P-51 Mustang

In P-51A Mustang was designed by Raymond Rice and Edgar Schmued for the North American Aviation Company in 1940.

Its first flight took place on 26th October, 1940. The Royal Air Force was impressed with its performance an placed an order for 320 aircraft. The aircraft had a maximum speed of 390 mph (628 km) and had a range of 730 miles (1,200 km). It was 32 ft 3 in (2.65 m) long with a wingspan of 37 ft (11.28 m). The aircraft was armed with 4 machine-guns and could carry 1,000 lb (454 kg) of bombs.

The Royal Air Force ordered more and 820 were delivered in October 1941. The North American Aviation Company continued to work on improving the aircraft and in 1943 began producing the P-51B Mustang. This new aircraft could reach a speed of 440 mph (710 km) at 30,000 ft (9,000).

A total of 15,469 Mustangs were built between 1940 and 1945. It destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in air combat and 4,131 on the ground. They were used extensively to protect bombers on raids over Germany.

During the Second World War the Mustang flew on 213,873 missions in Europe. It was also used by the United States Air Force during the Korean War.

We were happy with our reliable fighters. The Mustang had satisfied everyone with its riggedness, reliability and comforting high speed. The only disappointments were its lack of dogfighting manoeuvrability and its inability to operate effectively at high altitudes. It was a big, impressive fighter, a much larger machine than the Spitfires of the day. Painted in the dark greens of RAF camouflage and published with loving care, the Mustang was a sleek, beautiful areoplane.


  • Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
  • Wingspan: 37 ft.
  • Height: 13 ft. 8 in.
  • Wing Area: 235 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 7,635 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 9,200 lbs.
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 12,100 lbs.
  • Crew: 1


  • Maximum Speed: 437 mph
  • Range: 1,650 miles (w/ external tanks)
  • Rate of Climb: 3,200 ft./min.
  • Service Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
  • Power Plant: 1 × Packard V-1650-7 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12, 1,490 hp


  • 6 × 0.50 in. machine guns
  • Up to 2,000 lb of bombs (2 hardpoints)
  • 10 x 5" unguided rockets

North American P-51D Mustang

The classic P-51 Mustang history is one of the greatest success stories of military aviation. Originally designed for Great Britain, the North American fighter was adopted by the U.S. Army Air Force and upgraded with the powerful, reliable Rolls-Royce Merlin which powered the Supermarine Spitfire. With altitude, range, and performance, the Merlin Mustang became a world-beater.
Ironically, the P-51 owed its existence to a Royal Air Force query for North American to build Curtiss P-40s at a time when British forces were being pushed off the European continent in 1940 and badly needed additional armament. North American proposed a better performing aircraft and quickly drafted the NA-73.
The Allison-powered Mustang flew 12 months after the first RAF query and logged its first combat missions in May 1942. Intended for reconnaissance, their primary "armament" was a camera, though two .30 and two .50 caliber guns were installed. Eventually, 15 RAF squadrons flew the type. Meanwhile, the Army Air Force tested the XP-51 and was impressed with its performance, which exceeded the P-39 and P-40 and some marks of Spitfire in low-level performance. Beginning in 1943 the USAAF began operating photo-reconnaissance Mustangs (originally the Apache in US service) and A-36 Invader dive bombers, also with Allison engines. However, the promise of improved high-altitude performance had been noted, and a Merlin-powered XP-51B first flew in late 1942. Production B and C models began rolling out of the Inglewood and Dallas factories in 1943, and by year-end the 354th Pioneer Mustang Group was escorting heavy bombers over Germany. The D model, with its 360-degree full-vision canopy, appeared in March 1944 and replaced the "razorback" models by year-end.

General P-51 Mustang Dimensions

Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)

Wingspan: 37 ft 0 in (11.28 m)

Height: 13 ft 4.5 in (4.08 m) tail wheel on ground, vertical propeller blade

Wing area: 235 sq ft (21.83 m2)

Empty weight: 7,635 lb (3,465 kg)

Gross weight: 9,200 lb (4,175 kg)

Max takeoff weight: 12,100 lb (5,488 kg) 5,490

Fuel capacity: 269 US gal (224 imp gal 1,020 l)

Powerplant: 1 × Packard (Rolls Royce) V-1650-7 Merlin, 12-cylinder liquid cooled engine, 1,490 hp (1,111 kW) at 3,000 rpm 1,720 hp (1,280 kW) at WEP

Propellers: 4-bladed constant speed, variable pitch Hamilton Standard, 11 ft 2 in (3.40 m) diameter

P-51 Mustang Engine Specifications & Aerial Performance

Maximum speed: 440 mph (708 km/h, 383 kn)

Cruise speed: 362 mph (583 km/h, 315 kn)

Stall speed: 100 mph (160 km/h, 87 kn)

Range: 1,650 mi (2,656 km, 1,434 nmi) with external tanks

Service ceiling: 41,900 ft (12,800 m)

