‘Mustang is a free-roaming breed of wild (or feral) horse of the North American plains found for the most part in the states of Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming – Nevada having the largest population.’
Wikipedia.org online, 2012
Fledgling North American Aviation produced two very important military aircraft for combat operations during the Second World War: the twin-engine B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, and the subject of this reference, the single-engine P-51 Mustang interceptor pursuit fighter. It also produced a very important advanced trainer, the AT-6 Texan series of advanced trainer aircraft that helped train the thousands of US Army pilots that flew the P-51. While the B-25 became famous before the Mustang had even flown a combat mission, it was the P-51 that became a heralded legend in its own time.
Once fully matured, through a number of growing pains, the long shot P-51 Mustang overcame its shortcomings and earned its spurs in full-blown combat during the Second World War. The Mustang is conceivably the most famous fighter to emerge from that conflict. While numerous others are revered for their respective contributions, the Mustang is the most sought after of all Second World War warbirds to this day.
In 1934, James Howard ‘Dutch’ Kindelberger was vice president of engineering at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica, California, where he was leading the development of the DC-1 and DC-2 airliners. NAA of Dundalk, Maryland, required an experienced leader to take the position of company president. Kindelberger was therefore asked by NAA management to take that coveted position and accepted on 6 July 1934. At the time, NAA had been awarded a production contract for its BT-9, BT-9A and BT-9B basic training aircraft for the US Army Air Corps and a leader with aircraft development savvy was desperately needed. But Kindelberger, with family and home in Los Angeles, California, did not wish to relocate to Maryland. Thus, with NAA’s blessing, a new factory and headquarters building was constructed in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, California, alongside of Mines Field that was later engulfed by Los Angeles International Airport or LAX.
Earlier in mid-1931, the General Aviation Manufacturing Corporation took over the Fokker Aircraft Corporation, in which the General Motors Corporation (GMC) held forty-one per cent interest. Then in 1933, NAA – a holding company – merged with GAMC and became an aircraft manufacturing company. NAA was located adjacent to Logan Field (formerly Dundalk Flying Field) in Dundalk near Baltimore, Maryland, when Kindelberger grabbed its reins. It was a subsidiary of the GMC and was previously known as the General Aviation Manufacturing Corporation (GAMC).
NAA was incorporated as part of the GMC on 1 January 1935. Its move from Dundalk, Maryland, on the east coast of the US to Inglewood, California, on the west coast of the US was complete by the end of 1935. The reason for the move was never fully explained other than ‘The flying weather is much better here in California than it is in Maryland,’ Kindelberger, now President and General Manager of NAA, was heard to have said. But his desire to remain living in California was most likely the paramount reason for the move.
Kindelberger appointed John Leland (Lee) Atwood who came from Douglas to serve as chief engineer and assistant general manager of NAA (he would soon become vice president of NAA). He also brought noted aircraft designer James Stanley ‘Stan’ Smithson over from Douglas. On 14 January 1935, a USAAC Circular Proposal 35-414, Specification X-602, was released calling for a two-place pursuit.
On 1 April 1935, NAA responded with an eighty-page Detail Specification for what it called its Model XP Airplane, Report Number NA-35. Lee Atwood was the chief engineer on this project. In part, in this detail specification the Model XP Airplane was described as:
The ‘Father of the Mustang’, Edgar O. ‘Ed’ Schmued, enjoys a few moments in the cockpit of an early Mustang: an NA-91 P-51. (Rockwell International via Chris Wamsley)
‘This is a single-engine, two-place, low-wing land monoplane. The fuselage shall be of all metal monocoque construction with cantilever tail surfaces. The cantilever wings shall be of all metal box-spar construction. The ailerons, elevators and rudder frames shall be of metal and be fabric covered. The flaps shall be metal construction throughout.
‘The airplane shall be designed for pursuit operations.
‘It shall be powered with one Allison V-1710 geared engine developing 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 rpm from 0 feet to 20,000 feet.’
This specification was prepared by Lee Atwood of NAA, Manufacturing Division, Engineering and Experimental Division, Dundalk, Maryland. It is one of the earliest known attempts by NAA to win a military aircraft production contract to build a pursuit airplane.
Numerous other USAAC Circular Proposals or CPs were forthcoming from Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, throughout 1935 to 1939. Some CPs that NAA responded to included Specification X-608 for a twin-engine fighter and Specification X-609 for a single-engine fighter. The former CP evolved in to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the latter as the Bell P-39 Airacobra. With finances furnished primarily from the General Motors Corporation – the biggest share holder of NAA stock – the move from Dundalk to Inglewood included the building of a first-class aircraft manufacturing facility and headquarters building alongside Mines Field.
