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North American P-51 Mustang


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The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range single-seat World War II fighter aircraft. Designed and built in just 117 days to a specification issued to NAA by the British Purchasing Commission, the Mustang first flew in Royal Air Force (RAF) service as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft before conversion to a bomber escort, employed in raids over Germany, helping ensure Allied air superiority from early 1944. The P-51 was in service with Allied air forces in Europe and also saw limited service against the Japanese in the Pacific War. At the start of Korean War the Mustang was the United Nations' main fighter but the role was quickly shouldered by jet fighters, including the F-86, after which the Mustang became a specialised ground-attack fighter-bomber. In spite of being superseded by jet fighters the Mustang remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s.

As well as being economical to produce, the Mustang was a fast, well-made, and highly durable aircraft. The definitive version, the P-51D, was powered by the Packard V-1650, a two-stage two-speed supercharged version of the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and was armed with six .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns.

After World War II and the Korean War, many Mustangs were converted for civilian use, especially air racing. The Mustang's reputation was such that, in the mid-1960s, Ford Motor Company 's Designer John Najjar proposed a new youth-oriented coupe automobile be named after the fighter.

Design and development


In April 1938, shortly after the German Anschluss against Austria, the British government established a purchasing commission in the United States, headed by Sir Henry Self . Self was given overall responsibility for Royal Air Force (RAF) production and research and development, and also served with Sir Wilfrid Freeman, the "Air Member for Development and Production". Self also sat on the British Air Council Sub-committee on Supply (or "Supply Committee") and one of his many tasks was to organize the manufacturing and supply of American fighter aircraft for the RAF. At the time, the choice was very limited; no U.S. aircraft already flying met European standards, with only the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk coming close. The Curtiss-Wright plant was running at capacity, so even P-40s were in short supply.

North American Aviation (NAA) was already supplying their Harvard trainer to the RAF, but were otherwise underutilized. NAA President "Dutch" Kindelberger approached Self to sell a new medium bomber, the B-25 Mitchell. Instead, Self asked if NAA could manufacture the Tomahawk under license from Curtiss.

Kindelberger replied NAA could have a better aircraft with the same engine in the air in less time than it would take to set up a production line for the P-40. The Commission stipulated armament of four machine guns, Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine, cost no more than $40,000, and delivery of the first production aircraft by January 1941. 320 aircraft had were ordered in March 1940 by Sir Wilfred Freeman, who had become the executive head of Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP), and the contract was promulgated on 24 April.

The design, known as the NA-73X, followed the best conventional practice of the era, but included two new features. One was a new NACA -designed laminar flow wing, which was associated with very low drag at high speeds. The other was a new radiator design that used the "Meredith Effect ", in which heated air exited the radiator as a form of jet thrust. Because NAA lacked a suitable wind tunnel, it used the GALCIT wind tunnel at Caltech. This led to some controversy over whether the Mustang's cooling system aerodynamics were developed by NAA's engineer Edgar Schmued or by Curtiss, although NAA had purchased the complete set of P-40 and XP-46 wind tunnel data and flight test reports for US$ 56,000.

The prototype NA-73X was rolled out in early August and first flew on 26 October 1940, just 117  and 178 days, respectively, after the order had been placed: this was an uncommonly short gestation period. The prototype handled well and the internal arrangement allowed for an impressive fuel load. The aircraft’s two-section, semi-monocoque fuselage was constructed entirely of aluminium alloy to save weight. It was armed with four .30 in (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine gun s in the wings and four .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun s: two in the wings and another two mounted under the engine and firing through the propeller arc using gun synchronizing gear .

While the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) could block any sales it considered detrimental to the interests of the United States, the NA-73 was considered to be a special case because it had been designed at the instigation of the British. In September 1940 a further 300 NA-73s were ordered by MAP. To ensure uninterrupted delivery Colonel Oliver P. Echols arranged with the Anglo-French Purchasing Commission to deliver the aircraft, while NAA provided two free examples to the USAAC for evaluation.

Allison-engined Mustangs

Mustang Mk I/P-51/P-51A

It was quickly evident that the Mustang's performance, although exceptional up to , was markedly reduced at higher altitudes. The single-speed, single-stage supercharger fitted to the Allison V-1710 engine had been designed to produce its maximum power at a low altitude. Above 15,000 feet, the supercharger's critical altitude rating, the power dropped off rapidly. Prior to the Mustang project, the USAAC had Allison concentrate primarily on turbocharger s in concert with General Electric ; the turbochargers proved to be reliable and capable of providing significant power increases in the P-38 Lightning and other high-altitude aircraft, in particular in the Air Corps's four-engine bombers. Most of the other uses for the Allison were for low-altitude designs, where a simpler supercharger would suffice. Fitting a turbocharger into the Mustang proved impractical, and Allison was forced to use the only supercharger that was available. In spite of this, the Mustang's advanced aerodynamics showed to advantage, as the Mustang Mk I was about faster than contemporary Curtiss P-40 fighters using the same engine (the V-1710-39 producing at , driving a diameter, three-blade Curtiss-Electric propeller). The Mustang Mk I was faster than the Spitfire Mk VC at and faster at , despite the British aircraft's more powerful engine.

The first production contract was awarded by the British for 320 NA-73 fighters, named Mustang Mk I by the British (the name being selected by an anonymous member of the British Purchasing Commission). Two aircraft of this lot delivered to the USAAC for evaluation were designated XP-51. About 20 Mustang Mk Is were delivered to the RAF, making their combat debut on 10 May 1942. With their long range and excellent low-altitude performance, they were employed effectively for tactical reconnaissance and ground-attack duties over the English Channel , but were thought to be of limited value as fighters due to their poor performance above .

A second British contract called for 300 more (NA-83) Mustang Mk I fighters. In September 1940, 150 aircraft, designated NA-91 by North American, were ordered under the Lend-Lease program. These were designated by the USAAF as P-51 and initially named Apache, although this was soon dropped, and the RAF name, Mustang, adopted instead. The British designated this model as Mustang Mk IA. The Mustang Mk IA was identical to the Mustang Mk I, except that the wing-mounted machine guns were removed and replaced with four long-barrelled 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannon.

A number of aircraft from this lot were fitted out by the USAAF as F-6A photo-reconnaissance aircraft. The British would fit a number of Mustang Mk Is with similar equipment. Also, two aircraft of this lot were fitted with Packard-built Merlin engines. These were identified as the Model NA-101 by North American and XP-78 by the USAAF, later redesignated XP-51B.

On 23 June 1942, a contract was placed for 1,200 P-51As (NA-99s), later reduced to 310 aircraft. The P-51A was the first version to be procured as a fighter by the USAAF and used a new Allison V-1710-81 engine, a development of the V-1710-39, driving a diameter three-bladed Curtiss-Electric propeller. The armament was changed to four wing-mounted .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns, two in each wing, with a maximum of 350 rounds per gun (rpg) for the inboard guns and 280 rpg for the outboard. Other improvements were made in parallel with the A-36, including an improved, fixed air duct inlet replacing the movable fitting of previous Mustang models and the fitting of wing racks able to carry either 75 or 150 U.S. gal (284 or 568 l) drop tanks, increasing the maximum ferry range to 2,740 mi (4,410 km) with the 150 gal (568 l) tanks. The top speed was raised to at . A total of 50 aircraft were shipped to England, serving as Mustang Mk IIs in the RAF.

A-36 Apache/Invader

On 16 April 1942, Fighter Project Officer Benjamin S. Kelsey ordered 500 A-36 Apaches, a redesign that included six .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun s, dive brakes, and the ability to carry two 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. Kelsey would rather have bought more fighters but was willing instead to initiate a higher level of Mustang production at North American by using USAAC funds earmarked for ground-attack aircraft.

The 500 were designated A-36A (NA-97). This model became the first USAAF Mustang to see combat. One aircraft was passed to the British who gave it the name Mustang Mk I (Dive Bomber).

Merlin-engined Mustangs

P-51B and P-51C

In April 1942, the RAF 's Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU) tested the Mustang and found its performance inadequate at higher altitudes. As such, it was to be used to replace the Tomahawk in Army Cooperation Command squadrons, but the commanding officer was so impressed with its maneuverability and low-altitude speeds that he invited Ronnie Harker from Rolls-Royce 's Flight Test establishment to fly it. Rolls-Royce engineers rapidly realized that equipping the Mustang with a Merlin 61 engine with its two-speed two-stage supercharger would substantially improve performance and started converting five aircraft as the Mustang Mk X . Apart from the engine installation, which utilized custom-built engine bearers designed by Rolls-Royce and a standard diameter, four-bladed Rotol propeller from a Spitfire Mk IX , the Mustang Mk X was a straightforward adaptation of the Mustang Mk I airframe, keeping the same radiator duct design. The Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Wilfrid R. Freeman , lobbied vociferously for Merlin-powered Mustangs, insisting two of the five experimental Mustang Mk Xs be handed over to Carl Spaatz for trials and evaluation by the U.S. 8th Air Force in Britain. The high-altitude performance improvement was remarkable: the Mustang Mk X (serial number AM208) reached 433 mph (697 km/h) at , and ''AL975'' tested at an absolute ceiling of .

