Immediately after the Second World War up until the beginning of the Korean War, the P-51/F-51 Mustangs continued to play a significant role in the activities of the USAAF/USAF. At first, these remained to be front line fighter aircraft and they did not relinquish their title until they were replaced by the new turbojet-powered USAF fighter aircraft such as the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, Republic F-84 Thunderjet and North American F-86 Sabre Jet.
Shortly after VE Day, the Allied forces began their occupation of Germany, which was deemed necessary by the leaders and military commanders of the countries that had fought so long and hard to defeat it. As far as the USAAF was concerned, this meant the deployment of its aircraft to former Luftwaffe airfields and four Mustang units were based in Kaufbeuren (later Giebelstadt), Herzogenaurach, Schweinfurt (later Gablingen) and Neubiberg.
These were the 55th FG, 354th FG, 355th FG and the 357th FG respectively, each group having three fighter squadrons. At first, since low-time and unassigned Mustangs were placed in storage for possible use in the Pacific, these units were equipped with mostly high-time Mustangs. But after VJ Day, the newer low-time P-51s and F-6s were taken from storage and assigned to these groups/squadrons. So, in post-war Germany, until 1952, these units were equipped with P-51Ds, P-51Ks, F-6Ds, F-6Ks and a few two-seat TP-51Ds.
After VE- and VJ Day had come and gone, the Allies were inundated with men and war machines. It was no different for the men who had maintained and flown the Mustang. While it is true that a large number of these men wanted to remain on the job, there were thousands of other men that had to and were glad to go home. This was also true of the warbirds they had lived and died with. Thousands of Mustangs were sent home from the ETO and MTO beginning in June 1945 under Operation Magic Carpet. This action was also necessary after the end of hostilities in the Far East and Pacific areas from where surplus CBI, PTO and SWPA Mustangs and their personnel were sent home in September 1945. Those ‘Mustangers’ that did remain on the job, mostly non commissioned officers or NCOs with the ranks of corporal and sergeant, became important parts of the occupation forces in and around Germany and Japan. And they continued to maintain and fly their Mustangs until 1952 when the occupation of both countries ended. In the interim, however, beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s, some of these fighter groups began to trade their piston-powered and propeller-driven Mustangs for a new and faster breed of fighter powered by turbojet engines. (The term ‘lifer’ is generally understood to mean a person who plans to make a career out of the military by serving at least twenty years.) Older, war-weary P-51s were scrapped, but low-time Mustangs were welcomed with arms wide open. These included F-6D/K, P-51D/K and P-51H airplanes of which some were factory new.
In 1946, the recently established Strategic Air Command (SAC) employed P-51 and F-6 Mustangs and P-82 Twin Mustangs primarily because of their long-range capabilities as bomber escort aircraft.
In 1950, the majority of USAF F-51 and RF-51 Mustangs became surplus or they were transferred to Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units. Beginning in mid-1950 at the start of the Korean War, F-51D/K and RF-51D/K Mustangs, now obsolete as front line fighters, were used as close ground support and reconnaissance aircraft until the end of the war in mid-1953. The newer, lighter and faster F-51H was not employed in the Korean War due to a lack of spare parts and that seasoned Mustang pilots preferred the older and more rugged Mustangs.
Development of the P-82 Twin Mustang continued post-war and P-82C-1-NA Twin Mustang (USAAF serial number 44-65169) completed a successful first flight from Mines Field to Muroc AAF on 27 March 1946, followed by P-82D-1-NA (USAAF serial number 44-65170) two days later. These two airplanes came equipped with two different search radar systems and were evaluated as the night fighter (all weather) version of the Twin Mustang.
The three fighter squadrons of the 57th Fighter Group of the Alaskan Air Command were equipped with lightweight P-51H Mustangs on 15 August 1946. These three squadrons – the 64th, 65th and 66th – were based on Shemya Island, Ladd Field (near Fairbanks), and Elmendorf AFB respectively. These were used as point and area air defence fighter-interceptors to help ward off approaching bombers from Russia during the Cold War.
