"Mustang Madness": Impressive Array of America’s Premier World War II Fighters
Aircraft display coordinator Eddie Andreini Jr. is excited to bring "Mustang Madness", a spectacular array of P-51s to this year's Pacific Coast Dream Machines, April 27-28 at Half Moon Bay Airport.
"We’ll have more P-51 Mustangs on display that you see at Mustang-specific shows," says Andreini, son of legendary aerobatics pilot Eddie Andreini of Half Moon Bay.
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and several other conflicts.
During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down, second only to the Grumman F6F Hellcat among Allied aircraft.
The Mustang used a common, reliable engine and had internal space for a huge fuel load. With external fuel tanks, it could accompany the bombers all the way to Germany and back.
Enough P-51s became available to the 8th and 9th Air Forces in the winter of 1943–44. When the Pointblank offensive resumed in early 1944, matters changed dramatically. The P-51 proved perfect for escorting bombers all the way to the deepest targets. The Eighth Air Force began to switch its fighter groups to the Mustang, first exchanging arriving P-47 groups for those of the 9th Air Force using P-51s, then gradually converting its Thunderbolt and Lightning groups. The defense was initially layered, using the shorter range P-38s and P-47s to escort the bombers during the initial stages of the raid and then handing over to the P-51 when they turned for home. By the end of 1944, 14 of its 15 groups flew the Mustang.
The Luftwaffe initially adapted to the US fighters by modifying their tactics, massing in front of the bombers and then attacking in a pass through the formation. Flying in close formation with the bombers, the P-51s had little time to react before the attackers were already running out of range. To better deal with the bombers, the Luftwaffe started increasing the armament on their fighters with heavy cannons. The additional weight decreased performance to the point where their aircraft were vulnerable if caught by the P-51s. At first this was relatively easy to avoid.
In early 1944, General James Doolittle told his fighters to stop flying in formation with the bombers and instead attack the Luftwaffe wherever it could be found. The Mustang groups were sent in before the bombers and could hunt the German fighters while they were forming up. The results were astonishing; in a short period of just over a week, the Luftwaffe lost 17% of its fighter pilots. As Doolittle later noted, "Adolf Galland said that the day we took our fighters off the bombers and put them against the German fighters, that is, went from defensive to offensive, Germany lost the air war."
The Mustang was conceived, designed and built by North American Aviation (NAA), under the direction of lead engineer Edgar Schmued, in response to a specification issued directly to NAA by the British Purchasing Commission; the prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on 9 September 1940, albeit without an engine, 102 days after the contract was signed and it was first flown on 26 October.
The Mustang was originally designed to use a low-altitude rated Allison V-1710 engine, and was first flown operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a tactical-reconnaissance aircraft and fighter-bomber.
The definitive version, the P-51D, was powered by the Packard V-1650-7, a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 60 series two-stage two-speed supercharged engine, and armed with six .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns.
From late 1943, P-51Bs (supplemented by P-51Ds from mid-1944) were used by the USAAF's Eighth Air Force to escort bombers in raids over Germany, while the RAF's 2 TAF and the USAAF's Ninth Air Force used the Merlin-powered Mustangs as fighter-bombers, roles in which the Mustang helped ensure Allied air superiority in 1944.
The P-51 was also in service with Allied air forces in the North African, Mediterranean and Italian theatres, and saw limited service against the Japanese in the Pacific War.
At the start of Korean War, the Mustang was the main fighter of the United Nations until jet fighters such as the F-86 took over this role; the Mustang then became a specialized fighter-bomber.
Despite the advent of jet fighters, the Mustang remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s. After World War II and the Korean War, many Mustangs were converted for civilian use, especially air racing.