The North American P-51 Mustang: Classic Aviation

Hi there, aircraft fans!  I’ve been sick lately, so that is the cause of the delay.  Hope you’ve all had a great start to 2013!


A splendid painting of a P-51 shooting down a German aircraft.

In 1940, the RAF sent the U.S. a request for a fighter.  First, they had talked with the president of Curtiss, but they had their hands full with how the P-40 Warhawk was in such high demand.  The job was taken on by North American.  When the British first got it, they loved the aircraft and hated the Allison engine.  After many requests, the North American company finally agreed to stick in the finest engine of the time: the 1112kW (1490hp) Packard Rolls Royce Merlin V-1650-7 Vee-type engine.  The RAF then used it extensively, and the pilots loved it.  As the fastest fighter of its time, it could fly at up to 505 M.P.H. when diving, and 437 M.P.H. in level flight.  In some ways the Supermarine Spitfire was better, as it was more forgiving than the Mustang, but the P-51 still did have some advantages.  The P-51 could go 905 miles, and with drop tanks it could go up to 2,080 miles.  The armament is as follows: Six 12.7 mm (0.50inch) machine guns, and up to two 454kg(1,000 pound) bombs or six 12.7 cm (5inch) rockets.  It could fly up to 41,900 feet, and had a wingspan of 37 feet, a length of 32 feet 3 inches, a height of 12 feet 2 inches, and a loaded weight of 12,100 pounds.  The P-51A was designed for the ground-attack role, so it was rarer than some of the other models.

The British already flew the famous Spitfire and Hurricane, splendid for the short-range Battle of Britain, but for long-range bomber escort, they needed a fighter with long range and immense speed.  The Hawker Hurricane had a fantastic range of 900 miles, but it could only fly at 322 M.P.H., inferior to the P-51.  There are always range-to-armament ratios, as having long range means poor or mediocre armament.  That was the story with Supermarine’s Spitfire.  It had a small amount of fly time, but for its time had good speed and incredible firepower.


The famous “Old Crow” flown by Bud Anderson in formation with an F-15.

A series of test flights were conducted by pilots Vance Breese, Paul Balfour, and R C “Bob” Chilton.  In addition, North American started production of the A-36A Apache (not the helicopter), for dive-bombing and was immensely successful.  The RAF pilots preferred a 3-blade propeller, but the USAAC chose the more popular 4-blade configuration.  America, the UK, and Canada were the main countries that used the P-51.

The “Football War” occurred between El Salvador and Honduras when the World Cup qualifier match score was disputed.  Fortunately for El Salvador, they had Mustangs.  But disaster struck when two crashed into each other, two had fuel shortages and one was shot down.

This is the story of an amazing rescue.  Mac McKennon was part of one of the perhaps two most daring rescues in WWII.  Leading his squadron over Germany in his “Ridge Runner”, he was hit by flak and had to jump out and make use of his parachute.  Since hundreds of miles into enemy territory, he decided it was time to become a POW.  But his other pilots had a better idea.  Lieutenant George Green landed in the field where his confused leader was standing, and the CO decided to get in.  Of course, some place-swapping occurred, as the Mustang is only a one-seat fighter.  Green had to sit on McKennon’s lap and proceed with the most difficult take-off of his career.  Then, the entire squadron flew back to Debden, where they safely landed around three hours later.

There are numerous other splendid Mustang stories, but since I’m not writing a book, I think that I’d better stop while I’m ahead.  North American’s P-51 Mustang is truly an aircraft classic.

Have a great day!