The F-51 Mustangs through the post-war years from late-1945 to mid-1950 remained armed with six .50 cal. machine guns. This exploded view shows all the parts employed by these heavy weapons. (US Air Force)
An unidentifiable F-6D of the 10th Reconnaissance Group at Fürth Airfield, Germany, in the winter of 1946-1947. Photo-Recce work by the USAAF was very important during the post-war occupation of Germany. (US Air Force)
Two TEMCO rebuilt Mustangs: an F-51D and an F-6D in the background. (Arjen de Bruine)
On 27 September and 9 October respectively, NAA initiated its NA-149 and NA-150 programmes for the production of 91 P-82F airplanes, 45 P-82G airplanes and 14 P-82H airplanes. The Fs and Gs would be built as night fighters. The Hs would be modified Gs but winterised for their intended operations in Alaska. During 27-28 February 1947, a lone P-82B nicknamed ‘Betty Jo’ flew non-stop from Hickam Field, Hawaii, to Mitchel Field, New York. A distance of 5,051 miles, this was the longest non-stop flight ever made by a piston-powered propeller-driven airplane. (Refer to Part 12 for full details.)
The premier P-82F Twin Mustang (46-405) made a successful first flight from Mines Field to land safely at Muroc Air Force Base on 11 March 1947.
The US Army Air Forces (USAAF) became the US Air Force (USAF) on 18 September 1947. A whole and separate branch of the US Armed Forces and all Mustangs had their buzz number prefixes changed from PC to FC (F-6s), PF to FF (P-51s) and TP to TF (TP-51s). Buzz numbers were applied so that if an aircraft buzzed a flight tower or some other establishment such as a family residence, the airplane would be easily identifiable and its pilot(s) would come under fire for disturbing the peace.
Mustangs were assigned to several of the major commands of the newly established USAF: the Air Defense Command (ADC), Alaskan Air Command, Strategic Air Command (SAC), Continental Air Command (CONAC), Pacific Air Command (PACOM) and the Tactical Air Command (TAC). By order of the Department of Defense on 10 June 1948, the old P for Pursuit prefix was changed to F for Fighter to be effective from 11 June. Also, the F for Photographic Reconnaissance prefix was changed to RF for Reconnaissance Fighter. Thus, all P-51s and P-82s became F-51s and F-82s. The F-6 became the RF-51 and TP-51 became the TF-51. The 82nd Fighter Group, first assigned to the Strategic Air Command on 12 April 1947, was reassigned to the Continental Air Command in August 1949. Its three fighter squadrons – the 95th, 96th and 97th – were equipped with P-51D Mustangs and based at Grenier Field, New Hampshire. When in CONAC, they served with the New Hampshire ANG and the 82nd was disbanded on 2 October 1949.
P-51H-5-NA (44-64394) stands ready for another mission from Hamilton Field, California, on 6 April 1946. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)
An F-51H-10-NA (44-64551; N551H) at Hayward Airport, California, on 25 September 1976 owned by Mike Couche. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)
The premier NA-120 XP-82 Twin Mustang (44-83886) while it was at the NACA-Langley Research Center in Virginia on 24 July 1948. (NASA)
A P-51H-10-NA (44-64461) named ‘Ah’m Available’ of the 62nd FS, 56th FG of the Alaska Air Command in 1946. This was the second block 10 P-51H manufactured. (US Air Force)
Two 56th Fighter Group P-51H-5-NA Mustangs (44-64315 and 44-64320 foreground). (USAF via AFFTC HO)
Organisational chart for the Strategic Air Command (SAC), 8th Air Force, c. 1947. As show here, two fighter wings – the 27th and 33rd Fighter Wings – were equipped with P-51s respectively based at Kearney AFB, Nebraska, and Roswell AFB, New Mexico. (US Air Force)
The thirteenth of eighteen F-82B Twin Mustangs (44-65173) that were built as it appeared in September 1948. The NA-123 F-82B was the production version of the NA-120 XP-82. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)
An F-51D-25-NA (44-73204) of the 31st Fighter Group at Turner AFB in November 1949. (US Air Force)
The second XP-82 Twin Mustang on a test hop while a P-51D Mustang flies chase. The Twin Mustang was not just two Mustangs joined at the hip by a center wing/horizontal stabilizer, but an entirely new aircraft with similar features. (Stan Piet collection)
A P-51D operated by NACA (NACA 148) in 1955 at Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards AFB, California. This P-51D performed dive tests and reached a maximum speed of 593 mph. (NASA)
The last Dallas-built P-51D-30-NT (45-11742) banks right to show the bottom details of a Mustang in flight. (USAF via AFFTC HO)
On 29 December 1949, famed aviatrix Jacqueline (Jackie) Cochran set an international speed record flying an F-51D Mustang over the Mount Wilson Course of 310.685 miles at an average speed of 436.995 mph.