Two XP-51B prototypeswere adapted from P-51 airframes; these were a more thorough conversion than the Mustang X, with a tailor-made engine installation and a complete redesign of the radiator duct. The airframe itself was strengthened, with the fuselage and engine mount area receiving more formers because of the greater weight of the Packard V-1650-3 , , compared with the Allison V-1710's . The engine cowling was completely redesigned to house the Packard Merlin, which, because of the intercooler radiator mounted on the supercharger casing, was taller and used an updraught induction system , rather than the downdraught carburetor of the Allison. The new engine drove a four-bladed diameter Hamilton Standard propeller that featured cuffs of hard molded rubber. To cater for the increased cooling requirements of the Merlin a new fuselage duct was designed. This housed a larger radiator, which incorporated a section for the supercharger coolant, and, forward of this and slightly lower, an oil cooler was housed in a secondary duct which drew air through the main opening and exhausted via a separate exit flap.

It was decided that the armament of the new P-51B (NA-102) would permanently omit the previously nose-mounted machine guns used on earlier P-51 versions, and only the four wing-mounted .50 in (12.7 mm) M2/AN Browning machine guns (with 350 rpg for the inboard guns and 280 rpg for the outboard) of the P-51A would be used for its gun armament. The bomb rack/external drop tank installation, adapted from the A-36 Apache attack version, would also be used; the racks were rated to be able to carry up to of ordnance and were also capable of carrying drop tanks. The weapons were aimed using an N-3B optical gunsight fitted with an A-1 head assembly which allowed it to be used as a gun or bomb sight through varying the angle of the reflector glass. Pilots were also given the option of having ring and bead sights mounted on the top engine cowling formers. This option was discontinued with the later P-51Ds.

The first XP-51B flew on 30 November 1942. Although flight tests confirmed the potential of the new fighter, with the service ceiling being raised by 10,000 feet and the top speed improving by 50 mph at , it was soon discovered that the radiator duct airflow was breaking up at high speeds, generating a rumble as the exit shutter was closed. Testing at the Ames Aeronautical laboratory led to a redesign of the radiator scoop culminating in a forward slanted upper lip. After sustained lobbying at the highest level, American production was started in early 1943 with the P-51B (NA-102) being manufactured at Inglewood, California, and the P-51C (NA-103) at a new plant in Dallas, Texas, which was in operation by summer 1943. The RAF named these models Mustang Mk III. In performance tests, the P-51B reached 441 mph (709.70 km/h) at . In addition, the extended range made possible by the use of drop tanks enabled the Merlin-powered Mustang to be introduced as a bomber escort with a combat radius of 750 miles using two 75 gal tanks.

The range would be further increased with the introduction of an 85 gal (322 l) self-sealing fuel tank aft of the pilot's seat, starting with the P-51B-5-NA series. When this tank was full, the center of gravity of the Mustang was moved dangerously close to the aft limit. As a result, maneuvers were restricted until the tank was down to about 25 U.S. gal (95 l) and the external tanks had been dropped. Problems with high-speed "porpoising" of the P-51Bs and P-51Cs with the fuselage tanks would lead to the replacement of the fabric-covered elevators with metal-covered surfaces and a reduction of the tailplane incidence. With the fuselage and wing tanks, plus two 75 gal drop tanks, the combat radius was now 880 miles.

Despite these modifications, the P-51Bs and P-51Cs, and the newer P-51Ds and P-51Ks, experienced low-speed handling problems that could result in an involuntary "snap-roll" under certain conditions of air speed, angle of attack, gross weight, and center of gravity. Several crash reports tell of P-51Bs and P-51Cs crashing because horizontal stabilizers were torn off during maneuvering. As a result of these problems, a modification kit consisting of a dorsal fin was manufactured. One report stated:

"Unless a dorsal fin is installed on the P-51B, P-51C and P-51D airplanes, a snap roll may result when attempting a slow roll. The horizontal stabilizer will not withstand the effects of a snap roll. To prevent recurrence, the stabilizer should be reinforced in accordance with T.O. 01-60J-18 dated 8 April 1944 and a dorsal fin should be installed. Dorsal fin kits are being made available to overseas activities"

The dorsal fin kits became available in August 1944, and were fitted to P-51Bs and P-51Cs, and to P-51Ds and P-51Ks. Also incorporated was a change to the rudder trim tabs , which would help prevent the pilot over-controlling the aircraft and creating heavy loads on the tail unit.

One of the few remaining complaints with the Merlin-powered aircraft was a poor rearward view. The canopy structure, which was the same as the Allison-engined Mustangs, was made up of flat, framed panels; the pilot gained access, or exited the cockpit by lowering the port side panel and raising the top panel to the right. The canopy could not be opened in flight and tall pilots especially, were hampered by limited headroom. In order to at least partially improve the view from the Mustang, the British had field-modified some Mustangs with clear, sliding canopies called Malcolm hood s (designed by Robert Malcolm). The new structure was a frameless plexiglas moulding which ballooned outwards at the top and sides, increasing the headroom and allowing increased visibility to the sides and rear. Because the new structure slid backwards on runners it could be slid open in flight. The aerial mast behind the canopy was replaced by a "whip" aerial which was mounted further aft and offset to the right. Most British Mk IIIs were equipped with Malcolm hoods. Several American service groups "acquired" the necessary conversion kits and some American P-51B/P-51Cs appeared with the new canopy, although the majority continued to use the original framed canopies.

P-51Bs and P-51Cs started to arrive in England in August and October 1943. The P-51B/P-51C versions were sent to 15 fighter groups that were part of the 8th and 9th Air Forces in England and the 12th and 15th in Italy (the southern part of Italy was under Allied control by late 1943). Other deployments included the China Burma India Theater (CBI).

Allied strategists quickly exploited the long-range fighter as a bomber escort. It was largely due to the P-51 that daylight bombing raids deep into German territory became possible without prohibitive bomber losses in late 1943.

A number of the P-51B and P-51C aircraft were fitted for photo reconnaissance and designated F-6C.

P-51D and P-51K

The P-51D became the most widely produced variant of the Mustang. A Dallas-built version of the P-51D, designated the P-51K, was equipped with an diameter Aeroproducts propeller in place of the Hamilton Standard propeller. The hollow-bladed Aeroproducts propeller was unreliable, due to manufacturing problems, with dangerous vibrations at full throttle and was eventually replaced by the Hamilton Standard.

By the time of the Korean War, most F-51s were equipped with "uncuffed" Hamilton Standard propellers with wider, blunt-tipped blades. The photo reconnaissance versions of the P-51D and P-51K were designated F-6D and F-6K respectively. The RAF assigned the name Mustang Mk IV to the P-51D model and Mustang Mk IVA to P-51K models.

The P-51D/P-51K started arriving in Europe in mid-1944 and quickly became the primary USAAF fighter in the theater. It was produced in larger numbers than any other Mustang variant. Nevertheless, by the end of the war, roughly half of all operational Mustangs were still P-51B or P-51C models.

Concern over the USAAF's inability to escort B-29s all the way to mainland Japan resulted in the highly classified "Seahorse" project, an effort to "navalize" the aircraft. In late 1944, naval aviator (and later test pilot) Lieutenant Bob Elder flew carrier suitability trials aboard the carrier USS ''Shangri-La'' using P-51D ''44-14017'', which had been fitted with an arrestor hook . The project was canceled after U.S. Marines secured the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and its airfields, making it possible for standard P-51D models to accompany B-29s all the way to the Japanese home islands and back.

During 1945–48, P-51Ds were also built under licence in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation .

The "lightweight" Mustangs

XP-51F, XP-51G and XP-51J

The USAAF required airframes built to their acceleration standard of 8.33 ''g'' (82 m/s²), a higher load factor than that used by the British standard of 5.33 ''g'' (52 m/s²) for their fighters. Reducing the load factor to 5.33 would allow weight to be removed, and both the USAAF and the RAF were interested in the potential performance boost. A subtle change made in the lightweight Mustangs was the use of an improved NACA 66 series airfoil and a slightly thinner wing than that used by earlier Mustangs.

