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North American P-51 Mustang

The P-51 Mustang is the most famous fighter from WWII, the best high-altitude, long-range fighter used by the U.S. Army Air Forces.

North American P-51 named 'Alp Girl' takes off from an airfield on Iwo Jima, 1945
North American P-51 named "Alp Girl" takes off from an airfield on Iwo Jima, 1945.

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3 Nov 1943 US 8th Air Force stages 500 bomber raid that heavily damages Wilhelmshafen harbor, Germany.
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North American P-51 Mustang in World War II

The P-51 Mustang served in virtually every theater of WW II, where it performed vital duties in photo reconnaissance, ground assaults, and bomber escort.

P-51 pilots destroyed seven enemy aircraft for every P-51 lost. By the end of the war, P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in Europe. Between 1941 and 1945, Army Air Forces ordered 14,885 Mustangs (including F-6A photo reconnaissance and A-36A dive bomber models).

North American P-51 Mustang Models and Production History

The British asked North American Aviation to build the Curtiss P-40 under license for the Royal Air Force in the late 1930s. North American countered with an offer to design a better fighter. In just 117 days in 1940, they developed the NA-73X with an Allison engine. The prototype was completed in early August and first flew on 26 October 1940. Production began in 1941, with the British calling the resulting aircraft the Mustang I.

The Army Air Forces obtained two Mustang I planes under the designation XP-51. But despite good performance in flight tests, the AAF did not order the Mustang immediately. With the intervention of General Hap Arnold, however, the AAF acquired 55 Mustangs from a British order. These planes became F-6A photo-reconnaissance aircraft, joining the 154th and 111th Observation Squadrons in North Africa in early 1943. The Allison-powered Mustangs were limited to photo reconnaissance and ground support because of their low service ceiling.

Improvements and refinements to the Mustang continued throughout the war, leading to the following models:

Model P51-A

The AAF accepted the first production P-51A fighters in March 1942. The Allison engine continued to impose limitations on the Mustang, so the planes were used primarily in the China-Burma-India theater, where combat mostly took place at lower altitudes.

Model A-36 Apache

The AAF ordered an attack version of the Mustang equipped with bomb racks for two 500 lb. bombs, dive brakes, and six .50 M2 Browning machine guns in April 1942. Designated the A-36 Apache, these aircraft, totaling 500 in number, entered combat in June 1943, serving in the Mediterranean Theater of Operation (MTO) as well as India.

Model P51-B and P-51C

The Allison engine was replaced with the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine as an experiment in 1942. The first test of the prototype, designated the XP-51B, flew on 30 November 1942. The new engine greatly improved the speed and service ceiling of the aircraft, with one test achieving 441 mph at 29,800 feet. Armament was also changed: the nose-mounted machine guns were eliminated, and the number of wing-mounted .50 cal. machine guns was reduced to four. A self-sealing fuel tank behind the pilot's seat was added to increase the Mustang's range, though when full, the tank altered the plane's center of gravity, which required pilots to limit their maneuvers until the fuel tank had about 25 gallons left in it.

The new Mustang quickly went into mass production. Aircraft built by North American in Inglewood, CA were given the "B" designation, and those built in Dallas, TX, a "C" designation. P-51Bs with the Merlin engine entered combat in Europe in December 1943, providing escort to the B-17 bombers and B-24 bombers.

Model P-51D

The Mustang underwent more improvements, including a new bubble-top canopy to replace the razorback design in earlier models. The new K-14 gunsight was added, and the number of machine guns increased from four to six. The wing racks were strengthened to carry up to 1,000 lbs. of ordnance, and later versions of the P51-D had removable pylons that could carry up to ten T64 5.0 in. HVAR rockets. The P-51D arrived in Europe in the spring of 1944, where it replaced the P-47 Thunderbolt as the AAF's primary long-range escort fighter.

The P-51D also served as a reconnaissance plane and fighter-bomber. Its outstanding flight characteristics and armaments made it virtually invincible against the German Luftwaffe. In the Pacific theater, P-51s arrived in late 1944, where they escorted B-29 bombers to Japan from Iwo Jima and undertook low-level fighter-bomber missions against ground targets in Japan. A total of 7,956 P-51Ds were built.

Model P-51H

North American Aviation continued to improve the Mustang based on experience with the existing models, and developed the P-51H late in the war. The new V-1650-9 Merlin engine was used, the fuselage was lengthened, and the tailfin height increased. This model could fly 50 mph faster than the P-51D. The P51-H was intended to work with the P-47N in the invasion of Japan. However, the war ended before it could reach frontline units.

North American P-51 Mustang Characteristics

ArmamentSix .50 cal. forward-firing machine guns; 10 5-in. rockets
Bomb load2,000 lbs.
EnginePackard-built Rolls Royce 1,695 hp Merlin V-1650
Maximum speed437 mph
Cruising speed275 mph
Range1000 mi
Ceiling41,900 ft.
Span37 ft.
Length32 ft. 3 in.
Height13 ft. 8 in.
Weight12,1000 lbs. maximum

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the P-51 Mustang variant, manufacturing site, and date.

Flight of North American P-51 Mustangs
Flight of North American P-51 Mustangs.

North American P-51 Mustang
North American P-51 Mustang.

Flight of North American P-51 Mustangs
Flight of North American P-51 Mustangs.

North American P-51 Mustang
North American P-51 Mustang.

North American P-51D-25 (S/N 44-73157)
North American P-51D-25 (S/N 44-73157).

North American P-51B in maintenance, S/N 42-106923, 'Daddy's Pet', 357th Fighter Group
North American P-51B in maintenance, S/N 42-106923, "Daddy's Pet", 357th Fighter Group.

North American XP-51 cockpit
North American XP-51 cockpit.

Recommended Books about the North American P-51 Mustang

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