North American P-51 Mustang

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range single-seat World War II fighter aircraft. The P-51 was in service with Allied air forces in Europe and also saw limited service against the Japanese in the Pacific War. Designed and built in just 117 days, the Mustang first flew in Royal Air Force (RAF) service as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft before conversion to a bomber escort, employed in raids over Germany, helping ensure Allied air superiority from early 1944. As well as being economical to produce, the Mustang was a fast, well-made, and highly durable aircraft. The definitive version, the P-51D, was powered by the Packard V-1650, a two-stage two-speed supercharged version of the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was armed with six .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns.

The Mustang's performance, although exceptional up to 15,000 ft (4,600 m), was markedly reduced at higher altitudes. The single-speed, single-stage supercharger fitted to the Allison V-1710 engine had been designed to produce its maximum power at a low altitude. Above 15,000 feet, the supercharger's critical altitude rating, the power dropped off rapidly.

In April 1942, the RAF's Air Fighting Development Unit tested the Mustang and found its performance inadequate at higher altitudes. As such, it was to be used to replace the Tomahawk in Army Cooperation Command squadrons, but the commanding officer was so impressed with its maneuverability and low-altitude speeds that he invited Ronnie Harker from Rolls-Royce's Flight Test establishment to fly it. Rolls-Royce engineers rapidly realized that equipping the Mustang with a Merlin 61 engine with its two-speed two-stage supercharger would substantially improve performance and started converting five aircraft as the Mustang Mk X.

The numerical superiority of the USAAF fighters, superb flying characteristics of the P-51 and pilot proficiency helped cripple the Luftwaffe's fighter force. As a result, the fighter threat to US, and later British bombers, was greatly diminished by July 1944. Reichmarshal Hermann Göring, commander of the German Luftwaffe during the war, was quoted as saying, "When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up."

By 8 May 1945, the 8th, 9th and 15th Air Forces' P-51 groups claimed some 4,950 aircraft shot down, the most claimed by any Allied fighter in air-to-air combat, and 4,131 destroyed on the ground. Losses were about 2,520 aircraft. One of these groups, the 8th Air Force's 4th Fighter Group, was the overall top-scoring fighter group in Europe, with 1,016 enemy aircraft claimed destroyed. This included 550 claimed in aerial combat and 466 on the ground.

In aerial combat, the top-scoring P-51 units were the 357th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force with 595 air-to-air combat victories, and the Ninth Air Force's 354th Fighter Group with 701, which made it the top scoring outfit in aerial combat of all fighter groups of any type. Martin Bowman reports that in the European Theater of Operations, Mustangs flew 213,873 sorties and lost 2,520 aircraft to all causes. The top Mustang ace was the USAAF's George Preddy, whose tally stood at 27.5, 24 scored with the P-51 when he was shot down and killed by friendly fire on Christmas Day 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. The P-51s were deployed in the Far East later in 1944, operating in close-support and escort missions as well as for tactical photo reconnaissance.

The Mustang began the Korean War as the United Nations' main fighter, but was relegated to a ground attack role when superseded by jet fighters early in the conflict. Nevertheless, it remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s.

After World War II and the Korean War, many Mustangs were converted for civilian use, especially air racing.

General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)
  • Wingspan: 37 ft 0 in (11.28 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 4½ in
  • Wing area: 235 ft² (21.83 m²)
  • Empty weight: 7,635 lb (3,465 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 9,200 lb (4,175 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 12,100 lb (5,490 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Packard V-1650-7 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12, 1,490 hp
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0163
  • Drag area: 3.80 ft² (0.35 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 5.83

  • Maximum speed: 437 mph (703 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
  • Cruise speed: 362 mph (580 km/h)
  • Stall speed: 100 mph (160 km/h)
  • Range: 1,650 mi (2,755 km) with external tanks
  • Service ceiling: 41,900 ft (12,800 m)
  • Rate of climb: 3,200 ft/min (16.3 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 39 lb/ft² (192 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.18 hp/lb (300 W/kg)
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 14.6
  • Recommended Mach limit 0.8

  • 6× 0.50 caliber (12.7mm) M2 Browning machine guns
  • 2× hardpoints for up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs
  • 6 or 10× T64 5.0 in (127 mm) H.V.A.R rockets

** North American P-51 Mustang - Warbird Fare

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