In 1943, North American submitted a proposal to redesign the P-51D as model NA-105, which was accepted by the USAAF. Modifications included changes to the cowling, a simplified undercarriage with smaller wheels and disc brakes, and a larger canopy and an armament of four .50 Brownings. In total the design was some 1,600 pounds lighter than the P-51D. In test flights the XP-51F achieved 491 mph at 21,000 feet. The designation XP-51F was assigned to prototypes powered with V-1650 engines (a small number of XP-51Fs were passed to the British as the Mustang V), and XP-51G to those with reverse lend/lease Merlin RM 14 SM engines.

A third lightweight prototype powered by an Allison V-1710-119 engine was added to the development program. This aircraft was designated XP-51J. Since the engine was insufficiently developed, the XP-51J was loaned to Allison for engine development. None of these experimental lightweights went into production.


The P-51H (NA-126) was the final production Mustang, embodying the experience gained in the development of the XP-51F and XP-51G aircraft. This aircraft, with minor differences as the NA-129, came too late to participate in World War II, but it brought the development of the Mustang to a peak as one of the fastest production piston-engine fighters to see service.

The P-51H used the new V-1650-9 engine, a version of the Merlin that included Simmons automatic supercharger boost control with water injection, allowing War Emergency Power as high as 2,218 hp (1,500 kW). Differences between the P-51D included lengthening the fuselage and increasing the height of the tailfin, which greatly reduced the tendency to yaw. The canopy resembled the P-51D style, over a raised pilot's position. Service access to the guns and ammunition was also improved. With the new airframe several hundred pounds lighter, the extra power and a more streamlined radiator, the P-51H was among the fastest propeller fighters ever, able to reach 487 mph (784 km/h or Mach  0.74) at 25,000 ft (7,600 m).

The P-51H was designed to complement the P-47N as the primary aircraft for the invasion of Japan , with 2,000 ordered to be manufactured at Inglewood. Production was just ramping up with 555 delivered when the war ended.

Additional orders, already on the books, were canceled. With the cutback in production, the variants of the P-51H with different versions of the Merlin engine were produced in either limited numbers or terminated. These included the P-51L, similar to the P-51H but utilizing the V-1650-11 engine, which was never built; and its Dallas-built version, the P-51M, or NA-124, which utilized the V-1650-9A engine lacking water injection and therefore rated for lower maximum power, of which one was built out of the original 1629 ordered, serial number 45-11743.

Although some P-51Hs were issued to operational units, none saw combat in World War II, and in postwar service, most were issued to reserve units. One aircraft was provided to the RAF for testing and evaluation. Serial number ''44-64192'' was designated BuNo ''09064'' and used by the U.S. Navy to test transonic airfoil designs and then returned to the Air National Guard in 1952. The P-51H was not used for combat in the Korean War despite its improved handling characteristics, since the P-51D was available in much larger numbers and was a proven commodity.

Many of the aerodynamic advances of the P-51 (including the laminar flow wing) were carried over to North American's next generation of jet-powered fighters, the Navy FJ Fury and Air Force F-86 Sabre . The wings, empennage and canopy of the first straight-winged variant of the Fury (the FJ-1) and the unbuilt preliminary prototypes of the P-86/F-86 strongly resembled those of the Mustang before the aircraft were modified with swept-wing designs.

Experimental Mustangs

In early 1944, the first P-51A-1-NA, ''43-6003''. was fitted and tested with a lightweight retractable ski kit replacing the wheels. This conversion was made in response to a perceived requirement for aircraft that would operate away from prepared airstrips. The main oleo leg fairings were retained, but the main wheel doors and tail wheel doors were removed for the tests. When the undercarriage was retracted, the main gear skis were housed in the space in the lower engine compartment made available by the removal of the fuselage .50 in (12.7 mm) Brownings from the P-51As. The entire installation added to the aircraft weight and required that the operating pressure of the hydraulic system had to be increased from 1,000 psi (6,897 kPa) to 1,200 psi (8,276 kPa). Flight tests showed that ground handling was good, and the Mustang could take off and land in a field length of ; the maximum speed was lower, although it was thought that fairings over the retracted skis would compensate.

On 15 November 1944, a navalized P-51D-5-NA, ''44-14017'', started flight tests from the deck of the carrier . This Mustang had been fitted with an arrestor hook, which was attached to a reinforced bulkhead behind the tail wheel opening; the hook was housed in a streamlined position under the rudder fairing and could be released from the cockpit. The tests showed that the Mustang could be flown off the carrier deck without the aid of a catapult, using a flap setting of 20° down and 5° of up elevator. Landings were found to be easy, and, by allowing the tail wheel to contact the deck before the main gear, the aircraft could be stopped in a minimum distance.

While North American were concentrating on improving the performance of the P-51 through the development of the lightweight Mustangs, in Britain, other avenues of development were being pursued. To this end, two Mustang Mk IIIs (P-51Bs and P-51Cs), ''FX858'' and ''FX901'', were fitted with different Merlin engine variants. The first of these, ''FX858'', was fitted with a Merlin 100 by Rolls-Royce at Hucknall ; this engine was similar to the RM 14 SM fitted to the XP-51G and was capable of generating 2,080 hp (1,550 kW) at 22,800 ft (7,000 m) using a boost pressure of +25 lbf/in2 (170 kPa ; 80 inHg ) in war emergency setting. With this engine, ''FX858'' reached a maximum speed of 453 mph (729 km/h) at 18,000 ft (5,500 m), and this could be maintained to 25,000 ft (7,600 m). The climb rate was 4,160 ft/min (21.1 m/s) at 14,000 ft (4,300 m).

''FX901'' was fitted with a Merlin 113 (also used in the de Havilland Mosquito B. Mk 35 ). This engine was similar to the Merlin 100, but it was fitted with a supercharger rated for higher altitudes. ''FX901'' was capable of 454 mph (730 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,100 m) and at 40,000 ft (12,200 m).

Operational history

U.S. operational service

American pre-war doctrine held that large formations of heavily-armed B-17s flying at high altitudes and using the Norden bombsight would be able conduct precision daylight bombing of factories and other pinpoint targets, while at the same time avoiding heavy civilian casualties. It was also believed that using tightly grouped bomber formations, which allowed bombers to mutually protect one another with heavy defensive firepower, would mean that the bombers would be able to defend themselves against enemy interceptors without the need for fighter escort. The British viewed this doctrine with scepticism because direct operational experience during the first months of the war showed that unescorted RAF heavy bomber formations attacking targets in daylight were vulnerable to fighters; after formations of Wellingtons took heavy casualties, the RAF switched mostly to night attacks for the duration of the war. During the Battle of Britain the ''Luftwaffe'' had discovered that even escorted bomber formations were open to daylight attack and eventually resorted to night raids during the Blitz of 1940/41. Regardless of these experiences the Americans continued to believe in the efficacy of daylight precision bombing and, once the US had entered the war, the USAAF began to build up a strategic bomber force based in Britain.

The 8th Air Force started operations from Britain in August 1942; at first, because of the limited scale of operations, there was no conclusive evidence that the American doctrine was failing. In the twenty-six operations which had been flown to the end of 1942 the loss rate had been under 2%. In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference , the Allies formulated the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) plan for "round-the-clock" bombing by the RAF at night and the USAAF by day. In June 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued the Pointblank Directive to destroy the ''Luftwaffe'' before the invasion of Europe, putting the CBO into full implementation. The 8th Air Force's heavy-bombers conducted a series of deep-penetration raids into Germany, beyond the range of available escort fighters. German fighter reaction was fierce, and bomber losses were severe—20% in an October 14 attack on the German ball-bearing industry. This made it too costly to continue such long-range raids without adequate fighter escort.

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning had the range to escort the bombers, but was available in very limited numbers in the European theater due to its Allison engines proving difficult to maintain. With the extensive use of the P-38 in the Pacific Theater of Operations , where its twin engines were deemed vital to long-range "over-water" operations, nearly all European-based P-38 units converted to the P-51 in 1944. The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was capable of meeting the ''Luftwaffe'' on more than even terms, but did not at the time have sufficient range. The Mustang changed all that. In general terms, the Mustang was at least as simple as other aircraft of its era. It used a single, well-understood, reliable engine and had internal space for a huge fuel load. With external fuel tanks, it could accompany the bombers all the way to Germany and back.

Enough P-51s became available to the 8th and 9th Air Force s in the winter of 1943-44, and, when the Pointblank offensive resumed in early 1944, matters changed dramatically. The P-51 proved perfect for the task of escorting bombers all the way to the deepest targets, thus complementing the more numerous P-47s until sufficient Mustangs became available. The Eighth Air Force immediately began to switch its fighter groups to the Mustang, first exchanging arriving P-47 groups for those of the 9th Air Force using P-51s, then gradually converting its Thunderbolt and Lightning groups until, by the end of the year, 14 of its 15 groups flew the Mustang.