Rate of climb: 3,200 ft/min (16.3 m/s)

Wing loading: 39 lb/sq ft (192 kg/m2)

Guns: 6 ×0.50 calibur (12.7mm) AN/M2 Browning Machine Guns with 1,840 total rounds (380 rounds for each on the inboard pair and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pair)

Bombs: 1,000 pounds (450 kg) total on two wing hardpoints

Each hardpoint: 1 × 100 pounds (45 kg) bomb, 1 × 250 pounds (110 kg) bomb or 1 × 500 pounds (230 kg) bomb

18 Facts About the P-51 Mustang, One of America’s Greatest Fighter Planes

Viewed by many as one of the all-time greatest fighter planes, the P-51 Mustang served the US military well in World War II and beyond.

Designed for the British

The Mustang wasn’t originally built for the US armed forces. It was designed to meet a specification provided by Great Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) during the early days of World War II.

Built for Speed

The Mustang had remarkable speed for such a complex and expensive machine. The first model was designed and built in just 117 days.

North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang

First Flight

The first Mustang test flight took place on 26 October 1940. It proved to be an impressive machine, able to outperform any other American fighter in use at the time.

Early Limits

Despite this promising start, the Mustang’s use in the European theater of war was at first limited. It lacked power both at altitude and in a climb, so it was relegated to an armed reconnaissance role.

North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang

First over Germany

In October 1942, a group of RAF Mustangs became the first British single-engine planes of the war to take to the skies above Germany, during an attack on targets around the Dortmund-Ems canal.

A Royal Air Force North American Mustang Mk III.

Changing Engines

The early Mustangs were equipped with Allison engines, which provided adequate performance and let the plane get into the war. But it was the replacement of these engines in 1942 that turned the Mustang into one of the most effective fighters in the world.

P-51 Mustangs

The new Rolls-Royce Merlin engines let the Mustang overcome its earlier limitations. It could now provide great performance in long-range aerial operations.

Aerodynamic for Speed

The Mustang’s clean lines made it incredibly aerodynamic. Following its upgrade, it achieved top speeds faster than the famous RAF Supermarine Spitfire, which was equipped with an equivalent engine.

P-51 Mustangs of the 375th Fighter Squadron, Eighth Air Force

Transforming Bombing Runs

By 1943, the Allies were carrying out a campaign of heavy strategic bombing against Germany. While the RAF flew at night, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) preferred to attack during the day, as this made their attacks more accurate.

The problem with daytime raids was that it was easier for German pilots and anti-aircraft gunners to identify and target American planes. There were no Allied fighters that could provide the bombers with the protection they needed on these long-distance raids, so American losses soared. In October 1943, the bombing runs were suspended.

Mustang Mark I, AG431, of No. 16 Squadron RAF. © IWM (CH 10222)

The arrival of Mustangs with Merlin engines changed that. When equipped with external droppable fuel tanks on the wings, it could escort the bombers on raids as far away as Berlin.

Fighting well even at that range, it out-performed most aircraft of the German Luftwaffe, protecting bombers from their attacks.

Equipped with the Mustang, the Allies could dominate the skies over Germany day and night. Bombs rained down on German cities, factories, and transport links. The Mustang made possible an incredible campaign to cripple the enemy’s economy.

P 51 Mustang.

Dive Bomber

The early model Mustang was also turned into a dive-bomber, the A-36 Invader. This was used to great effect by the USAAF in Sicily, as the Allies began the conquest of Italy in 1943.

A-36A of the 86th Fighter Bomber Group (Dive) in Italy in 1944.

A Comfortable Aircraft

The Mustang was designed with the pilot’s comfort and convenience in mind, recognizing the importance of supporting the human component on long missions. The ergonomically laid out cockpit made sure that all the controls were right at hand, and there was excellent visibility.

Mustang P-51C-10-NT.

A Physically Demanding Fighter

Though comfortably designed, the Mustang wasn’t always an easy machine to fly. At high speeds, the pilot had to exert himself physically to get the best performance out of the plane.

It was worth the effort, providing the great maneuverability that let the Mustang out-fight so many enemy planes.

Mustang P-51D-15-NA

Continuous Improvement

Like many vehicles, the Mustang was continuously refined and improved over the course of WWII. The P-51D, equipped with Merlin engines, was the most numerous, but the best was the P-51H, the final model of the war.

Its weight was reduced by a thousand pounds compared with the P-51D, giving it greater speed. It became the fastest piston-engined plane the Allies fielded in the whole war, beaten in speed only by the jet fighters that appeared in the final months.

Mustang P-51H

Massive Production

An International Aircraft

Though originally built by the Americans and for the British, the Mustang later served in at least 55 air forces around the world. A license was even provided to an Australian manufacturer to produce their own Mustangs in the late 1940s.

Mustangs 44-15238, 44-15053 over Sarasota FL.

