The P-51 Mustang was a long-range, high-speed fighter airplane that played a critical role for Allied forces in World War II. North American Aviation produced the first prototype and the Mustang completed its inaugural flight on October 26, 1940.
It was the Royal Air Force (RAF) that first expressed interest in the MK I Mustang. After they ordered 620 of the aircraft, the United States Air Force (USAAF) eventually ordered 150, but not before several modifications were incorporated into the Mustang’s design. As changes were made, the USAAF continued to stock their forces with the increasingly powerful and armament-enhanced fighter plane. A total of 14,819 P-51 Mustangs were produced for the U.S. Army.
When the original Allison engine was replaced with a supercharged Merlin 61 engine in 1942, the Mustang became unequaled in performance for speed and range. However, the engine change was not without some adjustment problems for pilots accustomed to the older, less powerful P-38 that was a little easier to handle.
The appearance of the P-51 Mustang in World War II came at a critical time, when American bomber losses were heavy. The primary reason for that was the lack of fighter escort deep into enemy territory. Until the Mustang arrived, no Allied fighter had the range to accompany the bombers for any great distance.
The effect of the Mustangs was immediate, so much so that the bomber crews took to calling them “Little Friends” because they all but guaranteed effective protection from enemy fighters. The number of Allied bombers lost decreased dramatically.
In addition to their long-range escort function, P-51 Mustangs were also used for photo-reconnaissance, ground attack, trainers, and as dive-bombers, boasting the following spec’s:
Maximum speed: 448 mph
Cruise speed: 360 mph
Range: 950 miles – 2,100 miles with auxiliary fuel tanks
Ceiling: 41,900 feet
Length: 32 feet. 3 inches
Wingspan: 37 feet. 1 inch
Height: 13 feet 8 inches
Maximum weight: 11,600 lb
Empty weight: 7,125 lb
Engine(s): Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650-7
Rate of climb: 3,745 ft. per minute
Armament: two 500 lb bombs, six 0.5 machine guns, eight HVAR rockets
Contractor: North American Aviation