Luftwaffe ''Experten'' were confident that they could out-manoeuvre the P-51 in a dogfight. Kurt Bühligen , the third-highest scoring German fighter pilot of the Second World War on the Western Front, with 112 victories, later recalled that "We would out-turn the P-51 and the other American fighters, with the (Bf)''109'' or the (Fw)''190''. Their turn rate was about the same. The P-51 was faster than us but our munitions and cannon were better”.Robert S. Johnson , the second-highest scoring U.S. fighter pilot in European theatre flew the P-47 against German fighters. Johnson pointed out “Generally speaking, I’d say the best (Focke-Wulf) 190s and the P-51 were very close in performance; the difference was probably in the pilot in these combats.”

Usually Luftwaffe pilots attempted to avoid U.S. fighters by massing in huge numbers well in front of the bombers, attacking in a single pass, then breaking off the attack, allowing escorting fighters little time to react.The need to inflict heavy casualties on the American bombers was now more pressing than ever. To do this, the German fighters needed to carry very heavy armament. The weight of this armament decreased performance to the point where their aircraft were sitting ducks if caught by the P-51s, likely to appear in large numbers anywhere over Germany. The Luftwaffe answer was the ''Gefechtsverband'' (battle formation). It consisted of a ''Sturmgruppe'' of heavily armed and armoured Fw 190s escorted by two ''Begleitgruppen'' of light fighters, often Bf 109Gs, whose task was to keep the Mustangs away from the Fw 190s attacking the bombers. This scheme was excellent in theory but difficult to apply in practice. The massive German formation took a long time to assemble and was difficult to manoeuvre. It was often intercepted by the escorting P-51s and broken before reaching the bombers. But when the ''Sturmgruppe'' worked, the effects were devastating. With their engines and cockpits heavily armoured, the Fw 190s attacked from astern and gun camera films show that these attacks were often pressed to within 100 yds.

While not always successful in avoiding contact with the escort (as the tremendous loss of German pilots in the spring of 1944 indicates), the threat of mass attacks, and later the "company front" (eight abreast) assaults by armored ''Sturmgruppe'' Fw 190s, brought an urgency to attacking the ''Luftwaffe'' wherever it could be found. The P-51, particularly with the advent of the K-14 gunsight and the development of "Clobber Colleges" for the in-theater training of fighter pilots in fall 1944, was a decisive element in Allied countermeasures against the ''Jagdverbände''.

Beginning in late February 1944, 8th Air Force fighter units began systematic strafing attacks on German airfields that picked up in frequency and intensity throughout the spring, with the objective of gaining air supremacy over the Normandy battlefield. In general, these were conducted by units returning from escort missions, but beginning in March, many groups also were assigned airfield attacks instead of bomber support. On 15 April, VIII FC began Operation Jackpot, attacks on specific ''Luftwaffe'' fighter airfields, and on 21 May, these attacks were expanded to include railway s, locomotive s, and rolling stock used by the Germans to transport materiel and troops, in missions dubbed "Chattanooga". The P-51 also excelled at this mission, although losses were much higher on strafing missions than in air-to-air combat, partially because, like other fighters using liquid-cooled engines, the Mustang's coolant system could be punctured by small arms hits, even from a single bullet.

The numerical superiority of the USAAF fighters, superb flying characteristics of the P-51 and pilot proficiency helped cripple the ''Luftwaffe''s fighter force. As a result, the fighter threat to US, and later British bombers, was greatly diminished by July 1944. Reichmarshal Hermann Göring , commander of the German ''Luftwaffe '' during the war, was quoted as saying, "When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up."

P-51s also distinguished themselves against advanced enemy rockets and aircraft. A P-51B/P-51C with 150 octane fuel was fast enough to pursue the V-1 s launched toward London . The Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket interceptors and Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters were considerably faster than the P-51, but they were not as maneuverable as the Mustang, furthermore they were vulnerable on take-off and landing (as all aircraft are). Chuck Yeager , flying a P-51D, was one of the first American pilots to shoot down a Me 262 when he surprised it during its landing approach. On 7 October 1944, Lt. Urban Drew of the 365th Fighter Group went him one better. During a fighter sweep, he surprised and shot down two Me 262s taking off. On the same day, Hubert Zemke , now flying Mustangs, shot down what he thought was a Bf 109, only to have his gun camera film reveal it to be an Me 262. On 1 November 1944, the Mustang pilots once again demonstrated that the threat could be contained with numbers. While flying as escorts for B-17s, the 20th Fighter Group was attacked by a lone Me 262, which destroyed a solitary P-51. The Me 262 then attempted to attack the bombers, only to be cut off by a mixed formation of P-51s and P-47s. The fighter groups competed for the kill. Eventually, a P-47 pilot of the 56th, and Mustang pilots Lts. Gerbe and Groce of the 352nd Fighter Groups, shared the kill.

By 8 May 1945, the 8th, 9th and 15th Air Force s' P-51 groups claimed some 4,950 aircraft shot down (about half of all USAAF claims in the European theater), the most claimed by any Allied fighter in air-to-air combat, and 4,131 destroyed on the ground. Losses were about 2,520 aircraft. The 8th Air Force's 4th Fighter Group , was the overall top-scoring fighter group in Europe, with 1,016 enemy aircraft claimed destroyed. This included 550 claimed in aerial combat and 466 on the ground.

In aerial combat, the top-scoring P-51 units (both of which exclusively flew Mustangs) were the 357th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force with 595 air-to-air combat victories, and the Ninth Air Force's 354th Fighter Group with 701, which made it the top scoring outfit in aerial combat of all fighter groups of any type. Martin Bowman reports that in the European Theater of Operations , Mustangs flew 213,873 sorties and lost 2,520 aircraft to all causes.

The top Mustang ace was the USAAF's George Preddy , whose final tally stood at 27.5, 24 scored with the P-51, when he was shot down and killed by friendly fire on Christmas Day 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge .

The P-51s were deployed in the Far East later in 1944, operating in close-support and escort missions as well as for tactical photo reconnaissance.

An Allied test-pilot's opinion

Chief Naval Test Pilot and C.O. Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight Capt. Eric Brown , CBE, DSC, AFC, RN, tested the Mustang in RAE Farnborough , and noted: "The Mustang was a good fighter and the best escort due to its incredible range, make no mistake about it. It was also the best American dogfighter . But the laminar flow wing fitted to the Mustang could be a little tricky. It could not by no means out-turn a Spitfire. No way. It had a good rate-of-roll, better than the Spitfire, so I would say the plusses to the Spitfire and the Mustang just about equate. If I were in a dogfight, I’d prefer to be flying the Spitfire. The problems was I wouldn’t like to be in a dogfight near Berlin, because I could never get home to Britain in a Spitfire!”

Post-World War II

In the aftermath of World War II, the USAAF consolidated much of its wartime combat force and selected the P-51 as a "standard" piston-engine fighter, while other types, such as the P-38 and P-47, were withdrawn or given substantially reduced roles. However, as more advanced jet fighters (P-80 and P-84) were being introduced, the P-51 was relegated to secondary status.

In 1947, the newly-formed USAF Strategic Air Command employed Mustangs alongside F-6 Mustangs and F-82 Twin Mustangs, due to their range capabilities. In 1948, the designation P-51 (P for pursuit) was changed to F-51 (''F'' for fighter), and the existing F designator for photographic reconnaissance aircraft was dropped because of a new designation scheme throughout the USAF. Aircraft still in service in the USAF or Air National Guard (ANG) when the system was changed included: F-51B, F-51D, F-51K, RF-51D (formerly F-6D), RF-51K (formerly F-6K), and TRF-51D (two-seat trainer conversions of F-6Ds). They remained in service from 1946 through 1951. By 1950, although Mustangs continued in service with the USAF after the war, the majority of the USAF's Mustangs had been surplussed or transferred to the Air Force Reserve (AFRES) and the Air National Guard (ANG).

During the Korean War , F-51s, though obsolete as fighters, were used as close ground-support aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft until the end of the war in 1953. Because of its lighter structure and less availability of spare parts, the newer, faster F-51H was not used in Korea. With the aircraft being used for ground attack, their performance was less of a concern than their ability to carry a load.

At the start of the Korean War, the Mustang once again proved its usefulness. With the availability of F-51Ds in service and in storage, a substantial number were shipped via aircraft carriers to the combat zone for use initially by both the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and USAF. Rather than employing them as interceptors or "pure" fighters, the F-51 was given the task of ground attack, fitted with rockets and bombs. After the initial invasion from North Korea, 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. A major concern over the vulnerability of the cooling system was realized in heavy losses due to ground fire. Mustangs continued flying with USAF and ROKAF fighter-bomber units on close support and interdiction missions in Korea until they were largely replaced by Republic F-84 and Grumman Panther jet fighter-bombers in 1953. No. 77 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operated Australian-built Mustangs as part of British Commonwealth Forces Korea , replacing them with Gloster Meteor F8s in 1951. No. 2 Squadron South African Air Force (SAAF) operated US-built Mustangs as part of the US 18th Fighter Bomber Wing , suffering heavy losses by 1953, when it converted to the F-86 Sabre.

