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North American P-51 Mustang


P-51C-10 42-103956 Miss-Pelt of 1Lt. Clarence "Lucky" Lester, 100th FS, Ramitelli, Italy, September 1944

Development of the P-51

 

During the year 1940 as the opening stages of world war II were getting underway. The Royal Air Force came to the understanding that the current numbers of aircraft being produced and delivered  would not meet their growing needs in the war effort. The North American aircraft company was approached by the British Purchasing Commission to license build a number of their P-40 Kittyhawks on order from Curtiss Aircraft Corporation. The North American Aircraft corporation's presidents answer to the request was met with an offer to design and build an all new advanced fighter to replace the P-40s. The BPC agreed under one condition that the prototype be available in 120 days. The North American aircraft was developed and designed in an amazing 117 days.

The British were well please with the new design and took possession of the new prototype designated NA-73X. The RAF as normal with all aircraft in their inventory named the new experimental the "Mustang".  The Mustang Mk I went into service with RAF as a low altitude fighter bomber. The new prototype maintained the same engine as the P-40 Kittyhawk would use throughout its early service life. The American's followed suit with the British in ordering this aircraft design in the same version designed the A-36 Apache fighter bomber. The aircraft was used to a certain degree of success in the North African campaign. The American's also ordered the newly designated P-51 with four 20mm cannons, unfortunately the


North American NA-73X


North American P-51A with four 20mm cannon.

Allison V-1710-81 engine could not develop the horse power necessary to give this aircraft success with such firepower. The design soldiered on from 1942 to 1944 with the Allison power plant. The a stroke of merged ingenuity. An RAF aircraft test squadron commanding officer decided to mate the American airframe with the high performance of the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine, as they say the rest was history.

The turbo supercharged Merlin engine gave the Mustang incredible high altitude performance and speed. From this matting the British produced the Mustang II and the Americans the P-51B/C. The difference between the P-51B and P-51C is that the "Bs" were produced in the Dallas Texas manufacturing facility and the "Cs" were produced in Long Beach California, other than that the aircraft were mainly identical.

The USAAF used this aircraft to its maximum potential seeing that the daytime bombing campaign needed a long range escort fighter with a high degree of performance. The P-51 Mustang would more than fit the bill for this call. In mid to late 1944 in the skies over Europe a continuous battle for air supremacy was taking place. Although the Luftwaffe took possession of combat aircraft such as the ME109K-4 and FW190D-9 with

similar performance to the Mustangs. The day and night bombing campaigns was already taking its toll on the Luftwaffe. Especially as the Americans were flying ever larger numbers of fighter escorts with well trained combat pilots sitting at the controls. The attrition to the ranks of the Luftwaffe pilots attempting to defend the the Third Reich was astronomical. The final version of the Mustang to see large scale combat in Europe and against the Japanese was the Mustang Mk III or the P-51D. This aircraft incorporated many changes that increased its lethality to the enemy. The over all airframe weight was decreased and the all around visibility was increased with the addition of the bubble canopy.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fockle Wulf  Fw190D-9 "Dora" in battle.

The Mustang II/P-51B/Cs armament was a compliment of four 50 caliber M2 browning machine guns. The weight savings from the new design allowed for the addition of two more 50 caliber MGs.


P-51Ds of the 31st Fighter Group in echelon left formation.

In addition to the increase in visibility and firepower the P-51s were fitted with an additional 75 gallon fuel tank behind the pilot seat. This gave the Mustang, along with external fuel load, a maximum range of 1600 miles. The Mustangs could now reach Berlin from airfields in England and Italy. The days of the Third Reich were now numbered. The Allied bombing campaign kicked into high gear with a thoroughbred fighter that could reach into the heart of Germany and deliver a knockout blow to the enemy. Pound for pound the Mustang has been credited with being the best fighter aircraft of the war by its pilots and its enemies. The 117 day marvel turned out to be a war winner for the allies and a crushing defeat for the Nazi war machine.

 

 

The 332nd Fighter Group goes to war in the Mustang!