Service in Korea

The Mustang continued in service after the end of WWII, most notably in Korea. There, the South African and Australian air forces brought their Mustangs, while the US fetched remaining P-51s, now redesignated F-51s, out of storage.

The planes were used as fighter-bombers and in aerial combat against communist forces.

North American P-51B Mustang. By Alan Wilson – CC BY-SA 2.0

Service in Indonesia

The Dutch took Mustangs to the Dutch East Indies in 1946 as part of their efforts to protect their colonies. When the Dutch withdrew, they handed the planes over to the air force of the fledgling nation of Indonesia.

The Indonesian Air Force used these planes until the 1970s. In 1962, they were even sent into action against their former owners, when Indonesia launched a failed invasion of Dutch New Guinea.

Mustang P-51 (F-6K-10-NT “199” 44-12223).

Arab-Israeli War

Another nation to field the Mustang was Israel. The Israelis used these fighters in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1956.


The quality of the Mustang design was so remarkable that production was revived in 1967, more than 25 years after it first saw service. This time, it was to be used as a counter-insurgency aircraft.

Mustang Chronology

June '40 - British Request

In the Spring of 1940, the British Purchasing Commission, headed by Sir Henry Self, visiting the U.S. asked Dutch Kindelberger, head of North American Aviation, to build Curtiss-designed P-40's for them. While his company had never built a fighter, Kindelberger's designers, led by Edgar Schmued had started design work on a modern fighter. Already, in 1940, the Curtiss P-40 and the Bell P-39 were inferior to aircraft being flown by Germany and Britain. Kindelberger offered to design and build the first prototype of the new fighter in 120 days. They signed the contract for 300 of the aircraft in late May.

The new fighter incorporated many of the latest developments in aeronautics, notably the laminar flow wing, a wing that was relatively symmetrical and offered less drag at high speed. The wings were designed to be easy to manufacture, with only two spars. As specified by the British requirement, the new airplane, designated the NA-73X, employed an in-line engine the Allison V-1710 fit the bill, although it lacked a turbo-supercharger for high-altitude performance. The main wheels were set twelve feet apart, for good stability on landing.

In the original design, the British required eight machine guns: four .30 caliber and four .50 caliber. Ultimately, most Mustangs would carry the usual American weaponry of six .50 caliber Brownings. It carried twice as much internal fuel as a Spitfire, 180 gallons in self-sealing wing tanks.

102 days after contract signing, in Sept. 1940, the protoype NA-73X rolled out. Apparently no one quibbled over the fact that it didn't have an engine, nor brakes, nor paint, nor actual gun mounts.

Oct. '40 - Flight of NA-73X Prototype

Oct. '41 - Mustang Mark I Reaches Britain

Nonetheless, the Mustang was so promising that in late 1941 the RAF ordered another 300 and the USAAF 150. As the exigencies of war demanded, 93 of these 150 (factory designated NA-91) ended up in British service, as Mustang IA's, equipped with four 20mm cannon. The remaining 57, equipped with four .50 caliber machine guns, and known as P-51's, ended up in US service.

Feb. '42 - Tactical Recon: No. 26 Sqn Issued Mark I's

These early Allison-powered Mustangs were fast, strongly constructed, had a long range, and packed a wallop with their eight guns. But their poor high-altitude performance relegated them to the low-level tactical reconnaissance role with British Army Cooperation Command (ACC). Outfitted with a K24 camera behind the pilot, the Mark I Mustangs could photograph enemy dispositions, provide ground support, and fight their way out of a jam. And they could do so better than the ACC's existing Tomahawks and Lysanders. By summer 1942, 15 RAF squadrons were flying the Mark I, photographing invasion targets, shooting up trains, barge-busting, and probing German defenses.

July '42 - First Long Range Recon Mission

On July 27, sixteen RAF Mustangs undertook a long-range reconnaissance mission, photographing the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

Aug. '42 - Dieppe Raid

The "reconnaissance in force" on August 19 gained little for the Allies, except the expensive and bloody lesson in how tough the German defenses were, both on the ground and in the air. The raid, Operation Jubilee, introduced the Typhoon and the Spitfire Mk. IX, and marked the first Mustang aerial victory. Four Mustang squadrons, No. 26, 239, 400, and 414, provided tactical recon for the ground troops.