F-51s flew in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard throughout the 1950s. The last American USAF Mustang was F-51D-30-NA AF Serial No. ''44-74936'', which was finally withdrawn from service with the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1957. This aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio . It is, however, painted as P-51D-15-NA Serial No. ''44-15174''.

The final withdrawal of the Mustang from USAF dumped hundreds of P-51s out onto the civilian market. The rights to the Mustang design were purchased from North American by the Cavalier Aircraft Corporation, which attempted to market the surplus Mustang aircraft both in the U.S. and overseas. In 1967 and again in 1972, the USAF procured batches of remanufactured Mustangs from Cavalier, most of them destined for air forces in South America and Asia that were participating in the Military Assistance Program (MAP) . These aircraft were remanufactured from existing original F-51D airframes but were fitted with new V-1650-7 engines, a new radio fit, tall F-51H-type vertical tails, and a stronger wing that could carry six machine guns and a total of eight underwing hardpoints. Two 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs and six 5 in (127 mm) rockets could be carried. They all had an original F-51D-type canopy, but carried a second seat for an observer behind the pilot. One additional Mustang was a two-seat dual-control TF-51D (67-14866) with an enlarged canopy and only four wing guns. Although these remanufactured Mustangs were intended for sale to South American and Asian nations through the MAP, they were delivered to the USAF with full USAF markings. They were, however, allocated new serial numbers (67-14862/14866, 67-22579/22582 and 72-1526/1541).

The last U.S. military use of the F-51 was in 1968, when the U. S. Army employed a vintage F-51D (''44-72990'') as a chase aircraft for the Lockheed YAH-56 Cheyenne armed helicopter project. This aircraft was so successful that the Army ordered two F-51Ds from Cavalier in 1968 for use at Fort Rucker as chase planes. They were assigned the serials ''68-15795'' and ''68-15796''. These F-51s had wingtip fuel tanks and were unarmed. Following the end of the Cheyenne program, these two chase aircraft were used for other projects. One of them (68-15795) was fitted with a 106 mm recoilless rifle for evaluation of the weapon's value in attacking fortified ground targets. Cavalier Mustang ''68-15796'' survives at the Air Force Armament Museum , Eglin AFB , Florida, displayed indoors in World War II markings.

The F-51 was adopted by many foreign air forces and continued to be an effective fighter into the mid-1980s with smaller air arms. The last Mustang ever downed in battle occurred during Operation Power Pack in the Dominican Republic in 1965, with the last aircraft finally being retired by the Dominican Air Force (FAD) in 1984.

Non-US service

After World War II, the P-51 Mustang served in the air arms of more than 55 nations. During wartime, a Mustang cost about 51,000 dollars, while many hundreds were sold postwar for the nominal price of one dollar to the American countries that signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance , ratified in Rio de Janeiro in 1947.

Following is a list of some of the countries that used the P-51 Mustang.


In November 1944, 3 (RAAF) Squadron became the first Royal Australian Air Force unit to use Mustangs. At the time of its conversion from the P-40 to the Mustang the squadron was based in Italy with the RAF's First Tactical Air Force . By this time, the Australian government had also decided to order Australian-built Mustangs, to replace its Curtiss Kittyhawks and CAC Boomerang s in the South West Pacific theatre . The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) factory at Fishermans Bend , Melbourne was the only non-U.S. production line for the P-51.

In 1944, 100 P-51Ds were shipped from the US in kit form to inaugurate production. From February 1945, CAC assembled 80 of these under the designation CA-17 Mustang Mark 20, with the first one being handed over to the RAAF on 4 June 1945. The remaining 20 were kept unassembled as spare parts. In addition, 84 P-51Ks were also shipped directly to the RAAF from the USA. However, in the South West Pacific, only 17 Mustangs reached the RAAF's First Tactical Air Force front line squadrons by the time World War II ended in August 1945.

In late 1946 CAC was given another contract to build 170 (reduced to 120) more P-51Ds on its own; these, designated CA-18 Mustang Mark 21, Mark 22 or Mark 23, were manufactured entirely in-house, with only a few components being sourced from overseas. The 21 and 22 used the American-built Packard V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. The Mark 23s, which followed the 21s, were powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 or Merlin 70 engines. The first 26 were built as Mark 21s, followed by 66 Mark 23s; the first 14 Mark 21s were converted to fighter-reconnaissance aircraft, with two F24 cameras in both vertical and oblique positions in the rear fuselage, above and behind the radiator fairing; the designation of these modified Mustangs was changed from Mark 21 to Mark 22. An additional 14 purpose-built Mark 22s, built after the Mark 23s, and powered by either Packard V-1650-7s or Merlin 68s, completed the production run. All of the CA-17s and CA-18s, plus the 84 P-51Ks, used Australian serial numbers prefixed by A68.

Several squadrons were issued with P-51s: 76 , 77 , 82 , 83 , 84 and 86 Squadrons, converted to P-51s from July 1945. 3(RAAF) Squadron, after returning to Australia from Italy, was renumbered 4 Squadron and converted to CAC-built Mustangs. 76, 77 and 82 Squadrons were formed into 81 Fighter Wing of the British Commonwealth Air Force (BCAIR) which was part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) stationed in Japan from February 1946. 77 Squadron also used P-51s extensively during the first years of the Korean War, before converting to Gloster Meteor jets.

Five reserve units from the Citizen Air Force (CAF) also operated Mustangs. 21 "City of Melbourne" Squadron , based in the state of Victoria ; 22 "City of Sydney" Squadron , based in New South Wales ; 23 "City of Brisbane" Squadron , based in Queensland ; 24 "City of Adelaide" Squadron , based in South Australia ; and 25 "City of Perth" Squadron , based in Western Australia . The last Mustangs were retired from these units in 1960 when CAF units adopted a non-flying role.

In October 1953, six Mustangs, including ''A68-1'', the first Australian built CA-17 Mk 20, were allotted to the Long Range Weapons Development Establishment at Maralinga, South Australia , for use in experiments to gauge the effects of low-yield nuclear atomic bombs . The Mustangs were placed on a dummy airfield about 0.62 mi (1 km) from the blast tower on which two low-yield bombs were detonated. The Mustangs survived intact. In 1967, ''A68-1'' was bought by a US syndicate, for restoration to flight status and is currently owned by Troy Sanders.


: Nine ''Cavalier'' F-51D (including the two TF-51s) were given to Bolivia, under a program called Peace Condor.



Canada had five squadrons equipped with Mustangs during World War II. RCAF No. 400 , No. 414 and No. 430 squadrons flew Mustang Mk Is (1942-1944), and Nos. 441 and 442 flew Mustang Mk IIIs and IVAs in 1945. Postwar, a total of 150 Mustang P-51Ds were purchased and served in two regular (No. 416 "Lynx" and No. 417 "City of Windsor") and six auxiliary fighter squadrons (No. 402 "City of Winnipeg", No. 403 "City of Calgary", No. 420 "City of London", No. 424 "City of Hamilton", No. 442 "City of Vancouver" and No. 443 "City of New Westminster"). The Mustangs were declared obsolete in 1956, but a number of special-duty versions served on into the early 1960s.

China as ROC

: China acquired P-51Cs and P-51Ds from the U.S. 10th AF in India by early 1945. These Mustangs were provided to the 3rd, 4th and 5th Fighter Groups of the China Air Force (CAF) and used to attack Japanese targets in occupied areas of China. After the war Chiang Kai-shek 's Nationalist government used the planes against insurgent Communist forces. The Nationalists retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Pilots supporting Chiang brought most of the Mustangs with them, where the aircraft became part of the island's defence arsenal. Taiwan subsequently acquired additional Mustangs from the USAF and other sources. Some Mustangs remained on the mainland, captured by Communist forces when the Nationalists left.


: The Costa Rica Air Force flew four P-51Ds from 1955 to 1964.


: In November 1958, three US-registered civilian P-51D Mustangs were illegally flown separately from Miami to Cuba, on delivery to the rebel forces of the 26th of July Movement , then headed by Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution . One of the Mustangs was damaged during delivery, and none of them was used operationally. After the success of the revolution in January 1959, with other rebel aircraft plus those of the existing Cuban government forces, they were adopted into the Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria . Due to increasing US restrictions, lack of spares and maintenance experience, they never achieved operational status. At the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion , the two intact Mustangs were already effectively grounded at Campo Columbia and at Santiago. After the failed invasion, they were placed on display with other symbols of "revolutionary struggle", and one remains on display at the Museo del Aire (Cuba) .


