The P-51 destroyed more enemy aircraft than any other fighter in Europe. It began as the NA-73 in 1940 at Britain's request. The design showed promise and the Army Air Forces purchases of Allison-powered Mustangs began in 1941 primarily for photo reconnaissance and ground support use due to its limited high-altitude performance. In 1942, tests of P-51s using the British Rolls-Royce "Merlin" engine revealed much improved speed and service ceiling, and in December 1943, Merlin-powered P-51Bs first entered combat over Europe. Providing high-altitude escort to B-17s and B-24s, they scored heavily over German interceptors and by war's end, P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter.
The P-51 Mustang began as the NA-73 in 1940 at Britain's request. The design showed promise and the Army Air Forces purchase of Allison-powered Mustangs began in 1941 primarily for photo reconnaissance and ground support use due to its limited high-altitude performance.
P-51 Mustangs served in nearly every combat zone, including the Pacific where they escorted B-29s to Japan from Iwo Jima. During 1941-45, the AAF ordered 14,855 Mustangs (including A-36A dive bomber and F-6 photo recon versions), of which 7,956 were P-51Ds. In 1948, the "P" for pursuit designation was changed to "F" for fighter. During the Korean War, the F-51 Mustang was in action once again. It was better suited to the small airstrips of Korea. The aircraft were based at Kimpo, Pusan and Pohang, flying out of one field then another in close support operations against the advancing North Koreans since the jet aircraft of the day did not have enough range to permit sufficient loiter time over the target. They were withdrawn from combat in 1953. Today many P-51s have been restored to the former glory and are on display in various aviation museums.
Primary function: fighter
Builder: North American
Span: 37 feet
Length: 32 feet 3 inches
Height: 13 feet 8 inches
Weight: 12,100 pounds max.
Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and 10 5-inch rockets or 2,000 pounds of bombs
Engine: Packard built Rolls-Royce "Merlin" V-1650 of 1,695 horsepower
Maximum speed: 437 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,000 miles
Service ceiling: 41,900 feet Sources compiled from U.S. Air Force Museum and Air Force History Support Office.