North American P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang, North American Photo by Jenny Coffey

This best known US fighter of WWII was built to British requirements. The British reluctantly accepted North American's proposal to design a new fighter for them, instead of license-building P-40's, and the USAAF was at first not interested at all. The P-51 was a clean and very refined design, with a laminar flow wing and carefully positioned radiator bath. The early P-51, with Allison V-1710, engine, was an excellent low-altitude reconaissance fighter, but had low performance above 15000ft. After reengining with the R.R. Merlin, the P-51B was one of the best fighters of WWII. It proved to be the ideal fighter to escort the bomber force on the long missions over Germany. The P-51D sacrificed some speed for the introduction of a 'bubble' hood, offering much better view. The P-51F, G and J versions were lightweight developments, with only a superficial resemblance to the original Mustang; the P-51H was more directly related to the P-51D, but powered by the more powerful V-1650-9 engine. After WWII, the P-51D played a very important role as fighter-bomber in Korea. 14819 built.

Type: P-51A
Country: USA
Function: fighter
Year: 1943
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1200 hp Allison V-1710-81
Wing Span: 11.28 m
Length: 9.83 m
Height: 3.71 m
Wing Area: 21.65 m2
Empty Weight: 3110 kg
Max.Weight: 4812 kg
Speed: 628 km/h
Range: 2011 km

Type: P-51D
Function: fighter
Year: 1944
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1100 kW RR-Packard V-1650-7 Merlin
Wing Span: 11.28 m
Length: 9.83 m
Height: 4.16 m
Wing Area: 21.83 m2
Wing Aspect ratio: 5.86
Wing loading: 192 kg/m²
Empty Weight: 3466 kg
Max.Weight: 5493 kg
Max. Speed: 703 km/h
Stall speed: 160 km/h
Ceiling: 12800 m
Rate of climb: 16.3 m/s
Max. Range: 3350 km (other cources claim 2655 km)
Armament: 6*mg 12.7 mm, 2*b454 kg

The North American P-51 Mustang was a long-range single-seat fighter aircraft that entered service with Allied air forces in the middle years of World War II and became one of the conflict's most successful and recognizable aircraft.

The P-51 flew most of its missions as a bomber escort in raids over Germany, and helped ensure Allied air superiority after 1944. It also saw service against Japanese air forces in the Pacific War. The Mustang began the Korean War as the United Nations' main fighter, but was supplanted by jets by the conflict's end. Nevertheless, it remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s. The definitive version of the single-seat fighter was powered by a single two-stage supercharged V-12 Merlin engine and armed with six .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 machine guns.

Many Mustangs were converted for civilian use, with Trans Florida Avaiation, later renamed Cavalier Aircraft Corporation, being the most prominent commercial modifier, producing the Cavalier Mustang. Modified P-51s were popular in air racing. Some privately owned P-51s are still flying, often associated with organizations such as the Commemorative Air Force (formerly the Confederate Air Force); a few have had a tight second seat added in the space formerly occupied by the military radio and fuselage fuel tank, a Cavalier Mustang specialty.

Ironically, in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the United States Department of Defense wished to supply aircraft to South American countries and later Indonesia for close air support and counter insurgency, it turned to Cavalier, who had to modify some of their existing civilian conversions back to military specifications (now updated) to meet the short deadline.


Shortly after World War II began in 1939, the British government established a purchasing commission in the United States, headed by Sir Henry Self. Self had sat on the (British) Air Council Sub-committee on Supply (or 'Supply Committee') along with Sir Wilfrid Freeman, who as the 'Air Member for Development and Production' was given overall responsibility for RAF production and research and development in 1938. One of Self's many tasks was to organize the manufacture of American fighter aircraft for the RAF. At the time, the choice was very limited. None of the US aircraft already flying reached European standards; only the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk came close. The Curtiss plant was running at capacity, so even that aircraft was in short supply.

North American Aviation (NAA) President Dutch Kindleberger approached Self to sell a new medium bomber, the Mitchell. Instead, Self asked if NAA could manufacture the Tomahawk under licence from Curtiss. (North American was already supplying their Harvard trainer but were otherwise underutilized.)

Kindleberger replied that NAA could have a better aircraft with the same engine in the air in less time. As executive head of the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, Freeman ordered 320 aircraft in March 1940. Fortuitously, on June 26 1940, MAP awarded a contract to Packard to build Rolls-Royce Merlin engines under licence. And in September, MAP increased the first production order by 300.

The Mustang was an extremely well-made and excellent plane, although its coolant system could be shut down by a single bullet that pierced an external feed. Pilots joked that "A kid with a rifle could bring it down." In addition, according to the manual, the engine would become starved for oil if the plane was flown inverted for more than a few seconds.

The P51 Mustang was one of the most effective planes of World War Two. The P51 Mustang gave the bombers of US 8th Air Force the fighter cover it so desperately needed over occupied Europe and, therefore, greatly assisted the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany in World War Two.

The P51 was originally ordered in April 1940 by the British Air Purchasing Commission. There was a realisation in Britain that its bomber squadrons were open to attack during bombing raids and that Fighter Command did not have the aircraft available to give Bomber Command sufficient protection. It was to become obvious during the Battle of Britain that one of the main weaknesses against which the Luftwaffe had no answer, was its inability to protect its bombers for any length of time over southern Britain. The Messerschmitt Bf-109's were formidable opponents for the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Fighter Command, but their time over Southern England was limited by the amount of fuel they could carry. Therefore, the Luftwaffe's bombers were left exposed to attack when their fighters had to withdraw. Looked at in reverse, if Bomber Command was to attack Germany, it would be in the same situation as both the Spitfire and Hurricane had a limited range and British bombers would be left exposed once their fighter cover had been withdrawn. This left Bomber Command with two choices - attack during the day with the dangers that would bring or attack at night and trust that bomb aiming would be accurate and anti-aircraft fire inaccurate. Bomber Command selected the latter.

In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing the United States in on the side of the Allies. Any military research and development in America would benefit the British as now the most powerful military nation in the world was an ally. The American air force was also to participate in the bombing of Germany with dangerous daylight raids.

The first flight of the P51 Mustang was in September 1942. The aerodynamics of the Mustang were excellent but initially it was underpowered. Fitted with an Allison engine, it was used primarily for photo reconnaissance. However, this all changed when it was fitted with a powerful V-1650 Merlin engine. This engine gave the Mustang sufficient power to enable its streamline shape to be used to its full advantage.

The P51 B was first used in December 1943 and in May 1944, the P51-D was introduced. This plane was fitted with fuel drop tanks that gave it far greater mileage in the air. When these tanks were empty, they could be dropped so that the plane had the full use of its aerodynamics. This extra fuel gave the Mustang an ability to escort the US 8th Air Force bomber formations to just about any target in Western Europe. Such cover was vital to the Americans as they were participating in daylight raids primarily over Germany and were thus exposed to attacks by the Luftwaffe. Before the Mustang, American bombers flew in a box formation and relied on the fire power of the many guns carried by Flying Fortresses to protect a formation. Now the B17's had a fighter escort to enhance this fire power. The Mustangs speed and manoeuvrability in the air made it a severe test for the Luftwaffe's fighter pilots.

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