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Single engine, single seat WW2 fighter built by the North American company. Probably considered the best American fighter of the war. While its speed and manoeuverability were on par with even the best fighters of its time, its range was comparitively enormous, in excess of 2000 miles. This dramaticaly changed the air war in Europe, as the P-51 was a first class fighter that could escort American bombers all the way from their bases in England to their German targets, and back, for the first time

The P-51 Mustang fighter plane, entered WW2 in North Africa as the P-51A variant, a tank buster powered by the Allison engine. The P-51B was powered by perhaps the finest internal combustion engine ever made, the Merlin by Rolls-Royce. This is the plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, who escorted B-17s into Germany, protecting them against enemy fighters, without a single bomber lost. In the Korean War a twin-fuselaged variant, originally designed to escort B-29s to Japan, scored the first U.N. aerial victory.

The P-51 "Mustang" pioneered many technological innovations previously unseen in aviation. One of the things that made the P-51 great was it's speed. This was accomplished by grinding the rivits on the skin of the plane flush with the surface of the skin. This made the surface of the plane smooth, no turbulence causing bumps. The other innovation was the cooling system. As opposed to a large radial air cooled engine (as on the FU-4 Corsair) the Mustang used a sleek V-12 with no vents on the nose. Instead the engine was liquid cooled, like most cars. The radiator was below and behind the pilot. Cold air was pulled in through a low-profile intake, after it passed through the radiator the cold air was held for a moment in a chamber where it was heated to very high tempuratures by the engine heat. As the air expanded it forcfully "jetted" its self out an adustable nozzel. This process allowed the Mustang to convert engine heat into thrust, making up for 95% of the drag caused by cooling the engine. (Cooling drag was the single biggest factor affecting aircraft speed at the time).

The design for the scoop is still used today in jet intakes. It was discovered that there is a thin layer of turbulence just off the skin of the aircraft. Putting an intake within this layer reduces its effectiveness. The Mustang's intake stood off the surface of the aircraft just enough to get an uninterrupted airflow. One can see this idea demonstrated in the F-16 and the F-4 among others.

Finally, the P-51B was the first fighter to have a bubble canopy. Prior to this all canopies were similar to that of the Spitfire. These old designes put a firewall behind the pilot and used many small panes of glass. This limited visibility. The P-51B Mustang put the pilot "on" the aircraft instead of "in" it. Now the pilot had 360 degrees of uninterrupted visibility. This design is used today on every fighter aircraft, most attack aircraft and even some bombers like the B-47.

So effective was the P-51 Mustang's design that it was used in Korea and Vietnam but was finally out classed by new jet aircraft.

Addition: The P-51A, the model prior to the bubble canopy, was similar in profile to the Messerschmitt Me-109. This caused confusion among the allies and many early P-51s were attacked by freindly forces, thinking them to be Luftwaffe fighters. The bubble canopy changed the profile of the aircraft to what we know today and solved the identification problem while improving the aircraft.

Back to Jane's Military History Nodes

According to Famous Fighters of The Second World War, North American P-51D was the first production model to actually to have "bubble canopy", which was also the most built variant of this airplane - nearly 8000 machines were built. This variant is also the most known version, although it was introduced as late as 1944. Famous Colonel "Chuck" Yaeger also flew "Mustang" during World War II.

Technical Information: North American P-51D Mustang


Span: 37 ft. 0 in
Length: 32 ft. 3 in
Height: 13 ft. 8 in
Gross wing area: 233 sq. ft.


Four or six 0.5 in. Browning MG 53-2 machine-guns with 270 or 400 rounds
Up to 1000 lb bombs underwing racks or ten 5 in. high velocity aircraft rockets.


One Rolls-Royce/Packard Merlin V-1650-7 12 cylinder liquid-cooled vee engine with two-speed, two-stage supercharging, developing 1450 hp for take-off, and 1695 hp under war-emergency conditions at 10,300 ft.


Empty: 7,635 lb
Combat: 10,100 lb
Maximum load: 11,600 lb.


Maximum speed: 437 mph at 25,000 ft 413 mph at 15,000 ft 395 mph at 5,000 ft Initial climb rate: 3,475 ft./min Service ceiling: 40,000 ft.

Technical information from William Green's "Famous Fighters of the second world war", MacDonald & Co, 1957.

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