Aircraft History

The Aircraft Story

  • Bell P-39 Airacobra
  • Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
  • North American B-25 Mitchell
  • North American P-51 Mustang
  • Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
The Tuskegee Airmen initially flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. This was a prewar design and almost obsolete. They were briefly equipped with Bell P-39 Airacobras in March of 1944. It’s widely thought that this was an even less capable design and it was used by very few of the US, front line fighter units in the war.
The Russians built a large fleet of P-39s through Lend-Lease and favored this aircraft because it had a heavy automatic cannon firing through the propeller hub, and it was suitable for tank busting, but it was not suitable for air-to-air combat.

The 99th was equipped with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in June and July 1944. This was an excellent aircraft and a very good dogfighter, especially at higher altitudes.

North American P-51D-30-NA Mustang (A19600300000) at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. Photo taken by Mark Avino. Photo taken on April 25. 2017. (P-51D_0005) (A19600300000-NASM2018-10347)

The North American P-51 Mustang is arguably the most recognizable and celebrated American Fighter of WW11

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War, among other conflicts.

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 gained acclaim for firing on trains, ships and enemy installations in Western Europe.

The Mustang was designed in April 1940 by a team headed by James Kindelberger[5] of North American Aviation in response to a requirement of the British Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under license for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather than default to an old design by another company, North American Aviation proposed the design and production of a new more modern fighter.

The Mustang was the first single-engine plane based in Britain to penetrate Germany, first to reach Berlin, first to go with the heavy bombers over the Ploiesti oil fields in Romania, 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. 26, 1940. At least eight versions of the Mustang were produced.

The Mustang was designed to use the Allison V-1710 engine, which had limited high-altitude performance in its earlier variants. The aircraft was first flown operationally by the RAF as a tactical-reconnaissance aircraft and fighter-bomber (Mustang Mk I). Replacing the Allison with a Rolls-Royce Merlin resulted in the P-51B/C (Mustang Mk III) model, and transformed the aircraft’s performance to capabilities of altitudes above 15,000 ft while maintaining its range allowing it to compete with the Luftwaffe’s fighters.

The definitive version, the P-51D, was powered by the Packard V-1650-7, a license-built version of the two-speed, two-stage-supercharged Merlin 66, and was armed with six .50 caliber (12.7 mm) AN/M2 Browning machine guns.[10]

At the start of the Korean War, the Mustang, by then redesignated F-51, was the main fighter of the United States until jet fighters, including North American’s F-86, took over this role; the Mustang then became a specialized fighter-bomber. Despite the advent of jet fighters, the Mustang remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s. After the Korean War, Mustangs became popular civilian warbirds and air racing aircraft.

Entering combat with the Ninth Air Force in late 1943, the Mustang immediately proved its value with long range and superior high-altitude performance—ideal for escorting daylight bomber formations deep into Germany. With four .50 caliber machine guns, the P-51B and C began taking a toll of Luftwaffe interceptors deep in German airspace.

The definitive wartime variant, the P-51D, with its bubble canopy and six guns, cost $51,572 in 1944.

What were the major components of the P-51 Mustang?

Technical Specifications

First flight (XP-51)May 20, 1941
Wingspan37 feet
Wing area233 square feet
Length32 feet
Horizontal stabilizer span13 feet
Height8 feet 8 inches
Power plantPackard V-1650 “Merlin” 1,695-hp V-12
Speed425 mph indicated (490 mph in P-51H)
Landing gearHydraulically operated retractable main gear and tail wheel
PropellerHamilton Standard, four-blade, hydraulic, constant speed, 11 feet 2 inches, non-feathering
RadarWarning radar in tail to signal approach of other craft from rear (later models)
Armament(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