe concept never entered production on any aircraft type.
The RAF’s Allison-engined Mustang did not score a large number of air-to-air victories, and combats with enemy aircraft were often not their assigned role. Nevertheless, a number of pilot succeeded in achieving aerial victories, and during the Allison Mustang period the three Canadian squadrons, according to Canadian sources, scored 24.5 aerial victories.
The RAF Mustang force began to undergo a number of changes during 1943. One of the last RAF squadrons to receive Mustangs did so in May 1943, this being 14 Sqn in the Middle East, although the Mustang’s service with that unit was brief. As the Mk II Mustang started to make good some of the attrition of the original Mk Is, the overall organization of the RAF Mustang squadrons in England underwent some major changes. On 1 June 1943 the ACC was disbanded. Henceforth, RAF a sets were increasingly developed for what was hoped would be a successful invasion of continental Europe. Thereafter, the RAF’s Mustang squadrons were largely split between Nos 3 and 4 Groups. The former included the RCAF’s No. 39 (Reconnaissance) Wing, with 400 Sqn at Redhill in Surrey and 414 and 430 Sqns at Gatwick. The Wing’s fourth squadron, 231 Sqn RAF, flew from Redhill. However, a number of the RAF’s squadrons were relinquishing the Mustang altogether and moving on to other types.
Many of the remaining Mustangs were very war-weary by the end of the war, and were among the oldest and longest-lived aircraft within the RAF’s front-line inventory at that time. Nevertheless, the Allison-engined Mustang had proved to be a great success at low level for the British and Commonwealth squadrons that had flown it over northwest Europe, and the type had certainly played a very important role in the RAF’s operations from 1942 onwards.
However, this was not quite the whole story of the British use of these early Mustangs. Allison-engined Mustangs also operated with British forces in another theatre of the war, albeit in very small numbers. This was in the Mediterranean and southern Europe, where some examples served briefly with British units.
The USAF Service
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