: The Dominican Republic (FAD) was the largest Latin American air force to employ the P-51D, with six aircraft acquired in 1948, 44 ex-Swedish F-51Ds purchased in 1948 and a further Mustang obtained from an unknown source. It was the last nation to have any Mustangs in service, with some remaining in use as late as 1984.


: The FAS purchased five Cavalier Mustang IIs (and one dual control Cavalier TF-51) that featured wingtip fuel tanks to increase combat range and up-rated Merlin engines. Seven P-51D Mustangs were also in service. They were used during the 1969 Soccer War against Honduras, the last time the P-51 was used in combat.


: In late 1944, the first French unit began its transition to reconnaissance Mustangs. In January 1945, the Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 2/33 of the French Air Force took their F-6Cs and F-6Ds over Germany on photographic mapping missions. The Mustangs remained in service until the early 1950s, when they were replaced by jet fighters.


: Several P-51s were captured by the ''Luftwaffe'' following crash landings. These aircraft were subsequently repaired and test-flown by the Zirkus Rosarius , or "Rosarius Staffel", for combat evaluation at Göttingen . The aircraft were repainted with German markings and bright yellow nose and belly for identification. A number of P-51B/P-51Cs (including examples marked with ''Luftwaffe'' codes T9+CK, T9+FK, T9+HK and T9+PK) and three P-51Ds were captured. Some of these P-51s were found by Allied forces at the end of the war; others crashed during testing. The Mustang is also listed in the appendix to the novel ''KG 200'' as having been flown by the German secret operations unit KG 200 , which tested, evaluated and sometimes clandestinely operated captured enemy aircraft during World War II .


: The Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (FAG) had 30 P-51D Mustangs in service from 1954 to the early 1970s.


: Haiti had four P-51D Mustangs when President Paul Eugène Magloire was in power between 1950 and 1956, with the last retired in 1973-74 and sold for spares to the Dominican Republic.


: Indonesia acquired some P-51Ds from the departing Netherlands East Indies Air Force in 1949 and 1950. The Mustangs were used against Commonwealth (RAF, RAAF and RNZAF) forces during the Indonesian confrontation in the early 1960s. The last time Mustangs were deployed for military purposes was a shipment of six Cavalier II Mustangs (without tip tanks) delivered to Indonesia in 1972–1973, which were replaced in 1976.


: A few P-51 Mustangs were illegally bought by Israel in 1948 for use in the War of Independence (1948) and quickly established themselves as the best fighter in the Israeli inventory. Further aircraft were bought from Sweden, and were replaced by jets at the end of the 1950s, but not before the type was used in the Suez Crisis , Operation Kadesh (1956). Reputedly, during this conflict, one daring Israeli pilot literally cut communications between Suez City and the Egyptian front lines by using his Mustang's propeller on the telephone wires.

Although Somalia is sometimes mentioned as a Mustang operator, this is a mistake for the Italian Air Force Mustangs operated there in the post-war colonial period. No Mustangs were used by Somalia after independence.|group=nb


: The P-51C-11-NT ''Evalina'', marked as "278" (former USAAF serial: ''44-10816'') and flown by 26th FS, 51st FG, was hit by gunfire on 16 January 1945 and belly-landed on Suchon Airfield in China, which was held by the Japanese. The Japanese repaired the aircraft, roughly applied Hinomaru roundel s and flew the aircraft to the Fussa evaluation centre (now Yokota Air Base) in Japan.


: The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force received 40 P-51Ds and flew them during the Indonesian National Revolution particularly the two 'politionele acties ': Operatie Product in 1947 and Operatie Kraai in 1949. When the conflict was over, Indonesia received some of the ML-KNIL Mustangs.


: Fuerza Aerea de Nicaragua (GN) purchased 26 P-51D Mustangs from Sweden in 1954 and later received 30 P-51D Mustangs from the US together with two TF-51 models from MAP after 1954. All aircraft of this type were retired from service by 1964.


:New Zealand ordered 370 P-51 Mustangs to supplement its F4U Corsair s in the Pacific Ocean Areas theatre. Scheduled deliveries were for an initial batch of 30 P-51Ds, followed by 137 more P-51Ds and 203 P-51Ms. The original 30 were being shipped as the war ended in August 1945; these were stored in their packing cases and the order for the additional Mustangs was cancelled. In 1951 the stored Mustangs entered service in 1 (Auckland) , 2(Wellington) , 3 (Canterbury) and 4 (Otago) squadrons of the Territorial Air Force (TAF). The Mustangs remained in service until they were prematurely retired in August 1955 following a series of problems with undercarriage and coolant system corrosion problems. Four Mustangs served on as target tugs until the TAF was disbanded in 1957. RNZAF pilots in the Royal Air Force also flew the P-51, and at least one New Zealand pilot scored victories over Europe while on loan to a USAAF P-51 squadron.


:The Phillippines acquired 103 P-51D Mustangs after World War II. These became the backbone of the postwar Philippine Army Air Corps and Philippine Air Force and were used extensively during the Huk campaign, fighting against Communist insurgents.

Mustangs were also the first aircraft of the Philippine air demonstration squadron, which was formed in 1953 and given the name "The Blue Diamonds" the following year. The Mustangs were replaced by 50 F-86 Sabres in the late 1950s, but some were still in service for COIN roles up to the early 1970s.


: See China above; the Chinese Communists captured a few P-51s from the Chinese Nationalists as they were retreating to Taiwan.


:During World War II, five Polish Air Force in Great Britain squadrons used Mustangs. The first Polish unit equipped (7 June 1942) with Mustang Mk Is was "B" Flight of 309 "Ziemi Czerwieńskiej" Squadron (an Army Co-Operation Command unit), followed by "A" Flight in March 1943. Subsequently, 309 Squadron was redesignated a fighter/reconnaissance unit and became part of Fighter Command. On 13 March 1944, 316 "Warszawski" Squadron received their first Mustang Mk IIIs; rearming of the unit was completed by the end of April. By 26 March 1943, 306 "Toruński" Sqn and 315 "Dębliński" Sqn received Mustangs Mk IIIs (the whole operation took 12 days). On 20 October 1944, Mustang Mk Is in No. 309 Squadron were replaced by Mk IIIs. On 11 December 1944, the unit was again renamed, becoming "309 Dywizjon Myśliwski "Ziemi Czerwieńskiej" or 309 "Land of Czerwien" Polish Fighter Squadron. In 1945, 303 "Kościuszko" Sqn received 20 Mustangs Mk IV/Mk IVA replacements. Postwar, between 6 December 1946 and 6 January 1947, all five Polish squadrons equipped with Mustangs were disbanded. Poland returned approximately 80 Mustangs Mk IIIs and 20 Mustangs Mk IV/IVAs to the RAF, which transferred them to the U.S. government.


The Somalian Air Force had brought 8 P-51D models in service.

South Africa|1928

: The South African Air Force operated a number of Mustang Mk Is and Mk IIs (P-51As) in Italy and the Middle East during World War II. After VE-Day, these machines were soon struck off charge and scrapped. In 1950, 2 Squadron SAAF was supplied with F-51D Mustangs by the United States for Korean War service. The type performed well in South African hands before being replaced by the F-86 Sabre in 1952 and 1953.



Within a month of the outbreak of the Korean War, 10 F-51D Mustangs were provided to the badly depleted Republic of Korea Air Force as a part of the Bout One Project. They were flown by both South Korean airmen, several of whom were veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy air services during World War II, as well as by U.S. advisers led by Major Dean Hess . Later, more were provided both from U.S. and from South African stocks, as the latter were converting to F-86 Sabres. They formed the backbone of the South Korean Air Force until they were replaced by Sabres.

It also served with the ROKAF Black Eagles aerobatic team , until retired 1954.


: Sweden's ''Flygvapnet '' first recuperated four of the P-51s (two P-51Bs and two early P-51Ds) that had been diverted to Sweden during missions over Europe. In February 1945, Sweden purchased 50 P-51Ds designated J 26, which were delivered by American pilots in April and assigned to the F 16 wing at Uppsala as interceptors. In early 1946, the F 4 wing at Östersund was equipped with a second batch of 90 P-51Ds. A final batch of 21 Mustangs was purchased in 1948. In all, 161 J 26s served in the Swedish Air Force during the late 1940s. About a dozen were modified for photo reconnaissance and re-designated S 26. A few of these aircraft participated in the top secret Swedish mapping of new Soviet military installations at the Baltic coast in 1946-47 (''Operation Falun''), an endeavour that entailed many intentional violations of Soviet airspace. However, the Mustang could outdive any Soviet fighter of that era, so no S 26s were lost in these missions. The J 26s were replaced by De Havilland Vampire s around 1950. The S 26s were replaced by S 29Cs in the early 1950s.


