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Considered by many authorities to be the best fighter plane to
come out of World War II, the Mustang is regarded today as a
classic of fighter design. It outperformed all other Allied
fighters in speed, range, and maneuverability and became
established as the principal Allied fighter plane.
The Mustang is a single-seat fighter built by North American
Aviation Corp. It was orginally designed at the request of
the British Air Purchasing Commission of the Royal Air Force.
The terms of the contract required completion of the prototype
in only 120 days. The actual design and construction of the
prototype was completed in 117 days! It first flew in
October 1940 as the NA-73.
The Mustang was one of the first planes to use the radical
"laminar flow" airfoil, which has its maximum thickness well
aft and results in greatly reduced drag and increased
Of the first ten production aircraft, two were delivered to
the U.S. Army Air Force for evaluation. Up to this time the
USAAF had shown no particular interest in the plane, having
under development the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt.
The two planes were designated XP-51 and named Apache by the
The XP-51 was powered by the Allison V-1710-39, 12 cylinder
liquid-cooled engine of 1100 hp. Its top speed was 382 mph.
The USAAF ordered a total of 460 of the airplanes after
Flying with the R.A.F. the Mustang was used mainly for ground
support and low-level strafing, and was soon recognized as
an outstanding design. The R.A.F. experimented with the use
of the more powerful Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Performance,
particularly at higher altitudes, was so greatly improved,
North American began a complete redesign of the Mustang. Top
speed with the new Merlin engine was 441 mph. The USAAF ordered
2200 of these new planes. This model first went into service
in 1943 as the P-51B Mustang.
The P-51B was the first single-seat fighter able to
accompany bombers into Germany and return. In 1944 the
P-51D went into production with the still more powerful
Merlin V-1650-7 engine, built by Packard Motor Car Company,
incorporating a two-stage, two-speed supercharger. At this
time, the rear of the fuselage was cut down and a beautifully
streamlined "bubble" canopy was installed to provide better
The P-51D was the most widely produced model of the Mustang,
7,956 being built. Total production of all models was 15,576.
Ten of the P-51D were modified to two-place trainers and
designated TP-51D. One of these was further modified for use
as a high-speed observation post by the Supreme Allied
Commander, General Eisenhower, during the Normandy invasion.
Several later models of the Mustang were produced, but the
"D" is the most famous of them all. They saw service in all
theatres of World War II and later in Korea. When the Air
Force changed the designation "P" (Pursuit) to "F"
(Fighter), the Mustang became the F-51D. The Mustang was the
last of the piston engine fighters and has now been
replaced by the jets.
At least one Mustang was fitted with arresting hook and
tested for possible Navy carrier use. Many 51's were used
by the Air National Guard and others were purchased as
war surplus for use as private planes, some being modified
to carry a passenger behind the pilot. The Thompson and
Bendix air races of 1946, 1947 and 1948 saw several
Mustangs used as racing planes. Some of these were modified
by clipping the wings and stepping up the engine, using
fuel injection with 130 to 170 octane fuel. Several had the
big belly air scoop removed and air intakes mounted on the
wings where the machine guns were originally installed. One
of these modified Mustangs flew 2008 miles from California
to Cleveland, Ohio at an average speed of 470 mph!
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