Photo of Old Flying Machine Company's P51D Ferocious Frankie in the colours of the 374th Fighter Sqn, 361st Fighter Group Civil Reg G-BTCD

P51 Mustang Fighter History

Aircraft Histories, Aircraft Photography

The fast and agile North American P51 Mustang fighters that ranged over Europe during the last two years of the second world war probably played as larger part in Germany’s defeat as the Spitfire and Hurricane did in the Battle of Britain.

The Mustang was the first single engine long range fighter able to escort US army air force bombers all the way to Berlin and back. The Luftwaffe fighter pilots could no longer wait for the American fighters to turn for home before attacking the unescorted bombers.

The first version, designed and built for the RAF in 120 days in 1940, was not an instant success. Christened ‘Mustang by the RAF and fitted with an Alison engine it was faster and more manoeuvrable than most other fighters at low altitude. Unfortunately, the power of the Allison engine decreased at higher altitudes leaving the Mustang underpowered as it climbed to meet German fighters. To exploit their low-level performance Mk1 Mustangs were initially used by the RAF and later the USAAF in tactical reconnaissance and ground attack roles.

Photo of P51D-25-NT Mustang G-MSTG 414419 LH-F  'Janie'
P51D-25-NT Mustang G-MSTG 414419 LH-F ‘Janie’

The Mustang was transformed in 1942 when a Rolls Royce Merlin engine used in the Spitfire was fitted. This near perfect marriage of engine and platform made the 1944 P-51D, with its bubble canopy and six guns, one of the most iconic and potent fighters of the second world war. Its pilots used its performance and armament to tackle some of the most successful Luftwaffe fighters including the potent Focke Wulf FW190 and the first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262.

Photo of Focke Wulf FW190A-8  Luftfahrtmuseum Hannover. assembled from various airframes it depicts an aircraft of 6/JG1
Focke Wulf FW190A-8 Luftfahrtmuseum Hannover. assembled from various airframes it depicts an aircraft of 6/JG1

The P51 was pressed into service again in the Korean war as a ground attack aircraft, a role it was not ideally suited to. The liquid cooled Merlin engine was susceptible to groundfire but despite heavy losses they inflicted considerable damage on the North Korean ground forces using rockets, napalm and bombs.

Aircraft Histories and Photography

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