World War II:
It was decided by Allied commanders that a full time
strategic bombing campaign would cripple the enemy over time and allow ground troops the advantage they needed to first stop the advancing German Army and then push them back into Germany. This included the practice of daylight bombing raids on German targets. The 1st daylight bombing mission by a US unit was on 4th July, 1942. Two out of the six RAF A-20s were lost.
On 17 August 1943, 60 out of 376 American bombers were lost!
Almost all the losses coming beyond the range of the bomber escort. Early escort included the RAF Spitfire and the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt. Even with drop tanks, the range of these fighters would barely reach to the Germany border. After that, the Luftwaffe, laid in wait.
14th October of 1943, another 60 were lost in a single day, "Black Thursday". The B-17 had a crew of 10 men. Many did not get out and if they did get out and get their chute to deploy, evading capture and returning to England was very difficult. At that loss rate, the practice of daytime bombing raids was in question. The B-17, although designed to defend itself, could not. Strategic day-time bombing was crippling both sides.
It should be noted that the concept of the P-51 Mustang began more than three years before the first daylight bombing missions and the heavy losses. It is often accepted that the P-51 Mustang was designed to be an escort fighter, but as you look at the timeline, it is more plausible that the Mustang, as a fighter aircraft, fit that need better than any other fighter available. By the time heavy bomber losses were at hand, the P-51B and P-51C, with outstanding range, were already in production and being delivered to bases in England.
The bombers of the daylight missions were taking very heavy losses each day from Luftwaffe pilots until an escort fighter could stay with them deep into enemy territory and home again on every mission. The North American P-51 Mustang was the immediate choice. The bomber crews nicknamed them their "little friends."
It all started in 1939, when the British needed more fighter aircraft. They showed interest in the Curtiss P-40 Warhark and the Bell P-39 Aircobra among others. Neither were their first choice, but that was the best that the Americans had and the British could not wait for any new designs. They decided the P-40 would be the one. James H. "Dutch" Kindelberger, president of North American Aviation, was approached by the British to build the P-40 at the North American production facility because Curtiss Aircraft was at full capacity. Kindelberger told the British that it would take 120 days to tool up for the P-40.
During that time, North American Aviation was under contract to produce NA-16
training aircraft for the British. Then Kindelberger somehow, with no real evidence that it could be done, convinced the Sir Henry Self and the British Purchasing Commission, that North American Aviation could design and build a new fighter that was better than the P-40. The new fighter would fly faster, higher, farther, be more maneuverable and pack more firepower.
The British took NAA at their word because they had performed well with British orders for the NAA Harvard trainer. British approval by letter of intent was given on 10th April 1940. Shortly after, 23 May, a contract order was placed by the British for the first 320 aircraft designated NA-73.
NAA vice-president Lee Atwood was sent to Curtiss Aircraft to pick up the wind
tunnel data of the Curtiss XP-46 that NAA purchased for $56,000 at British request. Although sources at NAA stated that the XP-46 design was not used in the development of NA-73, you cannot help to notice some basic similarities. The protoype XP-46 flew a top speed of only 355 mph at 12,000 feet. The XP-46 was never put into production but the Allison used on the XP-46 was incorporated in the next P-40, the P-40D.
Kindelberger put Edgar Schmued in charge of the new P-51 prototype design, NA-73X. Others who worked with Schmued included Ed Horkey, Raymond Rice , Larry Waite and Art Chester. After 78,000 man hours and 102 days later, the prototype, NA-73X, rolled out of the hangar - without an engine. 18 days later, the Allison V-1710-39 was ready and on 26 October 1940, NX19998 took to the skies for its maiden flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls. On 9 December 1940 the British Purchasing Comission sent a letter to North American Aviation stating that the NA-73 airplanes have been given the official designation of "Mustang".
Back in 1938, Kindelberger had visited the German aircraft factories of Heinkel and Messerschmitt and used what notes he took to help in setting up an extremely efficient production line. At peak times NAA produced 857 P-51s in one month! Production was so good that there were rows of completed P-51Ds at the NAA factory in Inglewood, CA just waiting for delivery pilots. (I want that job).
