North American P-51 Mustang
North American P-51 Mustang History
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. 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 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 Specifications|
|wingspan: 37 ft|
|length: 32 ft, 2 in|
|height: 13 ft, 8 in|
|empty: 7,125 lb|
|gross: 11,600 lb|
|1 × 1,590 hp Packard V-1650 liquid-cooled engine|
|maximum speed: 437 mph|
|ceiling: 41,900 ft|
|maximum range: 2,080 mi|
|6 × 0.50 in calibre machine guns|
|1,000 lb of bombs or rockets|
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