North American P-51 Mustang : The Cadillac Of the Sky
The P-51 Mustang is considered to be the world's best piston engine fighter of the Second World War. Well known as an American plane by many people, as a matter of fact the P-51 was originally intended to enter service in the RAF.
The first Mustangs where built with British specifications and comprised with a Allison-engine, those designs where finished after little more than three months !
Every American fighter of that time was outclassed by the P-51, but the fighter was not suitable for intense dogfighting at that moment.
Lacking the recuired climbing rate due to the Allison-engines, the first P-51's initially flew tactical reconnaissance missions only.
Making their first flights in 1940, P-51's were modified into dive bombers called A-Invadors and successfully used in bombing raids above Sicily.
By 1942 British Mustangs started to attack targets on Germany's borders but were not capable yet of escorting bombers deep into the German heartland.
Everything changed at the end of 1943 when a modified version came along, the Mustang P-51D. This airplane was fitted with the newer and more powerful Merlin-engine, in addiction the fighter was also equipped with external fuel tanks which increased its range significantly.
Cadillac Of the Sky
With new modifications made on the airplane the P-51-D variation adopted its nickname, and thus the cadillac of the sky was born.
The airplane was pretty confortable for the pilot and gave him an excellent panoramic view over the skies.
Escorting the B-17 bombers to Berlin was no longer a problem even with occasional dogfights. Greater range unavoidably meant that a larger volume of fuel had to be carried along the way, which was made possible by using external fuel tanks.
Because of the large amounts of fuel that the Mustangs had to carry with them, stability was often compromised,
So when encountering Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190's only two options were left, the first option was to attack the German fighters from above at a height of approximatly 7 kilometers.
This angle of attack was obvious as the Mustangs already flew at that height while escorting the B-17 and B-29 bombers.
The second option was to get rid of the droptanks and have about 25% of the internal fuel tanks emptied, this way the aircraft's stablility could be regained. Once the Mustangs were more or less stable enough, engagement of the enemy would begin.
Another upgrade was the 450 kg lighter P-51H model with better armement. It was thanks to the Mustang's modifications into the P-51D and later on the P-51H version that the allies obtained air superiority during the day which eventually led to Nazi-Germany's defeat in 1945.
With the P-51D model as the most produced of all the P-51 variations, the total number of Mustangs built during the war topped at 15.586 planes.
Post WWO2 Usage
After the Second World War had ended the P-51 served in as many as 55 countries, it even got built in Australia with a licence agreement.
In 1946 for example, the fighter aircraft entered service in the Dutch airforce to participate in the war of independence on the Indonesian Islands.
When the Netherlands withdrew from the confict, the same P-51's were handed over to the Indonesian airforce where it was kept in service till the 1970s.
In 1956 P-51's were used by the Israeli airforce in the Middle-East, until they had been completely replaced by jetfighter aircraft in the late 1960s.
Although the Mustang always will be remembered as the B-17 and B-29's escortfighter in WWO2, American P-51's also flew missions in the Korean war together with Australian and South-African Mustangs.
Nowadays a few hundred Mustangs are still kept airworthy for demonstration purposes on airshows and memorial events around the world.
Various pictures of this legendary aircraft can be seen in the slideshow.
Country - USA
Crew - one
First Flight - 26th of October 1940
Decomissioned - 1953
Propulsion - Packard V-1650-7 liquid cooled in-line Merlin engine (1590hp)
Armament - six 12.7mm machineguns with a maximum payload of 454 kg of bombs and rockects
Dimensions - wingspan: 11,29 m, length: 9,85 m, height: 4,16 m, wing area: 21,83 m².
Weight - empty: 3230 kg, fully loaded: 5262 kg.
Performances - maximum speed: 703 km/h, sevice ceiling: 12,771 m, climbing rate: 1060 m per/min, range: 3347 km with external fuel tanks