The Swiss Air Force operated a few USAAF P-51s that had been impounded by Swiss authorities during World War II after the pilots were forced to land in neutral Switzerland. After the war, Switzerland also bought 130 P-51s for $4,000 each. They served until 1958.


: The RAF was the first air force to operate the Mustang. Because the first Mustangs were built to British requirements these used factory numbers and were not P-51s; the order comprised 320 NA-73s, followed by 300 NA-83s, all of which were designated North American Mustang Mark I s by the RAF. The first RAF Mustangs diverted from American orders were 93 P-51s, designated Mark IA, followed by 50 P-51As used as Mustang IIs.

The first Mustang Mk Is entered service in 1941 the first unit being 2 Squadron RAF . Due to poor high-altitude performance, the Mustangs were used byArmy Co-operation Command , rather than Fighter Command, and were used for tactical reconnaissance and ground-attack duties. On 27 July 1942, 16 RAF Mustangs undertook their first long-range reconnaissance mission over Germany. During Operation Jubilee (19 August 1942) four British and Canadian Mustang squadrons, including 26 Squadron saw action. By 1943/1944, British Mustangs were used extensively to seek out V-1 flying bomb sites. The final RAF Mustang Mk I and Mustang Mk II aircraft were struck off charge in 1945.

The RAF also operated a total of 308 P-51Bs and 636 P-51Cs which were known in RAF service as Mustang Mk IIIs; the first units converted to the type in late 1943 and early 1944. Mustang Mk III units were operational until the end of World War II, though many units had already converted to the Mustang Mk IV and Mk IVAs (828 in total, comprising 282 P-51D-NAs or Mk IVs, and 600 P-51Ks or Mk IVA). As the Mustang was a Lend-Lease type, all aircraft still on RAF charge at the end of the war were either returned to the USAAF "on paper" or retained by the RAF for scrapping. The final Mustangs were retired from RAF use in 1947.


: The Soviet Union received at least 10 early-model ex-RAF Mustang Is and tested but found them to "under-perform" compared to contemporary USSR fighters, relegating them to training units. Later Lend-Lease deliveries of the P-51B/C and D series along with other Mustangs abandoned in Russia after the famous "shuttle missions" were repaired and used by the Soviet Air Force, but not in front-line service.


: The Uruguayan Air Force (FAU) used 25 P-51D Mustangs from 1950 to 1960—some were subsequently sold to Bolivia.


*The SFR Yugoslav Air Force received 9 Mustangs.

P-51s and civil aviation

Many P-51s were sold as surplus after the war, often for as little as $1,500. Some were sold to former wartime fliers or other aficionados for personal use, while others were modified for air racing.

One of the most significant Mustangs involved in air racing was a surplus P-51C-10-NT (''44-10947'') purchased by Paul Mantz , a film stunt pilot. The aircraft was modified by creating a "wet wing", sealing the wing to create a giant fuel tank in each wing, which eliminated the need for fuel stops or drag-inducing drop tanks. This Mustang, called ''Blaze of Noon'', came in first in the 1946 and 1947 Bendix Air Races, second in the 1948 Bendix, and third in the 1949 Bendix. He also set a U.S. coast-to-coast record in 1947. The Mantz Mustang was sold to Charles F. Blair Jr (future husband of Maureen O'Hara ) and re-named ''Excaliber III''. Blair used it to set a New York-to-London (c. 3,460 mi/5,568 km) record in 1951: 7 hr 48 min from takeoff at Idlewild to overhead London Airport. Later that same year, he flew from Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska, via the North Pole (c. 3,130 mi/5,037 km), proving that navigation via sun sights was possible over the magnetic north pole region. For this feat, he was awarded the Harmon Trophy, and the Air Force was forced to change its thoughts on a possible Soviet air strike from the north. This Mustang now resides in the National Air and Space Museum at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center .

The most prominent firm to convert Mustangs to civilian use was Trans-Florida Aviation, later renamed Cavalier Aircraft Corporation, which produced the Cavalier Mustang . Modifications included a taller tailfin and wingtip tanks. A number of conversions included a Cavalier Mustang specialty: a "tight" second seat added in the space formerly occupied by the military radio and fuselage fuel tank.

In 1958, 78 surviving RCAF Mustangs were retired from service's inventory and were ferried from their varied storage locations to Canastota, New York where the American buyers had been located. These aircraft make up a large percentage of the aircraft presently flying worldwide.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the United States Department of Defense wished to supply aircraft to South America n countries and later Indonesia for close air support and counter insurgency , it turned to Cavalier to return some of their civilian conversions back to updated military specifications .

In the 21st century a P-51 can command a price of more than $1 million, even for only partially restored aircraft. Some privately owned P-51s are still flying, often associated with organizations such as the Commemorative Air Force (formerly the Confederate Air Force).



The initial prototype was designated the NA-73X by the manufacturer, North American Aviation.

*;Mustang Mk I : The first production contract was awarded by the British for 320 NA-73 fighters. A second British contract for 300 more Mustang Mk Is was assigned a model number of NA-83 by North American.

*;XP-51 : Two aircraft of this lot delivered to the USAAF were designated XP-51.


In September 1940, 150 aircraft designated NA-91 by North American were ordered under the Lend/Lease program. These were designated by the USAAF as P-51 and initially named the Apache, although this name was dropped early-on for Mustang. The British designated this model as Mustang Mk IA. They were equipped with four long-barrelled 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannon instead of machine guns. A number of aircraft from this lot were fitted out by the USAAF as photo reconnaissance aircraft and designated F-6A. The British would fit a number of Mustang Mk I fighters with photographic reconnaissance equipment as well. Also, two aircraft of this lot were fitted with the Packard-built Merlin engine and were designated by North American as model NA-101 and by the USAAF initially as the XP-78, but quickly re-designated to XP-51B.

In early 1942, the USAAF ordered a lot of 500 aircraft modified as dive bombers that were designated A-36A. North American assigned the aircraft the model number NA-97. This model became the first USAAF Mustang to see combat. One aircraft was passed to the British, who gave it the name Mustang Mk I (Dive Bomber).

Following the A-36A order, the USAAF ordered 310 model NA-99 fighters that were designated P-51A by the USAAF and Mustang Mk II by the RAF. A number of this lot of aircraft were equipped with K-24 cameras and designated F-6B. All these models of the Mustang were equipped with Allison V-1710 engines except the prototype XP-51B.

Beginning with the model NA-102 Mustang, the Packard V-1650 replaced the Allison. In the summer of 1943, Mustang production was begun at a new plant in Dallas, Texas, as well as at the existing facility in Inglewood, California. The model NA-102 was produced as the P-51B in Inglewood, while the NA-103 as the P-51C was produced at Dallas. The RAF named these models Mustang Mk III. Again, a number of the P-51B and P-51C aircraft were fitted for photo Reconnaissance and designated F-6C.

The prototypes of the bubble canopy change were designated model NA-106 by North American and P-51D by the USAAF. The production version, while retaining the P-51D designation, was assigned model number NA-109 by North American. The P-51D became the most widely produced variant of the Mustang. A variation of the P-51D equipped with an Aeroproducts propeller in place of the Hamilton Standard propeller was designated the P-51K. The photo versions of the P-51D and P-51K were designated F-6D and F-6K respectively. The RAF assigned the name Mustang Mk IV to the P-51D model and Mustang Mk IVA to P-51K models.

As the USAAF specifications required airframe design to a higher load factor than that used by the British for their fighters, consideration was given to re-designing the Mustang to the lower British requirements in order to reduce the weight of the aircraft and thus improve performance. In 1943, North American submitted a proposal to do the re-design as model NA-105, which was accepted by the USAAF. The designation XP-51F was assigned for prototypes powered with V-1650 engines and XP-51G to those with reverse lend/lease Merlin 145M engines. Modifications included changes to the cowling, a simplified undercarriage with smaller wheels and disk brakes, and a larger canopy. A third prototype was added to the development that was powered by an Allison V-1710 engine. This aircraft was designated XP-51J. As the engine was insufficiently developed, the XP-51J was loaned to Allison for engine development. A small number of XP-51Fs were passed to the British as the Mustang Mk V.