 

By July of 1944 many transitions had come upon the 332nd FG. They had finally formed into a full four squadron fighter group with the inclusion of the 99th FS. They had established a home with the 15th Air Force. They had completed their first series of fighter escort missions. They has also transitioned out of the P-39 Airacobra into the move powerful and robust P-47 Thunderbolt and moved from Capodichino, Italy to Ramitelli AAF. It can be said that the strong group leadership and shear will to succeed helped the group to maintain its focus during these times.

Colonel Davis now possessed the authority, the men, the mission, and now the instruments in which the Tuskegee Airmen would fly into military aviation history. In July of 1944 the 332nd FG began to receive the P-51B/C Mustang for operational use. These fighters were again hand me downs from the 325th Fighter Group. But, the ability of the fighter to perform its assigned mission was great. The 332nd gained valuable experience during escort missions in preparation for "Operation Dragoon" the invasion of Southern France. The group was tasked with destroying ground radar stations that would alert the Germans to inbound bomber and ground attack aircraft prior to reaching their targets. Although the 332nd suffered some loses. They completely achieved their mission. The P-51s would be their mounts for the remainder of the war.


P-51C of the 99th FS 332nd FG

 It served them well as one of the best fighters ever flown. The 332nd FG began to develop a reputation with its escorted bomber groups. They knew that if they were escorted by the Red-Tailed Mustangs they stood a greater chance of returning home from their missions. Very soon the 332nd FG was placed on many mission boards "By Request".



"By Request" The personal mount of Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr.

This so delighted Col. Davis that he had his crew chief paint the phrase on the side of his aircraft. By January of 1945 the end of the war was inevitable. The Allies were committed to ending the war in Europe prior to changing their focus to Japan. It was simply a question of when and not how any longer. At the "Battle of the Bulge", as it became known to the Americans. Hitler and the Third Reich were out to prove differently.

This would be the last major German offensive action of the war. The 8th and 15th Air Force bomber group began to apply pressure to the German capital, Berlin. Herman Goering is quoted as saying, when he looked above in the skies over Berlin and saw the Mustang's, he knew that the war was lost. In that group of Mustangs were the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd FG. On 24 March 1945 the 332nd FG was credited with flying the longest bomber escort mission of the war. From their base in Ramitelli Italy, the 332nd Flew a "Maximum Effort" bomber escort mission. They rendezvoused with the assigned bomber group to escort them to the appropriate release point. As they arrived the fighter escort into the target area was nowhere to be found. The decision by command was made to continue on and complete the full escort mission. Pilots of the 332nd FG stayed aloft for more than eight hours during the long range escort mission to Berlin. During this mission the group was credited

with shooting down some of the first jet fighters of the war as well as not loosing any bombers to enemy aircraft. Whether myth or fact that the 332nd never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft. Certainly, no other fighter group can come close to this claim. This is due to the philosophy of one man, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr. He stated to his pilots that under no circumstances were they to leave those bombers. That stragglers were to be escorted to a safe base of departure. That the group would not leave the bombers after their drops to find targets of opportunity. Effective fighter escort was the


Capt. Roscoe Brown of the 100th FS downs a Me 262 Jet fighter.


 Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group return home to Ramitelli Army Airfield from a successful bomber escort mission.

mission of the 332nd Fighter Group. Many a 15th Air Force bomber crew owed their lives to this philosophy and The Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group.

 

North American P-51D Specifications

 

Power Plant: Packard Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650-7 12 Cylinder Liquid Cooled
Horse power: 1490 hp
Maximum Speed: 437 mph @ 25,000 ft.
Rate of Climb: 2800 fpm.  7.3 seconds to 20,0000 ft.
Maximum Range: 1155 miles - with drop tanks 2055 miles
Service Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
A/C Weight: 7635 lbs. Empty Weight, 10100 lbs. Normal Takeoff Weight, 12100 lbs. Gross Takeoff Weight
Wing span: 37 ft. 2 in.
Height: 13 ft. 7 in.
Length: 32 ft. 5 in.
Wing area: 233 sq. ft.
Armament: (6) Browning M2 50 Caliber MGs, (2) 1,000 lb. Bombs, (10) 5" HVARs

 
 

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