P-51 Mustang

The North American P-51 Mustang originated from a request made by the British Air Purchasing committee to the North American Aircraft Corporation in April 1940. The Committee wanted the corporation to build the Curtis Hawk 87A-1, But North America's President J.H.Kindelberger suggested that his company should produce an entirely new fighter. The British committee agreed provided that the new aircraft was constructed within 120 days. The first prototype, designated NA-73X by the manufacturers, was designed by a team headed by Raymond Rice and Edgar Schmued was wheeled out of the factory after 117 days. It had no engine and the wheels had been borrowed from an AT-6 basic Trainer, but they had beaten the deadline. A delay in the delivery of the Allison V-1710-39 engine prevented the first test flight from being made until October 26, 1940, by which time the first British contract for 320 NA-73 fighters had been placed, this being approved by the US Government with the proviso that two machines from the initial production batch by transferred to the Army Air Corps for evaluation. These two aircraft (the 5th and 10th prtoduction NA-73s) were designated XP-51 in a contract signed on September 20, 1940.

The first British Squadron to receive the Mustang was No.2 Squadron RAF. Fitted with the F.24 camera the Mustangs were initially employed on Photographic Reconnaissance missions commencing on the 27th July 1942. The pilots were given strict instructions not to get involved in combat with enemy aircraft but to take their photographs and then use their superior speed to escape.

The first ‘Kill’ was achieved on the 19th of August 1942 when Pilot Officer Hollis H. Hills of No. 414 squadron Royal Canadian Air Force shot down a German Focke-Wolf FW190.

The early Allison engine powered Mustangs were soon found to be inferior to other fighters at altitude. To remedy this the Royal Air Force sent four machines to Rolls Royce to be fitted with Merlin Engines. One unusual idea by Rolls Royce was a proposal to fit the Merlin engine behind the cockpit.

In American service the Mustang was initially deployed as a Dive-bomber under the designation A-36A Apache. These were fitted with Dive brakes but the sleekness of the fuselage still made them so fast that they were unable to act as a stable bombing platform. Some Apache's were employed in Sicily and Italy, and a least one was acquired by the R.A.F. for trials.

The first US 8th Air Force long range escort mission was conducted on the 13th December 1943. Fitted with 125 Imp.Gal. drop tanks American Mustangs made the journey to Kiel and back. A return journey of 490 miles.

To the consternation and surprise of the Germans, Mustangs escorted a force of B-17 Flying Fortresses to Berlin during March 1944. A round trip of over 1,100 miles. From then on US 8th Air Force Mustangs would be employed on a regular basis escorting the American daylight bombers to Germany.

In addition to their use by the USAAF and the RAF, Mustangs were also supplied to the Chinese and to the Dutch fighting in the Pacific. Over 200 were also built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation under license for the Royal Australian Air Force.

In Europe American Mustangs flew some 213,871 missions, and were eventually to be credited with the destruction of 4,950 enemy aircraft in combat with another 4,131 destroyed on the ground.

During an inspection in February 1944, an eight man team working on a lightweight XP51F completed an engine removal in just thirteen minutes, and its reinstallation in a further 30.5 minutes.

The US 357th Fighter Group was to become the top scoring fighter group within the Eighth Air Force knocking up an impressive 609 ‘kills’ against enemy aircraft. The Group's leading ace was Captain Leonard Kit Carson who alone achieved 18.5 victories.

The last operational American P51 squadron was the 167th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron based at Martinsburg, West Virginia, who finally relinquished their P51D Mustangs in March 1957.

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