Part of the US approval for export to Britain was that 2 examples of the Mustang
would be turned over to the USAAF for evaluation at no cost. The US was very slow to evaluate the new fighter designated XP-51. After evaluation they were also slow to place orders, but interest picked up and orders were placed by the US which included the A-36 Apache. The A-36 was a P-51A set up for dive-bombing ground attack. In all over 15,000 P-51 Mustangs of all types were built from 1940-1945.
Significant design changes came about when the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 was used in the P-51B/C and then when the bubble canopy P-51D/K was introduced. The P-51D was the most produced model and was favored among most pilots. The P-51H was a redesigned lighter-weight version but entered service to late to make an impact on WWII. The P-51H is noticeably different in design and uses less than ten percent of the parts from the P-51D. Another light-weight, the P-51G prototypes were produced and tested. Other models, like the P-51L, P-51M never made it to production because the war ended.
The P-51 Mustang is credited with providing very effective long range bomber escort. The Allied daylight bombing campaign proved extremely successful by strangling the support lines of the enemy and nearly stopping the production of war-time machinery. The P-51 Mustang and the men that flew them saved lives in the skies and on the ground.
The North American P-51D Mustang:
Who would have thought, back in 1944, that this escort fighter would still be
flying over 70 years later? The Mustang was built for the highest performance with less thought for longevity.
With the hard work of warbird fanatics around the globe, about 280 P-51s still exist today with more than half still airworthy! A few of the remaining P-51s ( Survivors) have the distinction of serving for more than 30 years with 4 different Air Forces around the world!
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P-51 Mustang Spotlight Items
MustangsMustangs Featured Section:
P-51 Mustang Variants
Descriptions of the development and production of the North American P-51 Mustang with little history thrown in. A-36, P-51, P-51A, P-51B, P-51C, P-51D, P-51K, P-51H, Mustang I-V and the lightweights, P-51F, P-51G, P-51J. Over 15,000 units produced in a very short time. The North American Aviation factory and staff were put to the test during
World War II.
P-51 Aces of World War II
. A tribute to those brave men who fought hard in WWII and put their country and comrades first. And not just the fighter pilots. Crew chiefs, ground personnel and the WASPS also deserve much praise for their hard work.
These men are part of a generation that is hard to beat. Links to "Aces in
a Day", "Top Aces" and the full list plus some individual aces
history. Many of these great men are still around today, and a few of them can
be found at the controls of the P-51.
TOP MustangsMustangs Features:
P-51 Mustang Forums
Post your P-51 related messages or see
if you can help other readers. We are lucky to have a very smart P-51 group on board.
P-51 Mustang Survivors
The list of existing P-51s today as we count them. Serial#s, registrations,
names, owners, home base, status and images. Updated as new information comes
in. The most heavily traveled section at MustangsMustangs. Listed in Serial #
P-51 Who? approaching 400 cases!
Test your aviation memory and knowledge. Can you identify these P-51s? Send us
your '50s, '60s, '70s, & '80s P-51 images. One of the most popular (and fun)
sections of MustangsMustangs.
P-51 Mustang Images
A very large collection (over 8000) of P-51 images from WWII to today. Military Images, Civilian Pics, Air to Air Photos, Sepia / Black & White, MustangsMustangs, Nose Art, Wallpapers. Great set of images from readers around the world.
More ... MustangsMustangs Features:
P-51 Mustang Shows
Pics and reports from airshows where the P-51 Mustang is in attendance. Chino, Eaa Airventure (Oshkosh), Gathering of Mustangs 1999/2007 and the Reno Air Races are among the shows to choose from.
Specs for all of the production models,
production count and serial numbers.
List of all serial numbers and construction numbers matched with construction blocks and model numbers.
NTSB accident data and links to full NTSB reports from 1983 can be viewed online.