Flight Officer Hollis "Holly" Hills, an American serving with No. 414 Sqn of the RCAF, took off from Gatwick in the pre-dawn darkness, as "weaver" (wingman) to Flt. Lt. Freddie Clarke. Flying at wavetop level, the glow from the searchlights and AA fire at Dieppe permitted him to stay with his leader. Once over the target, they were promptly separated both returned safely. On the second mission that morning, they saw a huge dogfight filling the sky over Dieppe, and Hills spotted four Fw 190s off to their right. With his radio out and unaware of the German fighters, Flt. Lt. Clarke left himself open and was hit. Then Hollis caught one of the FW's with a deflection burst. It started smoking and flaming, then the canopy popped off. Hollis fired again, and the plane fell to ground. He headed for home, shepherding Clarke as he went, dueling another Fw 190 for miles. In his fight with the Fw's, he lost sight of Clarke. After that, Hollis flew home uneventfully, to a dinner made rather somber by Clarke's apparent loss. But next morning, Clarke re-appeared over Hollis' bunk, smelling of seaweed he had ditched off Dieppe and been rescued. He had witnessed and could officially confirm Hollis' victory over the Focke-Wulf, the first of many aerial victories for the Mustang. And Clarke had the dubious honor of being the first combat Mustang to be shot down in the war by the Germans.

Read more about Clarke's and Hills' mission in this email from Clarke's son.

Mustang Aces of the Ninth and Fifteenth Air Forces and the RAF tells more about Dieppe and the RAF's use of the Mustang.

Oct. '42 - the Merlin Engine

As early as May, 1942, Ronald Harker, a Rolls Royce test pilot, first recommended mating the Mustang airframe to the Merlin engine, an idea which would transform the P-51 into a decisive weapon, capable of escorting American bombers all the way to Berlin. Harker test-flew an RAF Mustang on April 30, 1942, and noted that it was 30 MPH faster than the Spitfire Mk V and had almost double the range. Harker's memo recommending the Merlin-Mustang combination (in which he erroneously identified Edgar Schmued as a former Messerschmitt employee) got the attention of Rolls Royce management, who borrowed five RAF Mustangs to test the idea. The British flight-tested the Mustang X in October, and found that the experimental craft significantly out-performed the Allison at high altitudes, generating 200 more horsepower at 20,000 feet and almost 500 more HP at 30,000 feet. While the British research was valuable, the American Merlin Mustang program proceeded almost independently.

In the summer of 1942, Packard Motors was negotiating with Rolls Royce to license-build the Merlin engine at its Detroit plant. Learning of Rolls Royce' Merlin-Mustang plans, Major Thomas Hitchcock, the American military attache in London, and others, pushed for the development of a Mustang powered by the Packard-built Merlin. Authorized in July, 1942, North American began its Merlin Mustang development in August.
The XP-51B included these changes:

  • a Packard Merlin engine, instead of the Allison V-1710
  • a four-bladed propeller
  • stronger underwing racks
  • a strengthened airframe
  • a relocated carburetor air intake, from above to below the nose, as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd,
  • an intercooler radiator
  • larger ducts and doors for the radiator system
  • a deeper scoop under the rear fuselage
  • removal of the nose-mounted guns - (see illustration above)

The USAAF, desperately needing a long-range bomber escort, contracted for 2200 P-51B's. North American geared up for Mustang production, moving the B-25 program to Kansas City, dedicating the Inglewood plant to the Mustang, and expanding the Dallas plant for the Mustang (Dallas-built versions of the -B model were designated P-51C). P-51B's began rolling out of Inglewood in May, 1943 eventually 1,990 of the -B models would be made. The first of 1,750 P-51C's produced at Dallas flew in August.

After production of the B/C model began, three more changes appeared:

  • an up-rated Packard Merlin engine, the 1650-7 replacing the 1650-3, for a small increase in HP
  • an 85 gallon fuel tank installed behind the pilot, giving critically longer reach, but moving the center of gravity aft, thus reducing directional stability until most of the fuel was consumed
  • the bulbous Malcolm hood, giving much better all-around visibility (a field modification), as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd,

June '43 - A-36's with USAAF in MTO, Sicily

300 A-36A's (a variant of the Mustang known as "Apache" and "Invader") made a larger impact, when the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups began flying them. In June, 1943, the 27th BG flew missions against Pantelleria, in the build-up for the Sicily invasion. Dive bombing was a challenge, the recommended technique being a dive from 8,000 - 10,000 feet at 90 degrees, with dive brakes extended to keep speed below 400 MPH. At 3,000 feet, the pilot dropped two 500-pound bombs and pulled out at 1,500 feet. With this extended straight-in bomb run, they were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire.

German and Italian fighters engaged also engaged them. One A-36 pilot, Lt. Mike Russo of the 27th BG, made ace, the only man to do so while flying an Allison-powered Mustang. He counted four different types among his five aerial victories: two Fw-190's, a Bf-109, a Ju-52, and a Fieseler Storch.

The 27th and 86th were reduced to three squadrons each in September, due to the heavy losses they had incurred. As the Italian campaign progressed, they increasingly used strafing and glide bombing tactics, which reduced their losses to flak. In early 1944, both Groups transitioned to P-47's and turned over their A-36's for training.

P-51 Mustang Fighter Plane

The North American P-51 Mustang was among the best and most well-known fighters used by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Possessing excellent range and maneuverability, the P-51 operated primarily as a long-range escort fighter and also as a ground attack fighter-bomber. The Mustang served in nearly every combat zone during WWII, and later fought in the Korean War.

