Aerial photographer Mitchell D. Babarovich captured ‘Impatient Virgin?’ on Mustang Fly Day. Following its recovery and restoration, this Malcolm Hood-fitted P-51B (N5087F) made its first flight on 24 July 2008. (Photograph by Mitchell D. Babarovich)
The Mustang will forever be remembered as the escort fighter that ranged over German-occupied Europe to beat the Luftwaffe into the ground. Its prowess convinced many that it was the finest fighter of the Second World War. It then took on an entirely different role in the Korean War, serving as a close-air support aircraft that was instrumental in holding back the tide of the North Korean army at the Pusan Perimeter. Heavily laden Mustangs took off from short pierced steel planking runways to interdict the North Korean supply lines and to support the United Nations’ front line troops.
From the drawing board, the Mustang was a fast, manoeuvrable fighter right out of the gate, but it took time, experience and an American-built, British-designed engine to turn it into the multi-mission superstar that it became. After only indifferent success as a dive bomber as the A-36, the Mustang matured into a superb long-range bomber escort, an area and point interceptor, fighter-bomber, and a swift, capable photographic reconnaissance aircraft.
The Mustang manufacturing programme that began in early 1941 and ended in late 1945 produced three major versions and one minor version of the type: the P-51, A-36, F-6 and TP-51. Two of these, the P-51 and F-6, spawned numerous other variants. They also influenced a great number of proposed versions including a major production spin-off: the side-by-side-bodied Twin Mustang. North American produced 15,586 Mustangs of all types including those built for the US Army Air Forces and five Allied air forces in the Second World War: the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the South African Air Force. Some 30 other friendly air forces ultimately employed them as well.
More books and feature articles have been written on the Mustang than any other combat airplane. Other popular aircraft have enjoyed lots of ink in their own right but none of them have been represented in as many publications as the legendary Mustang. There are many reasons for this but none of them are more relevant than its overall combat success rating. In short, the Mustang proved to be one of the best combat aircraft in history.
This work on the Mustang comes in 16 parts, each one having its own rationale to explain the numerous aspects of this highly respected fighter plane from the past. The very detailed appendices, tables and sidebars feature first-person accounts and make this 100,000-word volume on the Mustang unlike any other. Moreover, with the help of several serious Mustang photographers and photograph collectors, some 200 photographs, most of which have never been published, are included herein.
The Mustang remains an admired attraction and one cannot go to a major air show anywhere in the free world today where a Mustang is not present. Some are on static display whereas others impress demonstrating their great flying abilities with graceful manoeuvres. Because their fame only continues to grow, there are more surviving Mustang warbirds worldwide than any other Second World War fighter. It is arguably the most popular warbird in the world.
The longevity of this legendary fighter airplane speaks for itself. It was a fighter pilot’s fighter in the truest sense of that phrase. In the final analysis the Mustang has more than earned this book and also each and every one of the many positive descriptive adjectives it has received.
Tacoma, Washington, USA
James H. ‘Dutch’ Kindelberger (left) and Leland J. ‘Lee’ Atwood came from the Douglas Aircraft Company to take over management of the newly formed North American Aircraft, Inc. in 1934. Together they made NAA, Inc., one of the most successful aircraft production companies in aviation history. (Rockwell International via Chris Wamsley)
A veteran of aviation literature might raise the question ‘Why another book on the Mustang?’ The question is legitimate for there have been many books published on the subject. Yet one has to consider two facts. First, there are many people who have not yet been introduced to the subject, and more importantly, there are few writers with the experience, expertise and knowledge of Steve Pace to put forward the intricate but important role of the North American P-51.
There is an almost Hollywood film quality about the story of the most important American fighter (and arguably, the world’s most important fighter) in the Second World War emerging from very unlikely beginnings. The saga began in 1928 with the foundation of North American as a holding company by a vastly important and vastly ignored aviation personality, Clement Melville Keys. There was a rash of anti-trust legislation at the time and this resulted in the break-up of holding companies. North American became a producer of aircraft and was merged with General Aviation when it was absorbed by the giant General Motors Corporation.
Almost unnoticed in the continual shuffling of company names and missions was the presence of a towering aviation personality, James H. ‘Dutch’ Kindelberger, and he would be the engine that drove the new North American Aviation Incorporation (NAA) from the East Coast to the West Coast and from relative obscurity to the top ranks of aviation.
The first products from NAA were derivative of the General Aviation background: low-wing monoplanes. Kindelberger created a trainer line that led ultimately to thousands of BT-9s and AT-6s. He also offered the less successful O-47, an observation aircraft that debuted just when they were becoming obsolete.
When the US began to build up its military forces in anticipation of the Second World War, the US Army Air Forces ‘type cast’ the production of its aircraft. It expected Boeing and Consolidated to build bombers, Curtiss, Republic and Lockheed to build fighters, and NAA to build trainers.
Kindelberger had other ideas. He wanted to build the B-25 bomber. He also wanted to pursue a fighter type first proposed by Lee Atwood in 1935 and subsequently developed by Ray Rice, Ed Schmued, Ed Horky and others.
Thus when the British Purchasing Commission approached NAA and requested that they build the Curtiss P-40 under licence, Kindelberger was ready to make a counteroffer. He promised that NAA could deliver a fighter superior to the P-40 using the same Allison engine. The British agreed and unleashed NAA to produce just such a fighter.
The new fighter’s performance eclipsed that of the P-40, but lacked the necessary high-altitude performance to make it an air superiority fighter – a term not used at the time. Then, as the author reveals herein, there was a ‘marriage made in heaven’ when an inspired decision was made to install the more fuel efficient and high altitude capable Rolls-Royce Merlin into the Mustang. The result was a fighter that could fly long-range escort missions to Berlin and decisively defeat Luftwaffe fighters. Its sleek airframe with laminar flow wing, zero-drag radiator and slender fuselage turned it into the dominant ace maker of the USAAF, outdoing both the P-47 and P-38.
I have always regretted never having had a chance to fly the P-51, a wish shared by many people, I’m sure. But I will be forever grateful that the aircraft was made in such quantities, and revered by so many, that a great number are still flying today as warbirds and racer aircraft. Steve Pace does a great airplane justice in this, his twenty-sixth aviation history book.
Walter J. Boyne
Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
During 1934-1939, NAA offered numerous fighter type aircraft proposals but to no avail. For example, Lee Atwood designed this two-seat, single-engine experimental pursuit in 1935 to answer USAAC Circular Proposal 35-414 (X-602) that was not proceeded with. (NAA via Walter J. Boyne)