A veteran of two wars -- World War II and the Korean War -- North American Aviation's P-51 Mustang was the first U.S. fighter airplane to push its nose over Europe after the fall of France. Then called the P-51, it scurried back and forth across the channel, taking on the best the Axis could put in the air. Mustangs met and conquered every German plane from the early Junkers to the sleek, twin-jet Messerschmitt 262s.
Although first designed for the British as a medium-altitude fighter, the Mustang excelled in hedge-hopping strafing runs and long-range escort duty. It made a name for itself by blasting trains, ships and enemy installations in western Europe and by devastating Axis defenses prior to the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy.
An amazing array of firsts was piled up by the Mustang while carrying the war to the heart of the German fatherland. It was the first single-engined plane based in Britain to penetrate Germany, first to reach Berlin, first to go with the heavy bombers over the Ploesti oil fields and first to make a major-scale, all-fighter sweep specifically to hunt down the dwindling Luftwaffe.
One of the highest honors accorded to the Mustang was its rating in 1944 by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee as "the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence."
The North American prototype, NA-73X, was first flown on Oct. 25, 1940. At least eight versions of the P-51 were produced. Data given below is for the P-51D, produced late in 1943. Numerous improvements for special-purpose uses were incorporated in later models.
|First flight (XP-51):
||May 20, 1941
||233 square feet
|Horizontal stabilizer span:
||8 feet 8 inches
||Packard V-1650 "Merlin" 1,695-hp V-12
||425 mph indicated (490 mph in P-51H)
||Hydraulically operated retractable main gear and tail wheel
||Hamilton Standard, four-blade, hydraulic, constant speed, 11 feet 2 inches, non-feathering
||Warning radar in tail to signal approach of other craft from rear (later models)
||(Various models) 10 "zero rail" rockets under wings; six .50-caliber machine guns; bomb racks for up to 1,000 pounds of stores or extra fuel tanks under the wings