In 1939, the British Purchasing Agency came to America to buy aircraft for the war that had just started in Europe. Having experience with Curtiss P-40s, they purchased all that Curtiss could build them.

When they approached North American Aviation to build more P-40s, the company offered to build a new fighter using the same American-built Allison engine.

The British agreed, but on the condition the first aircraft had to be flying in no more than 120 days. 117 days later, the first P-51 flew!

Surviving North American P-51D Mustang, S/N 44-72339, N251JC

The North American prototype, NA-73X, was first flown in October of 1940. At least eight versions of the P-51 were manufactured before production ceased.

Mustangs served in nearly every combat zone in WWII, including the Pacific where they escorted B-29 Superfortresses to Japan from Iwo Jima. Between 1941 and 1945, the AAF ordered 14,855 Mustangs (including A-36A dive bomber and F-6 photo recon versions), of which 7,956 were P-51Ds.

Following the war, the P-51 was retained as the USAAF's standard, piston-engine fighter plane. Redesignated the F-51 in 1948, the aircraft was soon eclipsed in the fighter role by newer jet planes.

At the start of the Korean War, however, the Mustang once again proved its usefulness. After the initial invasion, USAF units were forced to fly from bases in Japan, and F-51D planes could hit targets in Korea that short-ranged F-80 jet fighters could not. F-51s flew in the Reserve and ANG until they were finally phased out in 1957.

P-51 Mustang returns home to Kentucky Air Guard after 63 years

By Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs / Published April 26, 2019

A P-51 Mustang arrived back on the flight line of the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here April 12, more than six decades after departing.

The Mustang, serial number of 44-74202, was once assigned to the unit as a military fighter aircraft from 1953 to 1956. Now, it was returning home as a fully restored civilian warbird to fly in the 2019 Thunder Over Louisville air show.

The P-51’s new owners, R.T. Dickson Jr. and his father, R.T. Dickson Sr., purchased the Mustang in 2012 after more than 50 years of storage and restoration.

The younger Dickson has been flying aircraft since the age of 3, when his father let him take the stick of a Globe Swift. He’s piloted a multitude of aircraft ever since, but the South Carolina resident said he was especially pleased to be flying the Mustang in Thunder.

“I’m very excited about it,” Dickson said on the tarmac of the Kentucky Air Guard Base, recalling how his appearance in the show came to be.

He met the Kentucky Air Guard’s Maj. Josh Ketterer, a C-130 Hercules pilot, in December 2018 during an air show planning conference that Ketterer was attending as a Thunder coordinator. Dickson noticed the Kentucky patch on Ketterer’s flight suit, and the two struck up a conversation. Dickson told Ketterer how his restored Mustang, now known as “Swamp Fox,” had once belonged to the Kentucky Air Guard.

“We started talking about the airframe, and Josh said, ‘You should come up for Thunder,’” Dickson recalled.

They both loved the idea of giving the aircraft a “homecoming,” and Ketterer talked to wing leadership about bringing this piece of aviation history back to Kentucky.

Tail no. 44-74202 was manufactured by North American Aviation and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on May 7, 1945. It was first assigned to 445th Fighter Squadron at Bakersfield Army Air Field, California, before being transferred to more than a half-dozen units in California, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas. It arrived at the Kentucky Air Guard in July 1953 and remained here until October 1956, when it was moved to McClellan Air Force Base, California. The following year, it was declared surplus property.

The aircraft was purchased at auction by a private individual in 1957 but was damaged a few years later in a landing accident, according to an article in Warbird Digest. For the next 50 years, the plane changed hands several times, although it remained unflyable until a major restoration project returned it to the air in 2012 as the Dicksons’ Swamp Fox, painted in honor of World War II pilot Will Foard, who was a member of the 357th Fighter Group.

The 357th scored more combat air-to-air victories than any other P-51 Group in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.

Dickson has now traveled around the nation with Swamp Fox, which has given him an opportunity to learn more about the history of the P-51. While in Louisville, he stopped by the Kentucky Air Guard’s “Heritage Hall” and saw photos of his aircraft when it was assigned here.

“The most awe-inspiring thing that has come out of (owning this aircraft) is meeting the men and women that flew them,” he said.

“It’s a very visceral experience to fly. It’s loud, it vibrates, and it has smells — the fuel, the oil and the hydraulics. It’s a neat experience to convey to people that haven’t been inside something like this.”

He said the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing has adopted him, partly because they share the name Swamp Fox. Recently, the unit hosted a family day that gave hundreds of people the chance to see the aircraft up close.

“We had kids crawling all over this thing, and I had the opportunity to take some kids up into the cockpit,” he said. “It’s really interesting to inspire the next generation.”

Ketterer finds inspiration in the Swamp Fox, too.

