Unlike so many other combat aircraft that vanished at the end of the Second World War, Mustangs continued to serve as the main fighter force in the USAAF, Reserve and Air Guard units until they were replaced by turbojet-powered fighters such as the North American F-86 Sabre. Many foreign air forces received Mustangs, and during the Korean War, they once more flew in anger. However, from late 1945 to mid-1950, and mid-1953 to mid-1957, numerous Second World War Mustangs served in Reserve and Guard units.

Air Force Reserve Command

The Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) was established on 14 April 1948. Between July 1950 and June 1953, the USAF mobilised around 147,000 Air Force Reservists to active service for periods of one to three years. Five Air Force Reserve units remained on active service while a further fifteen units were called up to replace or complement active units. Air Force Reservists performed well as demonstrated by unit citations and the recalled individuals who had become fighter aces in the Second World War. Numerous Air Force Reserve units employed F-51D and F-51K Mustangs in supporting roles but nowhere near as many as the US Air Force Air National Guard.

It was by direction of President Harry S. Truman that the Unites States Air Force Reserve was established. With this action, the Air Corps Reserve was abolished. All officers, enlisted men and aircraft of the Air Corps Reserve were transferred to the Air Force Reserve. The US Air Force Reserve (AFRES) – now US Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) – was a Field Operation Agency (FOA) and is presently a Major Command (MAJCOM) of the US Air Force. After the AFRES was established, its predecessor, the Air Corps Reserve Section (ACRS) of the US Army of the United States, was abolished. All officers, enlisted men and equipment of the ACRS were transferred to the United States Air Force Reserve.

Amongst its aircraft, the newly formed AFRES had a number of P-51D, TP-51D, F-6D, P-51H, TP-51H, P-51K and F-6K Mustang and P-82B, P-82E, P-82F, P-82G and P-82G Twin Mustang airplanes in its inventory. After 11 June 1948, when the P for Pursuit prefix was changed to F for Fighter, these aircraft were listed as F-51D, TF-51D, RF-51D, F-51H, TF-51H, F-51K, RF-51K, F-82B, F-82E, F-82F, F-82G and F-82H respectively.

Air National Guard

The Air National Guard (ANG) was established as a separate reserve component of the USAF on 18 September 1947, but its pilots had played significant roles in all major conflicts since the First World War. In addition, it had aided their respective states in coping with natural disasters and civil unrest since the mid-1920s.

One of the first states to obtain a Mustang unit was Kentucky. The Kentucky Air National Guard received 25 P-51 Mustangs in May 1947 and these served with the 123rd Fighter Group, 165th Fighter Squadron, that had been established on 24 May 1946 at Standiford Field in Louisville, Kentucky. On 10 October 1950, the 123FG was placed on active duty and the unit moved to Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The unit’s P-51s were subsequently ferried to the Far East for combat duty in the Korean War. (Several of the former Kentucky ANG pilots volunteered for combat duty.) These Mustangs were replaced with Republic F-84 Thunderjets in November 1951.

Following their action in the Second World War, the surviving fleet of Mustangs continued to play an important role as long-range fighter-bombers. In the interim between the Second World War and the Korean War, numerous P-51D, P-51K and P-51H Mustangs were assigned to regular USAAF units as well as non-regular USAAF Air National Guard (ANG) and Air Force Reserve units.

The Korean War found many thousands of USAF ANG personnel called up for duty. Sixty-six of the ANG’s 92 squadrons were mobilised, many of which proved to be unprepared for combat. It took three to six months for some ANG units to become combat-ready. Some never did. Eventually, they made substantial contributions to the war effort and the USAF’s global build-up in the early 1950s. The new USAF jet fighters excelled during the war, but the F-51 Mustangs that participated, primarily as fighter-bombers, did an outstanding job as well. At the start of the Korean War, Mustangs were quick to show their usefulness. After the initial invasion, USAF units were forced to fly from bases in Japan and F-51Ds and F-51Ks could hit targets in North Korea where short-range F-80 jet fighters could not. Mustangs continued flying with the USAF, Republic of South Korea Air Force (ROKAF), South African Air Force (SAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter-bomber units on close support and interdiction missions during the war until they were largely replaced by F-84G and F-86F jet fighter-bombers in 1953.