The final production Mustang, the P-51H, embodied the experience gained in the development of the lightweight XP-51F and XP-51G aircraft. This aircraft, model NA-126, and, with minor differences, NA-129, came too late to participate in World War II, but it brought the development of the Mustang to a peak and was one of the fastest production piston-engine fighters to see service. The P-51H used the Merlin V-1659-9 engine, equipped with Simmons automatic boost control and water injection , allowing War Emergency Power as high as . Some of the weight savings inherited from the XP-51F and XP-51G were invested in lengthening the fuselage and increasing the height of the tailfin, greatly reducing the tendency to yaw , and in restoring the fuselage fuel tank. The canopy was changed back to more nearly resemble the P-51D style, over a somewhat raised pilot's position. Service access to the guns and ammunition was improved. The P-51H was designed to complement the P-47N as the primary aircraft for the invasion of Japan , and 2,000 were ordered to be built at the Inglewood plant. With the solution to the problem of yaw control, the P-51H was now considered a suitable candidate for testing as an aircraft carrier -based fighter; but with the end of the war, the testing was cut short, and production was halted after 555 aircraft were built. Although some P-51Hs were issued to operational units, none saw combat. One aircraft was given to the RAF for testing and evaluation. Serial number 44-64192 was re-serialed as BuNo 09064 and used by the U.S. Navy to test transonic airfoil designs, then returned to the Air National Guard in 1952. The P-51H was not used for combat in the Korean War despite its improved handling characteristics, due to the lack of experience with durability of the lighter airframe under combat conditions as well as limited numbers in the USAF inventory.

With the cutback in production, the variants of the P-51H with different versions of the Merlin engine were produced in either limited numbers or terminated. These included the P-51L, similar to the P-51H but utilizing the V-1650-11 engine, which was never built, and its Dallas-built version, the P-51M, or NA-124, which utilized the V-1650-9A engine lacking water injection and therefore rated for lower maximum power, of which one was built out of the original 1629 ordered, AAF Serial Number 45-11743 .

*;F-51 : Redesignation of all P-51s in 1947 in the U.S. Air Force , Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard following establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service.

*;TF-51D : Twin seat/dual control version of the F-51 with four versus six guns.


Source: ''U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909''

*NA.73X Prototype: One built

*P-51: 150 built

*P-51A: 310 built at Inglewood , California

*P-51B: 1,988 built at Inglewood

*P-51C: 1,750 built at Dallas , Texas

*P-51D: A total of 8,156 were built: 6,502 at Inglewood, 1,454 at Dallas and 200 by CAC at Fisherman's Bend, Australia

*XP-51F: Three built

*XP-51G: Two built

*P-51H: 555 built at Inglewood

*XP-51J: Two built

*P-51K: 1,500 built

*P-51L: None built - cancelled

*P-51M: One built at Dallas

*Mustang Mk I: 620 built

*Mustang Mk III: 852 built

*Mustang Mk IV: 281 built

*Mustang Mk IVA: 595 built

Total number built: 16,766 (most numerous American fighter aircraft)

Scale replicas

The P-51 has been the subject of numerous scale flying replicas; aside from ever-popular R/C-controlled aircraft, several kitplane manufacturers offer ½, ⅔, and ¾-scale replicas capable of comfortably seating one (or even two) and offering high performance combined with more forgiving flight characteristics. Such aircraft include the Titan T-51 Mustang , W.A.R. P-51 Mustang , Linn Mini Mustang , Jurca Mustang , Thunder Mustang , and Loehle 5151 Mustang .


Among the 287 current airframes and the 154 "flying" Mustangs are the following:

*XP-51 ''41-038'' Original prototype on display, Oshkosh

*P-51A-1NA Mustang in storage for restoration, Kermit Weeks, Fantasy of Flight , Polk City, Florida

*P-51A-10-NA Mustang now flying and marked as ''Miss Virginia'', Planes of Fame , Chino, California

*A-36 Mustang, Planes of Fame , Chino, California

*P-51C-10-NT Mustang flying as ''Ina the Macon Belle'' of Lt. Lee Archer, the only five-victory ace of the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd FG, 302nd FS. Kermit Weeks, Tamiami, Florida

*P-51D (s/n ''44-74936'') is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio . It was the last P-51 in USAF service as well as the last USAF propeller-driven fighter in operation. It was obtained from the West Virginia Air National Guard in January 1957. 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'', comes from the names of his daughter, Sharon, and his wife, Zimmy.

*P-51D Mustang, Olympic Flight Museum, Olympia, Washington. In flying condition.

*P-51D Mustang, Indiana Aviation Museum, Valparaiso, Indiana. In flying condition, served with the North Dakota, Alabama, and Kentucky Air National Guards.

*P-51 Mustang (Mk IV), Vintage Wings of Canada, Gatineau, Quebec.

*P-51D Mustang, N167F, Scandinavia Historic Flight, painted as ''Old Crow'', the aircraft of one of the 8th AF aces, Col. Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson of the 357th Fighter Group , 363rd Fighter Squadron.

*P-51D Mustang, SE-BIL, ''It's About Time'', based in Sweden.

*P-51D Mustang (P-51D-20-NA), Cavanaugh Flight Museum , Addison, Texas. The aircraft is in flying condition.

*P-51D Mustang, ''Spam Can'', Planes of Fame, Chino, California

*P-51D Mustang, ''Wee Willy II'', Planes of Fame, Chino, California

*P-51D Mustang marked as under restoration, Planes of Fame, Chino, California

*P-51H Mustang ''44-64415'' Flying, Whittington Bros, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

*P-51D ''Old Yeller'', formerly owned by Bob Hoover . In flying condition. Currently owned by John Bagley of Rexburg, Idaho , and displayed at the Legacy Flight Museum.

*CA-17 Mk 20 ''A68-1'', N51WB, ''44-74960''/''A68-1001'' ''Jeannie Too'', flying, Wiley Sanders, Troy, Alabama.

*CA-18 Mk 21 ''A68-104'', VH-BOB, suffered wheels-up landing April 2008, under repair as of November 2009, Bob Eastgate, Australia.

*CA-18 Mk 22 ''A68-192'', G-HAEC, 44-72218 ''Big Beautiful Doll'', flying, Robert W Davies, Duxford UK.

*P-51D Mustang, G-BTCD Ser. No. ''44-73419'', painted to resemble ''44-13704'', ''Ferocious Frankie'', operated by the Old Flying Machine Company, Imperial War Museum Duxford , Cambridgeshire, UK.

*P-51D Mustang, G-SIJJ, ''44-72035'' - painted to resemble ''44-64076'' ''Jumpin Jacques'', operated by the Hangar 11 Collection, North Weald, UK.

*P-51 Mustang of the Philippine Air Force, painted in original markings with "shark mouth", on display at the Air Force Museum, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City, Philippines

*P-51D Mustang ''Never Miss'' at the Salem Airport in Salem, Oregon. Flying condition.

*P-51D Mustang ''Big Beautiful Doll'' tail number ''472218'', indoor suspended display at Imperial War Museum , London, UK.

*P-51D Mustang N51DH at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum , McMinnville, Oregon. Flying condition.

*P-51D Mustang ''Old Crow'' N451MG at Columbus, Ohio . Formerly owned by Jack Roush . Flying condition.

*P-51D Mustang ''Crusader'' N51JT at Centennial Airport in Centennial, Colorado. Joe Thibodeau owner and pilot. Flying condition.

*P-51C Mustang ''Betty Jane'' NL25IMX involved in the Colling Foundation's Wings of Freedom tour. Flying condition.

*P-51D-30NA Mustang "''Miss America''" (USAAF 44-74536) Flying condition based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, flown each year in the Reno Air Races by Dr. Brent Hisey. The extensive race modifications include: 32 feet (clipped) wingspan, empty weight of 7.000 lbs and a max take off weight of 9,600 lbs. Engine is a highly modified Packard Merlin V-1650. Performance include 50 gph in normal cruise and 150 gph during takeoff, cruise Speed: 245 knots, racing speed: 436+ mph and range: 750 nautical miles.

South Korea

*F-51D Mustang on display at the War Memorial of Korea , Seoul .


P-51D Mustang

P-51H Mustang

Notable appearances in media

*''Battle Hymn '' (1956) is based on the real-life experiences of Lt Col Dean E. Hess , USAF (played by Rock Hudson ) and his cadre of U.S. Air Force instructors in the early days of the Korean War, training the pilots of the Republic of Korea Air Force and leading them in their baptism of fire in F-51D/F-51Ks.

*''The Lady Takes a Flyer '' (1958) features a P-51D prominently in the final sequence, when Lana Turner (as Maggie Colby) crashes dramatically at the end of a perilous ferry flight to England.

*''The Tuskegee Airmen '' (1995), the story of how a group of African-American pilots overcame racist opposition to become one of the finest U.S. fighter groups in World War II, flying P-51s, although the 99th Squadron would have used P-40 and P-39 during their North African stint.

*''Red Tail Reborn '' (2007), the story behind the restoration of a flying memorial plane.

*P-51s have been prominently featured in important scenes from two of director Steven Spielberg 's World War II era-films: ''''Empire of the Sun '' (1987) and ''Saving Private Ryan '' (1998).