“As a Guard unit, we have a lot of family legacies around,” he said. “Having a legacy aircraft here that our families worked on is pretty special. We’re delighted about R.T.’s generosity of sharing his plane with us and bringing it back to its roots.”

Two P-51 Mustangs shimmer against the parking ramp over Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ while practicing formation flying during a USAF Heritage Conference 2002 training flight. The USAF Heritage conference brings together civilian Heritage pilots and USAF Demonstration Team pilots to discuss safety and practice formation flying in a non-airshow environment. The USAF heritage aircraft and modern day fighters routinely team together to perform at airshows in the “Heritage Flight” formation but must be certified to fly together before the airshow season begins each year. USAF Photo by SSgt. Greg L. Davis.


The North American P-51 “Mustang” was a single-engine, air-superiority fighter and bomber escort which served the Army Air Corps during World War II in all theaters. The sleek design was built around the massive V-12 engine driving an even larger propeller. The aircraft was famously used in the European theater to escort massive formations of allied bombers striking deep in to the heart of the Third Reich.

According to official Tinker history documents and photographs, the Oklahoma City Air Depot conducted maintenance and modifications to 25 Mustangs from Jan. 1951 to Dec. 1953.

The P-51 was generally armed with six .50 cal. machine guns, three in the leading edge of each wing root. It could also carry up to 2,000 pounds of external stores including bombs, rockets and long-range drop tanks. The V-12 engine is very efficient at high altitudes which allowed it to remain with striking bomber formations. There were five distinct versions of the Mustang beginning with the P-51A, P-51B, P-51C, P-51D with high-visibility bubble canopy, and P-51K. There were also multiple reconnaissance variants and even a Twin-Mustang two P-51s joined together with a center wing and flown by one pilot, known as the P-82.

The all-black pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, and flew P-47 Thunderbolt and multiple versions of the P-51 Mustang. The “Red Tailed” Tuskegee Airmen gained not only fame, but the everlasting respect of the bomber crews they escorted over Europe by attaining one of the lowest combat loss rates of any escort unit in the European theater.

The P-51 had moved from front-line service to a dependable, but aging mount with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves by the time the Korean War kicked off. The Air Force was quickly transitioning in to the jet age by this time, but soon found it still needed tough aircraft like the F-51 which could handle rough airfield and maintenance conditions. The F-51 Mustang was put in to the fight flying from airfields in Japan and the Korean Peninsula in support of United Nations troops. Some of the Air Force’s most recognizable combat leaders at the time and in later years, such as General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., flew the Mustang during their early careers. The final operational F-51s were retired from service with the Air National Guard in 1957.

Manufacturer: North American

Aircraft type: P-51

Nickname: Mustang

Power plant: One Rolls Royce/Packard-Merlin V1650 in-line V-12 piston engine creating 1,490 horse power

In-service dates: 1940-1957

Number produced: 14,068

Tinker connection: Maintenance and preparation for Korean War use

A view of the North American P-51D Mustang and the Republic P-47D (Bubble Canopy Version) before restoration crews at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force moved the aircraft into the WWII Gallery on Aug. 14, 2018. Several WWII era aircraft on display were temporarily placed throughout the museum to provide adequate space for the Memphis Belle exhibit opening events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

The Mustang was among the best and most well-known fighters used by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Possessing excellent range and maneuverability, the P-51 operated primarily as a long-range escort fighter and also as a ground attack fighter-bomber. The Mustang served in nearly every combat zone during WWII, and later fought in the Korean War.

North American P-51B 3/4 front view called “Shoo Shoo Baby” of the 357th Fighter Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 1940 the British approached North American Aviation to license-build Curtiss P-40 fighters for the Royal Air Force. North American offered to design a better fighter, which flew as the NA-73X in October 1940. Production of the aircraft — named Mustang I by the British — began the following year.

P-51D Mustang North American F-82 (S/N 44-83887) in flight with North American P-51 (S/N 44-8474). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Mustangs for the USAAF
In the summer of 1941, the USAAF received two Mustang Is under the designation XP-51. Although flight tests of the new fighter showed promise, the USAAF did not immediately order the Mustang. After the personal intervention of Gen. Hap Arnold, however, the USAAF retained 55 Mustangs from a British order. Most of these became F-6A photo-reconnaissance aircraft, which equipped the first USAAF Mustang units, the 154th and 111th Observation Squadrons in North Africa in the spring of 1943.

In March 1942 the USAAF accepted the first production P-51A fighters. Although excellent at lower levels, the P-51A’s Allison engines severely limited performance at high altitude. The USAAF employed P-51As in the China-Burma-India theater, where most combat took place at low altitude.

In April 1942 the USAAF ordered an attack version equipped with dive brakes and bomb racks, the A-36 Apache. A-36s entered combat in June 1943 and served in North Africa, Italy and India.

