The North American P-51 Mustang was a single seat fighter aircraft used by the United States and her allies in the Second World War.


The first version of the P-51 Mustang was the P-51A, which had a liquid-cooled, Allison V-1710-81 Engine capable of propelling the Mustang at speeds of up to 627.6 km/h at about 6,096 meters. The P-51A had a three bladed propeller and an armament of four .50 M2 Machine Guns.[1] Although, the P-51A could carry a 453.5 kg bomb. The P-51A also had an 11.2 meter wingspan and a total length of 9.8 meters. Its total weight meanwhile was about 4,000 kilograms when combat loaded.


The first variant of the P-51 with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine (produced under licence in the United States by Packard as the V-1650) and four-bladed propeller was the P-51B, which maintained its original armament of four wing mounted machine guns. Following were the P-51C and F-6C models. The P-51C had introduced several minor improvements to the air frame, but was not significantly different from its predecessor. The F-6C was the P-51C's reconnaissance version.[2] The next variant, the P-51D was by far the most produced version of the P-51 series. It had introduced the now famous "tear-drop" shaped cockpit and was also given a new armament of six browning M2 machine guns. The final American variants were the P-51H and P-51K models.

The P-51K had been derived from the earlier P-51D and had been given a special aeroproducts propeller. The P-51H was the highest performing version of the mustang which was intended to see service in the war, with a new V-1650-9 engine and automatic supercharger control, it possessed the best performance of any P-51 variant. The P-51H was intended to be produced for and used in the in invasion of Japan, but this never happened due to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Produced alongside the American variants were the British series of P-51s. The first of which was the Mustang Mk I which was similar to the original P-51A model except for being converted to reconnaissance duties. It had a sub-variant though, the Mustang Mk IA which had been fitted with four 20mm autocannons. Any P-51B and P-51Cs given to Great Britain were designated the Mk III and redesigned. The final British model was the Mk IV, based on the P-51D.



In April 1940 the British Air Purchasing Commission concluded with 'Dutch' Kindelberger, chairman of North American Aviation an agreement for the design and development of a completely new fighter fot the RAF, to be completed within 120 days![N 1] Designed and built within 117 days - but not flown for another six weeks due to delays in receipt of the Alison V-1710 engine[N 2] - this silver prototype was the start of the most successful fighter programme in history,[5] with North American Aviation starting to collect material and produce tooling as early as June 1941, while the beginning of the production line was already in place when the initial order for 320 was placed in September.[6]

When North American Aviation had first initiated development of the new fighter, as the NA-73, USAAF fighter policy hinged mainly on the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt, leaving little official interest in the Mustang. The only stipulation from the US authorities was that, in the event of the Mustang entering production, North American should deliver two examples without charge to the USAAF for evaluation. The first production example - serial number AG345 - was retained by North American Aviation for flight development, while the fifth - serial 41-038 - and tenth - 41-039 - examples were delivered to Wright Field as XP-51s[7]

Starting with AG346, which arrived in the UK in November 1941, the RAF received 620 Mustang I, 150 IA and 50 II, while the United States Army, following trials with the XP-51s, adopted the type with 500 A-36A and 350 P-51A. In 1942 the airframe was matched with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, yielding the P-51B, bulged hood C (Mustang III) and teardrop canopy D (Mustang IV),[8] later C and all D models having six 0.5in guns and a dorsal fin. The final versions were the K (different propeller) and the better shaped lighter H. Total production of all versions was 15,586.[5]


A P-51D Mustang.

Mustang and P-51 variants served mainly in Europe, their primary mission being the almost incredible one of flying all the way from British bases to targets of the 8th Air Force deep in Germany - Berlin and beyond - escorting heavies, and gradually establishing Allied air superiority over the heart of Germany.[5] However, some P-51s also served in the Far East, with the 311st Fighter Group of Tenth Air force introducing the A-36A/P-51A to the CBI Area in October 1943. They were soon joined by P-51B/Cs of the 1st and 2nd Air Commando and the 23rd Fighter Group, which were primarily employed on strafing and ground attack missions, including a bombing raid against Hong Kong on 8 December 1944. In early 1945 the 15th fighter Group of the Seventh Air Force also used Mustangs, arriving on Iwo Jima's South field on 6 March 1945 with their P-51Ds.[9]

Mustangs were also used for tactical reconnaissance. Early RAF Mustang I aircraft were fitted with an F.24 camera mounted obliquely behind the pilot's seat. The USAAF followed the RAF example by fitting a pair of K-24 cameras to fifty seven examples of the P-51 as the F(Foto)-6A, followed by thirty five F-6Bs converted from P-51As, and 136 P-51Ds converted into F-6Ds.[8]

Ten P-51Ds were converted to TP-51D two seater standard, with relocated radio equipment and a second seat with full controls under the standard bubble canopy. One was subsequently used as a high speed observation post to allow General Dwight D. Eisenhower to inspect the Normandy Beachheads in June 1944.[10]

One P-51D - 44-14017 - was fitted with an arrester hook for carrier trials, which were undertaken by Lt R. M. Elder of the United States Navy aboard USS Shangri-La.[11]

A number of captured P-51s were test flown by the Luftwaffe.[12]


  1. This was in response to the BAPC's original request that NAA build examples of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk under licence, prompting Kindberger to declare that NAA could build a much better fighter of their own design.[3]
  2. According to Michael O'Leary's book USAAF Fighters of WW2, delivery of the engine was delayed for 20 days[4]


  3. O'Leary, Michael. USAAF Fighters of WW2. Blandford Press. 1986. ISBN 0-7137-1839-0. Pages 281-282.
  4. O'Leary, Michael. Page 283.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Gunston, Bill. Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Salamander Books. 1988. ISBN 0-86101-390-5.
  6. World Aircraft Information Files Aviation Partwork. Midsummer Books Ltd. World Military Aircraft. File 231 Sheet 2 (World Military Aircraft:North American P-51 Mustang - Early Development).
  7. Green, William. Famous Fighters of the Second World War. Purnell Book Services. 1975. Page 204
  8. 8.0 8.1 Green, William - Fighters
  9. World Aircraft Information Files File 231 Sheet 15 (World Military Aircraft:North American P-51 Mustang - P-51B/C/D Far East ops).
  10. Green, William - Fighters. Page 211
  11. World Aircraft Information Files File 231 Sheet 8 (World Military Aircraft:North American P-51 Mustang - P-51D/K Variant briefing).
  12. Vintage Wings

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