These F-51Ds are from Air National Guard units based in California, Nevada and Utah on 29 August 1950. They were photographed by Bill Larkins from a Nevada ANG T-6 Texan flown by Lt. Col. Breeden. The nearest Mustang is an F-51D-25-NA (44-74825) of the 194th Fighter Squadron; the centre Nevada ANG F-51D-25-NA (44-73065) is of the 192nd Fighter Squadron; and the Utah ANG Mustang is F-51D-25-NA (44-73215) of the 191st Fighter Squadron. All of these squadrons were part of the 144th Fighter Group. Respectively, they are being piloted by Lt. Col. Atherton, Maj. Santos and Maj. Lamb near Santa Rosa, California. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

This California ANG F-51D-30-NA Mustang (44-72845) cruises near Treasure Island (or Yerba Buena Island) and the Bay Bridge that ties San Francisco and Oakland together on 24 June 1951. The commanding officer of the 144th Fighter Wing at Hayward, California, Brig. Gen. John F. Turner, is at the controls. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

This California ANG F-51D-30-NA (44-74607) is carrying two practice bombs over San Francisco Bay on 15 October 1949. It belonged to the 144th Fighter Group, 194th Fighter Squadron, based in Hayward, California. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

This is an F-51D-25-NA (44-73578) of the South Dakota ANG shown in spring 1952. (Photograph courtesy of USAF)

A number of Utah ANG F-51D Mustangs are undergoing various stages of maintenance at Santa Rosa AAF, California, in 1947. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

The pilot of this F-51D-25-NA (44-72806) of the Wyoming ANG shows the type of flying gear worn by Mustang pilots in the early 1950s. (Photograph courtesy of USAF)

This F-51H-5-NA (44-64255) of the California ANG was photographed near the Bay Area on 17 February 1952. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

Another 104FW Massachusetts ANG F-51H-5-NA (44-64344). (Stan Piet)

This 162nd Fighter Squadron F-51H-5-NA (44-64278) of the Ohio ANG was flown to the scrap yard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in 1954. Its crew chief was Master Sergeant Richard E. Bruce who recalled: ‘During the time the P-51s were being flown to the bone yard they were equipped with drop tanks. On one flight a pilot either jettisoned or lost a drop tank near the Indiana-Ohio border and it hit and burned down a church. Fortunately it was unoccupied at the time. The church members had been saving for years to build the church and it had just been completed but not yet dedicated. The US Government built them a new church.’ (Richard E. Bruce Collection – All Rights Reserved)

California ANG RF-51D (44-14845) of the 144th FS. It was originally manufactured in Inglewood as a P-51D-10-NA but later retrofitted to F-6D-cum-RF-51D standard. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

A beautiful study of a California ANG RF-51D-10-NA (44-14845) that belonged to the 144th FS. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

This F-51H-10-NA (44-64633) belonged to the District of Columbia ANG based at Bolling Field, D.C. It was photographed in October 1949 at Oakland Airport, California. (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

Close-up view of California ANG F-51D-30-NA (44-74607). (Photograph by William T. Larkins)

Since the F-51D/-51K/-51H Mustang fleets were removed from USAF front line service before the two US territories of Alaska and Hawaii became the forty-ninth and fiftieth states of the US respectively in 1959, the previous forty-eight states employed these reserve F-51s within their respective ANG inventories. In addition, Mustang ANG units were assigned to the District of Columbia (better known as Washington D.C.) and the US territories of Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Mustangs flew in Reserve and ANG units until they were phased out of USAF service in 1957. Therefore, one US district, four US territories and forty-four of forty-eight united states had Mustang-equipped ANG units from 1946 to 1957.

Air National Guard States and Territories

Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Florida; Georgia; Guam; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Puerto Rico; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; West Virginia; Wisconsin.

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