A Winning Combination
In the fall of 1942, Mustangs in the United States and Great Britain were experimentally fitted with British Merlin engines. One in the United States flew a remarkable 441 mph at 29,800 feet — about 100 mph faster than the P-51A at that altitude. Mass production of the Merlin-powered P-51B and P-51C soon followed (nearly identical, North American produced the “B” in Inglewood, Calif., and the “C” in Dallas, Texas).

In December 1943 the first P-51B/C Mustangs entered combat in Europe with the 354th Fighter Group “Pioneers.” By the time of the first U.S. heavy bomber strike against Berlin in March 1944, the USAAF fielded about 175 P-51B/C Mustangs. Along with P-38 Lightnings, these P-51s provided sorely needed long-range, high-altitude escort for the U.S. bombing campaign against Germany.

“Bubble-top” Mustang
The P-51D incorporated several improvements, and it became the most numerous variant with nearly 8,000 being built. The most obvious change was a new “bubble-top” canopy that greatly improved the pilot’s vision. The P-51D also received the new K-14 gunsight, an increase from four to six .50-cal machine guns, and a simplified ammunition feed system that considerably reduced gun jams.

The P-51D arrived in quantity in Europe in the spring of 1944, becoming the USAAF’s primary long range escort fighter. The versatile Mustang also served as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Few Luftwaffeaircraft could match the P-51D — by the end of the war, Mustangs had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other USAAF fighter in Europe.

P-51Ds arrived in the Pacific and CBI theaters by the end of 1944. In the spring of 1945, Iwo Jima-based P-51Ds started flying long-range B-29 escort and low-level fighter-bomber missions against ground targets in Japan.

Continuing Development
North American eventually developed a considerably lightened Mustang, which became the P-51H. With a remarkable top speed of 487 mph, it was 50 mph faster than the P-51D. Although it was in production before the war ended, the P-51H did not reach frontline units in time to see combat.

With the last of 555 P-51Hs completed in 1946, the production run of the Mustang ended with over 15,000 of all types built.

Korean War
Although Mustangs continued in service with the newly-formed U.S. Air Force and many other nations after the war, more advanced jet fighters relegated them to secondary status. Many of the USAF’s Mustangs (redesignated the F-51) were surplused or transferred to the Reserve and the Air National Guard (ANG).

At the start of the Korean War, however, the Mustang once again proved its usefulness. After the initial invasion, USAF units were forced to fly from bases in Japan, and F-51Ds could hit targets in Korea that short-ranged F-80 jet fighters could not. Mustangs continued flying with USAF, South Korean Air Force (ROKAF), South African Air Force (SAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter-bomber units on close support and interdiction missions in Korea until they were largely replaced by F-86F jet fighter-bombers in 1953.

F-51s flew in the Reserve and ANG until they were finally phased out in 1957. Obtained from the West Virginia ANG in 1957, the aircraft on display was the last Mustang assigned to a USAF tactical unit. It is painted as the P-51D flown by Col. C.L. Sluder, commander of the 325th Fighter Group in Italy in 1944. The name of this aircraft, Shimmy IV, is derived from the names of his daughter, Sharon, and his wife, Zimmy.

Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and 10 5-in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs
Engine: Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650 of 1,695 hp
Maximum speed: 437 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,000 miles
Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
Span: 37 ft.
Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
Height: 13 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 12,100 lbs. maximum
Serial number:44-74936

116 – P-51 Mustang

Some aircraft are, simply put, icons of their era: the Wright Flyer, the SR-71 “Blackbird”, and the F-22 “Raptor”, to name just a few. All hold a special place in history, and in the hearts and minds of the men and women who flew them or have dreamt about doing so.

On this episode, the only surviving triple ace Aviation Combat Element. A MAGTF component that contributes the force. Includes all aircraft (fixed- and rotary-wing), their pilots and maintenance personnel, and those units necessary for aviation command and control. of World War II, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson, joins us to tell his story about his experience in one of the most famous icons of World War II: the P-51 “Mustang”. Be sure to check out Bud’s book, To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace.

Former F-16 pilot, and host of The Afterburn Podcast host, U.S. Air Force Major John “Rain” Waters, joins as cohost to lend a hand with his experience with the P-51, tell us about his podcast, and helps answer a listener question on low-altitude fighter formations in the aerodrome pattern.

Episode artwork by Janek Krause based on original photography by Rich Cooper. Bumper music by Jaime Lopez / announcements by Clint Bell.

20 Facts About The P-51 Mustang – The Best US Fighter of WWII

North American Aviation (NAA) built the P-51 Mustang in factories based in Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas.

P-51A Mustang during a test flight near the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California, United States, Oct 1942

It took them 102 days to build the engineering prototype. The NA-73X prototype first flew on October 26, 1940.

P-51 Mustang fighters being prepared for test flight, North American Aviation, Inglewood, California, United States, Oct 1942

The first Mustangs were the P-51As. They had Allison V-1710 single stage V-12 engines. On November 30, 1942, the Merlin-powered XP-51B fighter was test flown.

