A Brief History
The North American P-51 Mustang is one of the most famous and effective fighters of all time. It was, and is, renowned worldwide for its speed, agility, firepower, and most importantly for the time it entered service, long range. It was the first fighter to be able to escort Allied bombers all the way to Berlin and back from bases in England. These traits also made it effective in the Pacific theater, escorting B-29's to mainland Japan and back from bases such as that in Iwo Jima
. It was such a sound design that variants of the P-51 saw service in UN and US-friendly air forces worldwide until late in the 20th century. A number of P-51's now lie in the hands of museums and private owners, who often fly them for the public in airshows.
Although designed and built in the United States
, the P-51 was originally designed to be exported to England
to augment their Hurricanes and Spitfires in their fight against Axis forces. The initial design, the P-51A, featured the 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engine also found in such airframes as the P-40 and P-38. It also had a framework canopy, similar to the P-40's, and was armed with four .50 caliber M2 Browning
machine guns in its wings.
The resulting fighter was potent, but lacked a supercharger and was therefore restricted to thicker air at low altitudes for most effective use. It was agile at these altitudes, but lacked the power to make it an exceptional dogfighter. The Brits liked the design, but found it to be lacking. Rather than discard a design with outstanding potential, they thought that combining the well-designed airframe with the same Rolls Royce Merlin engine that powered their Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Mosquito aircraft. would create a very potent combination.
North American went back to the drawing boards. The result was the P-51B. It retained the framework canopy of the P-51A, but was outwardly distinct from its predecessor due to its redesigned nose section and larger belly scoop. The P-51B unleashed the Mustang's design potential. The Merlin generated enough power to give ample thrust and high speed control at high altitudes, and large fuel tanks gave the fighter long range capabilities. Combined with exceptional agility, thanks to laminar-flow wings, the Mustang's traits made it the escort fighter of choice in Europe. Not only was it able to follow Allied bombers all the way to their targets deep in Europe and back, but it could either hold its own against, or out-perform, any Axis fighter in the air at the time. This, combined with the Allies' solid training regimen compared with the Axis' trend of losing experienced pilots at a steady rate, meant that the Allies' dominance of the air was inevitable.
The P-51 was effective in the Pacific theater, as well, where its long range allowed it to cover the vast distances between islands with enough fuel left to combat any Axis fighters in the air.
The most famous variant of the P-51 is the P-51D. This version introduced the glass "fishbowl" canopy for full 360-degree vision, and added one .50 caliber Browning to each wing, bringing the total number of guns to six. Many people consider this to be the definitive version. Introduced late in World War II, it also served later in the USAF during the Korean War, where its long range ensured that it was a valuable asset compared to the short-ranged jet fighters at that time.
The Mustang was most famously flown by the USAAF in World War II, but, as mentioned above, its service did not end there. It was popular as an export fighter both during and after World War II to Allied, and later NATO and UN air forces worldwide. It served as a reserve fighter in the United States and in front-line air forces worldwide well after the war it was initially designed to participate in. New versions of the Mustang were prolific, with specialized, turboprop-powered counter-insurgency variants being developed by private companies such as Cavalier as late as the 1980's
The P-51 is found a large number of games that take place during World War II, if air power is involved. Often, it is featured as a top-tier player craft. A virtual pilot can almost never go wrong choosing a P-51 as their trusty steed, as it is usually well balanced and can hold its own against in-game opponents. Depending on how detailed in-game damage modeling is, the only weakness of the P-51, as in real life, may be the radiator located in the craft's belly. A shrapnel or bullet strike in the radiator or coolant lines would cause a fluid leak and engine overheat. Catatsrophic engine failure resulted from this. To compensate, virtual P-51 pilots are advised to use the craft's excellent handling characteristics to avoid enemy fire, rather than hoping to absorb the damage.