While some important Dundalk employees such as aircraft designer Edward O. ‘Ed’ Schmued were moved to Inglewood, numerous others were hired locally. Some of these included young aerodynamicist Edward J. ‘Ed’ Horkey who, like Schmued, would become famed for his work on the Mustang.
This was a slow year for NAA in that only a few large production orders were forthcoming for its aircraft. On 22 January 1936, a USAAC contract was approved for a single experimental armed observation airplane designated XO- 47.
This design would prove successful and 164 O-47A and seventy-four O-47B airplanes were ordered three years later. On 15 April, the first production NA-16, designated BT-9, made its first flight from Mines Field. The USAAC ordered 117 BT-9B airplanes and the USAAC contract for these was approved on 7 December.
One of the more interesting offerings to emerge from Inglewood in late 1936 was the NA-21, a twin-engine medium-class bomber design to answer the USAAC Circular Proposal (CP) 36-528 that had been released to the industry in early 1936. It made its first flight from Mines Field on 22 December 1936. The design, a tail dragger, reminded one of the Douglas DC-3 and was in direct competition with the ‘improved’ Douglas B-18A Bolo. Douglas offered its B-18 for $64,000US each while NAA had priced its ‘improved’ NA-21, the NA-39, now designated XB-21 and nicknamed ‘Dragon’, at $122,000US each.
Priced at almost twice the cost of the B-18, Douglas won the CP 36-528 competition. An experimental XB-21 received the USAAC serial number 38-485 and the five service test YB-21 airplanes previously ordered were cancelled.
Business picked up in 1937 for NAA, but the majority of aircraft production orders came from foreign nations instead of US customers. The earlier NA-16 basic trainer remained popular and no fewer than nine foreign users purchased the type throughout 1937. The USAAC did procure 177 BC-1 airplanes, however, in addition to the XB-21. More importantly to the future of NAA was its NA-40 programme initiated on 9 December 1937.
While at Dundalk, a single XO-47 (36-145) was ordered under contract AC 8203 for USAAC evaluation. It was a three-place, single-engine experimental observation airplane that still carried the General Aviation Corporation Charge Number of GA-15. The airplane was built in Inglewood, however, and made its first flight November 1935. Shown here is an NA-25 O-47A (37-323) that had just been flight tested at the NACA-Ames Research Center at NAS Moffett Field, California, by NACA test pilot William H. ‘Bill’ McAvoy on 16 November 1940. (NASA)
When the original NA-16 two-place basic trainer demonstrator was completed in Inglewood in March 1935, NAA management had no idea just how important this airplane would become to its future existence. It was first flown on 1 April 1935 and its sound design ultimately led to numerous variants and spin-offs. This USAAC BT-9A at NACA-Langley is just one example. (NASA)
In answer to USAAC Circular Proposal 36-28, NAA was to provide drawings and data for a twin-engine bomber under NAA Charge Number NA-21. NAA proceeded to build the NA-21 using in-house monies and the USAAC showed interest in the airplane. It made its first flight on 22 December 1936. The result was the NA-39 programme begun on 14 October 1937 whereby NAA would demonstrate the airplane as the USAAC-ordered XB-21 (38-485) ‘Dragon’. The airplane did not impress the USAAC enough to warrant further production of the type and this programme was abandoned. (National Museum of the USAF)
Initiated as the NA-40 program on 9 December 1937, NAA built a single twin-engine attack bomber demonstrator to meet USAAC Circular Proposal 38-385 specifications. The NA-40 soon became the modified NA-40B that formed the basis for the NA-62 B-25 Mitchell programme on 5 September 1939. The NA-40 made its first flight on 29 January 1939 and NA-40B on 1 March 1939. The NA-40B impressed the USAAC enough to award NAA a production contract for 184 NA-62 B-25, B-25A and B-25B airplanes in Inglewood. (National Museum of the USAF)
The A-27 began life in December 1937 as the NA-44 light attack bomber demonstrator for Canada that was similar to the NA-36 BC-1. This airplane evolved into the NA-69 A-27 programme begun on 30 November 1939 whereby a ten-plane order from Siam (Thailand) was diverted to the USAAC. The A-27s, in part, were employed by the 17th Pursuit Squadron at Nichols Field in the Philippines. Two of the ten A-27s built are shown here. (National Museum of the USAF)
As it happened, under USAAC contract number AC 11720, NAA was authorised to build a single NA-40 airplane to answer CP 38-385 calling for a twin-engine medium attack bombardment demonstrator airplane. On 14 October 1937, NAA initiated its NA-39 programme under USAAC contract number AC 11070 for the ‘improved’ NA-21. This created the XB-21 ‘Dragon’ previously discussed.