This model added speed and a ceiling above 40,000 feet. Flight tests confirmed the potential of the new model.

P-51 Mustang fighters at rest at an airfield in Burma, date unknown

The RAF were the first to use the P-51, beginning their use in January of 1942.

Starting in late 1943, the US Army Air Force Eighth Air Force used P-51B fighters to escort bombers on raids over Germany. They later supplemented with P-51D fighters, starting in mid-1944.

US pilot Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Older in the cockpit of a P-51D Mustang fighter, China, circa Feb-Mar 1945

P-51 Mustangs were used in both the Pacific and the European theaters. After WWII, more than 55 countries used the P-51 in their militaries.

P-51D Mustang aircraft ‘Tika IV’ of the US Army 361st Flight Group, Jul-Dec 1944

The “P” in P-51 stands for “Pursuit.” This was changed in 1948 to “F” for “Fighter.”

The most widely produced version of the P-51 was the P-51D, recognizable by its bubble canopy and Rolls Royce Merlin engine.

American ground crew preparing to arm P-51 Mustang fighter at an airfield with six M2 machine guns and 0.50 caliber ammunition, date unknown

The P-51D had six .50 caliber Browning machine guns holding 1,880 rounds (400 rounds in each gun and 270 rounds in each outboard.

They also carried 10 “zero rail” rockets under each wing and were equipped with bomb racks. Each plane could carry 1000 pounds of bombs.

P-51D of the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group shows off it distinctive red tail, probably at Ramitelli Airfield, Italy, 1944-45.

The P-51D with the Rolls Royce 1650-7-1221 specs are as follows:

  • 500 -1000 mile range with drop tanks
  • 1490 horsepower at takeoff
  • 438 mph – maximum speed at level flight
  • 10,800 pounds gross weight
  • 90 gallons of fuel in each wing
  • 60 gallons per hour fuel burn (per hour average)
  • 16,776 P-51 Mustangs produced in a variety of models.

It cost $50,000 to produce a P-51 in 1944. That equals about $673,000 in today’s dollars.

P-51B and P-51C Mustang fighters of the US Army Air Force 118th Tactical Recon Squadron at Laohwangping Airfield, Guizhou Province, China, Jun 1945

The Mustang was the first single-engine fighter in Britain with enough range to escort bombers to the heart of Germany and back. The bomber crew referred to the planes as their “Little Friends.”

P-51D Mustangs of the 4th Fighter Squadron in flight, Italy, 1944

275 P-51 pilots achieved Ace status. They shot down a total of 2116 enemy planes – an average of 7.69 per ace.

Mustang pilots shot down a total of 4,950 enemy aircraft during World War II

View from the control tower at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, UK, of P-51D Mustangs of the 360th Fighter Squadron in sandbag revetments, 1944.

Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was quoted as saying, “When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up.”

P-51 planes were deployed in the Far East later in 1944. They were used for close-support, escort, and photo reconnaissance missions.

The Iowa Beaut,’ a P-51B of the 354th Fighter Squadron flown over the English countryside by Lt Robert E Hulderman, mid-1944. A different pilot in this plane was lost near Rechtenbach, Germany, Sep 11, 1944

The Mustang was the primary fighter plane of the United Nations at the beginning of the Korean War. They were replaced with jet fighters, like the F-86, later on.

P-51 Mustang fighters of the US Army Air Force 375th Fighter Squadron flying in formation, Europe, 7 Jul-9 Aug 1944

The last Mustang was retired from service in the US Air Force in 1978. The last Mustang in foreign service was retired in 1984 by the Dominican Republic Air Force.

P-51D “Janie.”

Post-World War II and Korean War, many Mustangs were converted for civilian use. They were used in air racing and, increasingly, preserved as historic warplanes flown at air shows.

The North American P-51D Mustang

North American P-51 Mustang figher plane over France. Mustangs served in nearly every combat zone. P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in Europe.

Ready to Ride

IN MAY 1940, British war planners asked North American Aviation to design and build a fighter-bomber with firepower, climb, speed, agility, and range sufficient to carry the fight to Berlin and back. By September, the firm had a prototype for what became one of the war’s most recognizable silhouettes. Debuting in combat with RAF pilots on the stick, the Mustang by late 1943 had become the escort of choice for Allied bombers over Europe and, in time, Japan. Pilots hailed the elegant machine’s robust, durable design, which evolved through multiple variations. Of 15,000-plus produced, more than 8,100 were P-51Ds, introduced in mid-1944. Auxiliary fuel tanks stretched the P-51’s range to 1,650 miles a pilot could cross the Channel into European air space, tangle with Luftwaffe fliers, and return to England. Critics sniffed at a P-51’s inability to turn like a Spitfire, Messerschmitt, or Focke-Wulf—but no rival could match a Mustang for range and ceiling. A dogfighter’s dream, able to catch and kill V-1 buzz bombs, the P-51 achieved permanent iconhood.

Originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.