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North American P-51

The North American P-51 Mustang was the best American fighter of the war; many say the best of any nation. But when it was designed in 1940, North American hadn't had any fighter design experience of any kind, although they had tinkered with Texan trainers armed with macine guns. The P-51 came about when the British asked North American to build P-40 Warhawks for it. North American said it could do better than the P-40 and designed the P-51. The 'Mustang', as it was called by the British, was an extremely advanced fighter for it's time. It possessed a laminar wing(a wing used to reduce drag), the Allison engine, a sleek fuselage, and an armament of four .50 caliber machine guns. The prototype, called the NA-73, had excellent performance, altough at high altitudes it didn't do the best. The NA-73 was eventually damaged when it turned over during a forced landing. Several were bought by Britian, but the U.S.A.A.F. saw potential in the Mustang. Because of it's poor high altitude performance, the Army accepted the P-51 as the A-36 ground attack aircraft(see A-36). Eventually the British Merlin engine replaced the Allison engine and a legend was born. The P-51 now had the high altitude performance it needed to survive in combat. P-51Bs and Cs operated well in Europe and the Pacific. But these were often mistaken for Bf-109s because of the similar appearance. The pilot also had a restricted view and the four .50 caliber machine guns weren't enough. Enter the P-51D. This variant had the new 'bubble canopy' to give the pilot unrestricted vision. The D also had six .50 caliber machine guns instead of the usual four. This was the variant which took the fight to the Germans. Herman Goering, the Luftwaffe commander, admitted that when he saw the P-51 fighting over Berlin for the first time, he knew the war was lost. The P-51 had the range to fly from England, deep into Germany, and back. This was possible thanks to drop tanks that were fitted under the wings. The P-82(later the F-82) came about as a development of the P-51(see P-82). Two P-51s were fitted together(it wasn't really that easy) and this new aircraft would have been used to escort B-29s to Japan, but it was too late to see action.

The P-51 prototype. North American had no other fighter experience when the P-51 was designed. The aircraft shown was heavily damaged when it force landed in a plowed field.

This is an early Mustang with the neutral national insignia. This is an early P-51 and not an A-36 ground attack aircraft. It lacks the four 20mm cannons in the wings, the dive flaps, and the machine guns in the nose which the A-36 Apache utilized.

The P-51D, the most famous variant of the P-51. It is said to be a thoroughbred of aircraft design.