The Great Depression was still being felt throughout the US and overseas throughout 1938, which was a very lean year for NAA. Only 454 airplanes were ordered from NAA in 1938, all but nineteen of them from foreign governments. These included twelve NA-16-4 basic trainers for Brazil, one NA-16-4RW basic trainer for Japan, fifteen NA-16-3C basic trainers for China, four hundred NA-16-1E Harvard I basic trainers for Great Britain, seven NA-50 single place fighter airplanes for Peru, sixteen SNJ-1 trainer airplanes for the US Navy and three BC-2 basic combat trainers for the USAAC. It was just enough business to keep NAA afloat. The word ‘fighter’ in italics is not a typographical error. On 1 August 1938, NAA had initiated work on its very first fighter airplane ordered into production: the NA-50. It was ordered by the Peruvian Government to serve in the Peruvian Air Force. The design was based upon the NA-16 but quickly developed into its own realm of being.
For NAA, 1939 began like the previous year with upper management seeking new business during this difficult period for military aircraft sales. Under development since the winter of 1937, a recently completed NA-40 demonstrator airplane was successfully flight tested out of Mines Field on 29 January 1939 with freelance test pilot Paul Balfour at the controls. Since it had not been purchased by the USAAC and issued with a USAAC serial number, it was registered with the civilian number NX-14221. The airplane suffered from tail vibrations during ensuing flight tests which increasingly got worse at higher speeds. Its two 1,100 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines were subsequently replaced with 1,600 hp Wright R-2600 Double Cyclone engines and re-designated as NA-40B.
A new order for military aircraft led NAA to open its NA-51 programme on 9 February whereby it would produce seventy-four O-47B armed observation airplanes, twenty-four for the USAAC and fifty for the National Guard Bureau (NGB) Aviation Division. This was a reorder of the NA-25 series that had produced 164 O-47A airplanes, seventy-one for the USAAC and ninety-three for the NGB Aviation Division.
The ‘new’ NA-40B, again with Balfour at the controls, made its first flight on 1 March 1939. On 12 March, the airplane was flown to Wright Field for USAAC evaluations. The USAAC found the NA-40B to its liking, but on 11 April during an engine-out test, the pilot lost control and crashed near Wright Field. The pilot survived but the airplane was beyond repair. In any event, as good as it had performed the USAAC selected the Douglas A-20 Havoc over the NA-40B design. However, all was not lost as the NA-40B had successfully laid the groundwork for what would later become one of the best medium-class bombers ever built: the B-25 Mitchell.
By the end of May 1939, all seven NA-50 ‘Torito’ (a Peruvian slang word meaning ‘little bull’) fighter airplanes, as the Peruvian Air Force had dubbed them, had been delivered.
On the command of Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany, the armed forces of Germany (Wehrmacht) comprised of the army (Heer), navy (Kriegsmarine) and airforce (Luftwaffe) invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Two days later both Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.
On 5 September 1939, NAA began its NA-62 programme that called for the production of 184 medium-class twin-engine bombers. Under USAAC contract number AC 13258 (approved on 20 September), NAA was to build twenty-four RB-25 (40-2165 to 40-2188), forty RB-25A (40-2189 to 40-2228), fourteen RB-25B (40-2229 to 40-2242) and 106 RB-25B (40-2243 to 40-2348) airplanes. One of 106 RB-25B airplanes (40-2243) was cancelled, therefore 183 instead of 184 were accepted by the USAAC. The reason one RB-25B (40-2243) was cancelled is that it crashed during a manufacturer’s check flight before it was accepted. The ‘R’ for reconnaissance prefix was later dropped as these became B-25, B-25A and B-25B airplanes. This was an epic production programme for NAA as it had now secured its very first large US Government contract for a dedicated combat aircraft.
Increasing financial rewards for its first-rate airplane designs began to assemble within the NAA organisation when it was awarded a rather large production contract for the aforementioned B-25 medium bomber for the USAAC. The B-25 Mitchell medium-class bombardment airplane, powered by the same Wright R-2600 engines, was a development of the ill-fated NA-40B medium attack bomber demonstrator airplane.
Another interesting NAA project in late 1939 was NA-63 that called for the manufacture of an experimental high-altitude, twin-engine, medium-class bomber, the XB-28 ‘Dragon’. Commencing on 15 November, it was built under USAAC contract number AC 13583 and the airplane was issued USAAC serial number 40-3056. A second version of this airplane under NA-67, the XB-28A, was also built under USAAC contract number AC 14012, USAAC serial number 40-3058. It seems that both the earlier XB-21 and later XB-28/XB-28A airplanes were nicknamed ‘Dragon’ by NAA. (See Part 2 Developmental Highlights, 1940 to 1945 for additional information.)
