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North American P-51 / F-51 Mustang Fighter / Fighter-Bomber / Reconnaissance (1942)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 2/15/2014

The P-51 is arguably the most recognized and celebrated American fighter of the Second World War.

The North American P-51 Mustang proved an invaluable addition to the Allied cause in the latter half of World War 2. The system was designed and flown in a matter of months and made such an impact that it could clearly be considered the war-winning design for the Allies. Mustangs primarily assisted in escorting bombers on long range sorties but were able to attack ground targets with bombs and machine guns and outperform any of the German fighters that were matched against it. The Mustang exuded "classic warbird" in every sense of the phrase and went on to be one of the most recognized piston engine fighters of all time.

The British RAF need for more Curtiss P-40 production fighters led them to consider North American Aviation's manufacturing capabilities. North American designers Edgar Schmued and Raymond Rice, seeing this as an opportunity to market a new fighter altogether, seized the moment and produced a design for British review. The design was accepted under a new 1940 specification which required a heavily-armed fighter of considerable speed with the capability to operate at high altitude - all this with a flying prototype to be made available within a 120 day window. Development ensued and inevitably produced the NA-73X prototype within the allotted timeframe (some sources state the aircraft was completed in just 102 days whilst others say as many as 117 days). The NA-73X took to the skies on October 26th, 1940 with its 1,100 horsepower Allison V-1710-F3R inline engine and showed off its tremendous potential. The design was accepted by the British as the "Mustang" becoming an initial production model batch of 320 Mustang I's.

Mustang I's were first flown by British pilots on May 1, 1941 - these with 1,100 horsepower Allison V-1710-39 inline engines. As tactical reconnaissance platforms, these aircraft were modestly-armed with 4 x 12.7mm machine guns. The type exhibited good response and its performance at low level was exemplary, outmatching even that of the fabled Spitfire Mark V's. Though the design proved quite functional, it was soon found that performance capabilities of the system dropped off significantly at altitudes higher than 15,000 feet. As a result, British Army Cooperation Squadrons were assigned the type and utilized them in both low-level reconnaissance and high-speed ground attack roles with its primary function being the former. The first Mustang I mission was accomplished on May 10th, 1942 with No. 26 Squadron. These Mustangs successfully strafed aircraft hangars at Berck sur Mer in German-held French territory. As more and more Mustangs became available, the aircraft would eventually field some 14 total Allied squadrons by the end of 1942 - 10 RAF, 3 RCAF and 1 Polish air group. Most early production Mustangs went to Britain as Mustang Mk.IA (4 x 20mm cannons) and Mustang Mk.II models, numbering some 620 total combined examples.

The USAAF took notice of the aircraft and received two evaluation models (from the aforementioned British 620 order total) with the designation of XP-51. The type excelled in tests but the USAAF passed on an order commitment at the time. It was not until General Hap Arnold intervened that no fewer than 55 British-bound Mustangs were reserved for use in American service. These Mustangs became photo-reconnaissance models designated as F-6A and served with the 111th and 154th Observation Squadrons. These squadrons would be the first Mustang operators for the USAAF and see deployment to North Africa in early 1943.

Purchases of USAAF XP-51's full production models began with an initial block of 150 base model P-51's in March of 1942 (note that there was no model letter assigned to these). Aircraft were armed with 4 x 20mm cannons and were utilized for their inherently good low-level operational qualities thanks to their excellent airframes and under-performing Allison engines. These early-form Mustangs were utilized in the Southeast Asia Theater where most of their action took place at these optimal low altitudes.

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Specifications for the
North American P-51 / F-51 Mustang
Fighter / Fighter-Bomber / Reconnaissance

Focus Model: North American P-51D Mustang
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: North American - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1942
Production: 15,586

Crew: 1

Length: 32.32ft (9.85m)
Width: 37.04ft (11.29m)
Height: 13.65ft (4.16m)
Weight (Empty): 7,121lbs (3,230kg)
Weight (MTOW): 11,601lbs (5,262kg)

Powerplant: 1 x Packard V-1650-7 Merlin piston engine generating 1,590hp.

Maximum Speed: 437mph (703kmh; 380kts)
Maximum Range: 2,080miles (3,347km)
Service Ceiling: 41,900ft (12,771m; 7.9miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 3,475 feet per minute (1,059m/min)

Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
Dependent upon model:
4 x 20mm long-barrel Hispano-Suiza cannons in wings,
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in nose
4 x 12.7mm machine guns in wings

6 x .50 cal machine guns in wings

Up to 1,000 lbs (454kg) of bombs, rockets or fuel droptanks.

NA-73X - North American Aviation Prototype Designation; Allison V-1710-F3F engine of 1,100hp.

Mustang Mk.I - RAF Tactical Reconnaissance variant.

Mustang MK.IA - RAF; 4 x 20mm cannon armament.

Mustang Mk.II - Long-range variant for RAF use.

Mustang MK.III - P-51B's and P-51C's; 4 x machine guns; Original and bubble canopy for RAF use.

Mustang Mk.IV - RAF P-51D model Mustang

XP-51 - American Evaluation Model Designation; 2 examples.

A-36A "Apache / Invader" - Dedicated Dive bomber for USAAF; Allison V-1710 engine of 1,325 horsepower; 6 x 12.7mm machine guns and 1,000lb external bombload; 555 examples.

P-51 - Initial Production Model; 4 x 20mm cannons; 150 examples.

P-51A - 4 x 12.7mm machine guns with underwing bomb racks; Allison V-1710-81 engine of 1,200 horsepower; 310 examples.

F-6A - P-51A offshoot reconnaissance model

XP-51B - Improved P-51 model; Packard-built Merlin engine (V-1650); formerly XP-78 designation.

P-51B - 4 x machine guns; Original and pseudo-bubble type canopies during production at Inglewood, California plant in Blocks 1-15; 1,988 examples.

P-51C - 4 x machine guns; Original and pseudo-bubble type canopies during production at Dallas, Texas plant in Blocks 1-11; 1,750 examples.

F-6C - P-51C Reconnaissance variant

P-51D-NA (P-51D) - Definitive variant; Packard-produced Merlin engine; bubble canopy; produced in Blocks 1-30; 4 x 12.7mm machine guns; 6,502 examples.

P-51D-NT (P-51D) - Definitve variant; Packard-produced Merlin engine; bubble canopy; produced in Blocks 5-30; 6 x 12.7mm machine guns; 1,454 examples.

TP-51D-NT (TP-51D) - Two-place trainer variant; 10 examples.

P-51E - Designation Reserved but never used.

XP-51F - Experimental Lightweight Test Model; 3 examples.

XP-51G - Modified XP-51F model with new engine; 2 examples.

P-51H - Fastest Mustang model; lighter airframe version produced in Blocks 1-10; 555 examples.

XP-51J - Modified XP-51F with new engine; 2 examples.

P-51K - Improved P-51D; fitted with Aeroproducts propeller; produced in Blocks 1-15; 1,337 examples.

F-6K - Reconnaissance version of P-51K

P-51L - Improved P-51H with new engine; single example.

P-51M - Improved P-51H with new engine; single example.

Mustang Mk.20 - Australian license-production model.

Mustang Mk.21 - Australian license-production model.

Mustang Mk.22 - Australian license-production model.

Mustang Mk.23 - Australian license-production model.

Mustang Mk 24 - Australian export model

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