The P-51 mustang was an extraordinary aircraft that carried
the United States through extremely difficult battles that took place over the
entirety of the European continent during the early nineteen forties, and
remained in some air forces until the mid eighties. The P-51 competed with some
of Germany’s best aircraft and even was used to eliminate some of the best
pilots Germany had to offer.
Mustang prototype started to be developed by North American Aviation (NAA) lead
by Raymond Rice and Edgar Schmued on May 30th, 1940 and was completed September
9th, 1940. The P-51 was first flown on the following October 26th. The first
flight was a success and in result, mass production started in April of 1941.
The two section semi-monocoque fuselage was constructed entirely out of
aluminum to make the plane lighter. It was armed with four .30 caliber M1919
Browning machine guns. In the wings there were two .50 caliber M2 browning
machine guns that were situated under the engine and fired through the propeller
arc using gun synchronizing gear.
The P-51 Mustang was suited with a low altitude Allison
V-1710 piston engine. The engine was a 12 cylinder, liquid cooled engine that
was the only engine of it’s type to be used by the United States during World
War 2. It was developed in 1930 by Allison Engine Company and was mass produced
to be put into aircraft in 1940 when it was put into the P-38 Lightning in
1939. It had 12 cylinders and a bore and stroke of 140 by 150 millimeters in a
60° V-format, for 28.032 L total displacement, with a
compression ratio of 6.65 to 1. The valvetrain has single overhead camshafts
per bank of cylinders and four valves per cylinder.
The P-51 was originally designed for the RAF (Royal Air
Force) which were its first users. The first mustangs supplied under lend lease
were ninety-three P-51s also known as the Mk 1a class Mustangs, followed by
fifty P-51As known as Mustang Mk II. After the initial wave of fighters in
October 1941, the first Mustang Mk 1s entered service in January of 1942, the
first squadron to use them was the 26th RAF squadron. Due to the poor engine
performance at high altitudes of the Allison engine it was equipped with, it
was first used by the Army for reconnaissance and ground attack duties.
On May 10th, 1942 a squadron of Mustangs first flew over
France near Berck-Sur-Mur. On the 27th of July, 1942, 16 RAF mustangs had been
ordered on their first long range reconnaissance mission. During the Dieppe
Raid on the French Coast, four Canadian and British Mustang squadrons went on
their first combat mission. By 1944, British Mustangs were being used to seek
out V-1 flying bomb sites. The last P-51 Mk I and Mk IIs were struck off charge
The Dieppe Raid, also known as Operation Rutter in early
planning stages, and officially named Operation Jubilee, was an allied attack
on the German occupied port of Dieppe. The raid took place on the northern
coast of France in August of 1942. The main objectives of the raid was to
capture the port not only to gain ground on the German war machine and gather
intelligence, but also to boost the moral of the British soldiers and show them
that they can gain victory over the Nazis.
The assault began at exactly 5:00 a.m., but by only 10:50 a.m., less
than six hours later, allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Upon
retreat, soldiers attempted to destroy important strategic structures, but had
little to no success doing so. Of the 6,086 infantrymen that landed on shore,
3,623 were wounded, killed, or captured.
The P-51 Mustang was an extremely good solution to the
problem of bombers being shot down when taking long range missions. It used a
reliable engine that, when fitted with external fuel tanks, could escort
bombers from France to Germany and back without a problem. However, the engine
it was equipped with had multiple problems. One of its biggest being that it
doesn’t perform well at altitudes higher than 15,000 feet, which made it
impossible for it to accommodate USAAF bombers. When the RAF were disappointed
with the P-51 Mk I, Ronald Harker, a test pilot for Rolls-Royce, suggested
fitting it with a Merlin 61, as fitted on the Spitfire.
The Merlin 61 engine was designed by Stanley Horker of Rolls
Royce. It had 1,585 horsepower at 3,000 rpm at an elevation of 12,250 ft, and
1,390 hp with 3,000 rpm at an elevation of 23,500 ft. The Merlin 61 was fitting
with a new two speed, two stage supercharger that gave it a boost of horsepower
at medium to high altitudes. It was the first british production variant to
incorporate two piece cylinder blocks designed by Rolls Royce. The reduction
gear ratio was at 42;1, with gears for pressurization. The first Merlin 61 was
produced on March 2nd, 1942. When the Merlin 61 was fitted to the Mustang, it
made it unstoppable at high altitudes. It boosted the Mustang to 1,620 hp and
1,720 hp when in War Emergency Power, delivering a top speed previously from
390 mph to 440 mph, as well as lifting the altitude which it remained efficient
at to 42,000 ft. Which means it can now go on long range missions as bomber
escorts at the same altitude at which the bombers are flying.
The P-51B entered production in June of 1943 at North
American’s IngleWood plant in southern California. The P-51B had its first
flights in October of 1942 for the RAF and November for the USAAF. With the new
engine installed, there was no more room for guns mounted in the nose of the
aircraft, so they were put into the wings instead which made turning a slight
bit slower but not extremely noticeable.
The P-51B outmaneuvered and outgunned almost anything the
Luftwaffe could throw at it. The Messerschmitt BF 110 for example served as
easy prey for the Mustangs and had to be quickly removed from the frontline and
was later used as a nighttime attack plane. The Focke-Wulf FW 190A’s already
suffered from poor high altitude performance so they had to be pulled off the
frontline as well. The Messerschmitt BF 109 had similar performance at high
altitudes to the Mustang, but it had such a light frame that the Mustangs gun
tore through it’s fuselage.
There is so much speculation to which fighter was the best
aircraft in the second world war, but I personally believe that the P-51
Mustang, and all of it’s variants were the best on the factor that it could
escort B-17’s all the way from England to Berlin and back with one backup tank.
It could also get from Iwo Jima to Japan and back in one tank which gave the
U.S. a very large advantage and easily lead to the end of the war.