F-51 Mustangs flew in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard until they were phased out in 1957. The last operational unit to operate F-51 Mustangs was the 167th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the West Virginia Air National Guard. The West Virginia ANG was equipped with Mustangs from 1948 to 1957. The last operational F-51D – an F-51D-30-NA (44-74936) flown by the WVANG – was acquired by the Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
The one and only RF-82B (44-65172) produced, during a flight on 23 August 1948. This is the twelfth of eighteen F-82B airplanes built that was modified to carry a special reconnaissance pod underneath its centre wing panel. (USAF via Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)
An F-51H-5-NA (44-64415) assigned to NACA (NACA 130) for high-speed tests out of NACA-Ames Flight Research Center from 18 December 1946 to 30 April 1951. It now flies as RAF KN987 to represent the P-51H-NA sent to Great Britain in early 1945. (NASA)
It was refurbished to represent the P-51D (44-11234, code number 52) of the 318th Fighter Squadron flown by Lt. Col. Chester L. ‘Chet’ Sluder (two victories), commander of the 325th Fighter Group (‘The Checkertail Clan’), 15th Air Force at Vincenzo, Italy, in 1944. The name of this fighter, ‘Shimmy IV’, is derived from the names of his daughter, Sharon, and his wife, Zimmy. ‘Shimmy IV’ was flown to the museum on 27 January 1957 by Lt. Col. James L. Miller, commander of the 167th.
The F-82 Twin Mustang had a rather short career in the USAF. By June 1953, there were no F-82s in the USAF, Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard, but NACA did acquire four surplus Twin Mustangs for its ongoing flight research purposes. These included the two XP-82s (44-83886 and 44-83887, NACA 14 and NACA 15), an F-82B (44-65168, NACA 132) (‘Betty Jo’) and an F-82E (46-256, NACA 133).
The last Mustang to be shot down was during Operations Power Pack I-IV in the Dominican Republic during 1965-1966 with the support of US forces including 21,500 US Army personnel and 1,500 US Marine Corps personnel. The Organization of American States (OAS) including Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay provided another 1,800 officers and troops. It should be noted that it was the Dominican Republic that was the first nation in Latin America to procure Mustangs in June 1948 with F-51Cs and the last Latin American country to operate them.
The last Mustang in regular service with the US Armed Forces, F-51D-25-NA (44-72990), was retired on 7 February 1978. Serving with the US Army, it was one of two chase planes for its Cheyenne and Blackhawk helicopter flight/armament test programmes.
As mentioned earlier, the air force of the Dominican Republic or Fuerza Aérea Dominicana (FAD) retired their remaining twelve Mustangs in 1984. It had once possessed a total of fifty and these F-51s were the last Mustangs used by any air force in the world. Therefore, from the inaugural flight of the first NA-73 (Mustang Mk.I) on 23 April 1941, Mustangs had been operational in military service for more than 43 years, longer than any other Second World War aircraft.
The twentieth of 100 F-82E Twin Mustangs (46-275) built sporting its markings in May 1949. The NA-144 F-82E was a development of the NA-123 F-82B, but used Allison V-1710 engines with two-stage superchargers to give 1,980 hp each with water injection. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)
Four 20th FG F-6Ds in November 1946 at Shaw Field, South Carolina. (USAF)
The Mustang and its Twin Mustang spin-off had served the US very well indeed. Moreover, the Mustang served numerous air forces in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Great Britain from which the Mustang programme had been born.