| Continued from above… 1940 to replenish dwindling RAF fighter strength, initially the Mustang was largely ignored by the USAAF which was pinning its hopes on the P-38 and P-47. |
Medium and low altitude performance of the early Allison-engined models was exceptionally good and efforts were made on both sides of the Atlantic to improve the high-altitude capabilities of the fighter by the installation of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Designated P-51B, the Merlin-engined Mustang was ordered into large-scale production and the new fighter made its appearance over Germany with the 354th Fighter Group on December 13, 1943.
With the advent of the P-51, Eighth Air Force bombers were afforded round-trip protection all the way to their targets by relays of American fighters. The result was a life-and-death struggle between the Eighth Air Force and the Luftwaffe during the spring of 1944. By mid-1944 the Luftwaffe's resistance to the Eighth's attacks had become virtually non-existent.
In Europe the Mustang ran up a seven-to-one kill ratio over its Luftwaffe opponents and repeated this success in the Pacific as Mustangs of the Seventh Air Force ran interference for B-29 raids on the Japanese home islands. Shortly after the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, Mustangs of the 8th, 18th and 35th Fighter-Bomber Wings were on the firing line, offering desperately needed air cover to hard-pressed U.N. troops. Mustangs destroyed four North Korean Yak fighters on June 29th, and on November 1st a flight of four Mustangs fought six attacking enemy MiG-15s to a standstill.
The North American P-51D Mustang was the product of two highly advanced technologies: the American aircraft industry, which in 117 days designed a plane body that was extremely advanced in structure and aerodynamics; and the British engine industry, which, with its prestigious Rolls-Royce Merlin, provided the ideal complement. The Mustang would not have become immortal without the British engine, the same engine that had already made the Supermarine Spitfire famous. Beyond this, all is history. A total of 15,686 Mustangs were built. Mustangs destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in combat and 4,131 on the ground in the course of 213,873 missions in Europe alone.
The idea that led to the P-51 Mustang's full development came to British and American technicians almost simultaneously. In Great Britain four P51 Mustangs were given to Rolls-Royce for testing with the Merlin engine. In the United States two bodies were consigned to North American for testing with the Merlin that' the Packard company built on license, the V-1650-3. Thus, in September, 1942, the first P-51B prototype was born.
Only minor changes were made in the forward part of the fuselage, to accommodate the new engine. But performance was radically different. Now the plane could reach a speed of 440 m.p.h. at 30,000 feet, and an ascent to 20,000 feet required only five minutes and 54 seconds. This was a remarkable advance over the P-51A's top speed of 390 m.p.h. at 20,000 feet and more than nine minutes in ascent. The plane went into mass production in the summer of 1943. It was built at the Inglewood factory as the P-51B and in the new Dallas plant as the P-51C. Great Britain received about 1,000 and called them Mustang Mk.III. The first P-51B went into service with the 8th Air Force in England on December 1.
In Dec. 1943, Merlin-powered P-51Bs first entered combat over Europe. Providing high-altitude escort to B-17s and B-24s, they scored heavily over German interceptors and by war's end, P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in Europe.
P-51s distinguished themselves while fighting against advanced enemy rockets and aircraft, be it V-1s that were launched into London (a P-51B/C with high-octane fuel was fast enough to catch up with one), Me 163 Komet interceptors or Me 262 jet fighters. General Chuck Yeager, flying a P-51D, was the first Allied pilot to shoot down a Me 262. The P-51s were deployed in the Far East later in 1944, and operated there both in close-support and escort missions.
In early 1945, the Mustang was deployed to the Philippines to provide a better fighter capability against Japanese aircraft, and it was here that William Shomo earned the only Medal of Honor given to a Mustang pilot in the Pacific by downing seven Japanese planes in a single mission. Lastly, the Mustang was sent to Iwo Jima in March 1945 and while their first days of combat were spent in ground attack missions, after the islands were secured they participated in long-range escort duty for B-29 raids based in the Mariana's flying missions against the Japanese homeland. These flights tested the endurance and range of the Mustang to its maximum, featuring 1,400 mile round trips while spending eight hours in the air.
| Fact File: |
P-51 Mustang (Merlin eng.)
Long-range high performance World War II fighter aircraft.
The original P-51 Mustang fighters, with their Allison V-1710-F3R liquid-cooled engines, were supreme machines, and particularly in the matter of high speed and maneuverability. However, the non-supercharged Allison detracted from performance by effectively preventing the Mustang from combat at heights over 15,000 ft (5,220 meters). The solution, what the RAF called 'a bit more poke', was provided by the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine which first took a Mustang aloft on 13th October 1942.
The pilots who received the first Merlin Mustangs early in 1943 soon discovered that what had once been a docile engine had become a much more challenging proposition. Controls had to be constantly adjusted when diving in order to keep the aircraft trimmed. The Mustang, in fact, had become much more like the Mexican wild horse after which it was named. It was now one of the speediest fighters in the air, able to out-dive and out-turn as well as out-pace its nearest enemy rivals, the Me 109 and Focke Wulf 190. It also had a very long range and could provide bombers with continuous 'all the way there and back' escort on round trips of up to 1,000 miles (1,609 kms). The problem of fighting at high altitude was also solved.
Merlin Mustangs acquired extra and more effective absolute ceilings of 37,100 ft (11,308 meters) with the Merlin XX and 40,800 ft (12,436 meters) with the Merlin 61. A Merlin Mustang could, in fact, climb to 20,000 ft (6,096 meters) in 6.3 minutes, 2.8 minutes faster than with the Allison, and fly at 340 mph (547 kph) at 32,700 ft (9,967 meters) with the Merlin XX or 379 mph (610 kph) at 37,200 ft (11,338 meters) with the Merlin 61.
Merlin Mustangs (models included the P-51C, P-51D, P-51H and P-51K) proved crucial in cracking the fighter defenses in raids on Germany for they were able to seek and raid fighter bases deep inside enemy territory, and pounce on fighters attacking Allied bomber formations before they could get near the bomber 'boxes'.