The AT-6 programme became a godsend to NAA. It began on 28 April 1939 when the USAAC ordered 94 NA-59 AT-6 airplanes, a continuation of the NA-55 contract (BC-1A), but the BC for Basic Combat trainer designation was changed to AT for Advanced Trainer. The USAAC AT-6 Texan programme led to the RAF/RCAF Harvard and USN SNJ programmes and others. And eventually, more than 15,400 of all types were manufactured. Shown are two USAAF AT-6Cs near Luke Field, Arizona, in 1943. (USAF via Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)
On 30 November 1939, at the behest of the Taiwanese Government, NAA initiated its NA-68 programme to produce six single-place fighter airplanes for the Royal Thai Air Force. These were very similar to the earlier NA-50 fighter planes that had been procured earlier by Peru. The first example made its first flight on 1 September 1940 with NAA test pilot Louis S. ‘Lou’ Waite at the controls. This led to the creation of the second NAA fighter type ordered into production. (See Part 2 Developmental Highlights, 1940 to 1945 for additional information.) These orders, along with growing orders for NA-16s for foreign governments, USAAC AT-6 Texan, USN SNJ and RAF Harvard advanced trainer aircraft, pole-vaulted NAA into the spotlight as a leading aircraft manufacturer.
By late 1939 to early 1940, NAA was committed in producing several types of military aircraft. These included the NA-16 series of pilot training and transition aircraft for domestic and foreign air forces; the O-47 observation airplane (USAAC); BC-1 basic combat trainer (USAAC); BT-14 basic trainer (USAAC); AT-6 advanced trainer (USAAC); the USN SNJ and others including the B-25 Mitchell medium-class bomber (USAAC). Also, it had a large production facility in Inglewood and enough room for an additional production line to accommodate the new pursuit airplane programme if it received a production contract.
In late 1939, NAA offered a proposed fighter to France that resembled this aircraft shown in an Alan P. ‘Al’ Algier artist concept. Its NA number is unknown to this author. However, its resemblance to what became the NA-73X in 1940 is interesting. (NAA via Peter M. Bowers)
NAA staff artist Al Algier produced this rather primitive-looking phantom view in early 1941 of the NA-73 destined for USAAF evaluations as the XP-51. With a second plane banking away, the cutaway NA-73 clearly shows the inner workings of the earliest Mustang breed. (NAA via Chris Wamsley)
After Kindelberger had convinced Sir Henry Self that NAA ‘could do it’, the challenge of designing, building and flying a superior pursuit airplane than the Curtiss P-40D Warhawk in less time than it would take to tool up for its production at Inglewood was a daunting task indeed. Nevertheless, after they got the official go-ahead from vice president John Leland ‘Lee’ Atwood, the growing cadre of aeronautical engineers at NAA were determined to meet the challenge.
Headed by programme manager/chief engineer Ray Rice, chief of preliminary design Ed Schmued, chief aerodynamicist Ed Horkey and preliminary design team members Stan Smithson and Larry L. Waite, the design of this new pursuit airplane – the X73 as it was then called – moved forwards at a blistering pace. It was a high priority programme and was met with near round-the-clock gusto.
Several design features were rapidly established which included: 1) the use of an inline water-cooled piston engine: the twelve cylinder, V-shaped 1,150 hp Allison V-1710-39 to reduce the frontal area as little as possible; 2) employment of the newly developed NACA 6-series laminar flow airfoil in an effort to further reduce parasite drag; and 3) the incorporation of a belly-mounted radiator with a flow-through air scoop and exhaust ducting system. This would not only cool water circulating throughout the engine, it would increase speed through the expulsion of hot air to the rear of the airplane providing additional forward thrust and speed. This latter feature, called the Meredith Effect, was new to aeronautics and caused NAA to engage in a brief but troublesome legal challenge.
As part of the bargain and at the behest of Sir Henry Self, Kindelberger was to obtain wind tunnel data of the Curtiss XP-46 that utilised a similar belly-mounted radiating engine cooling system (Meredith Effect) as had been planned for the NA-73X and NA-73.
To acquire such sensitive information, Kindelberger tasked Atwood to handle this delicate situation. Since Curtiss was swamped with its production of the P-40, its progress on its XP-46 programme was slow to develop. Atwood in turn met with vice president and general manager of the airplane division, Burdette S. Wright, at Curtiss and struck a deal to procure this data for $56,000US. However, by the time Atwood returned to Inglewood in May 1940, the design of the NA-73X had been frozen. Engineering drawings were in the hands of the assembly workers, numerous metal parts for its construction had been cut and its manufacture was underway. Therefore, the XP-46 engineering data was ignored according to Atwood in an interview during his retirement. Nevertheless, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation felt that NAA had infringed upon its similar XP-46 design features and sued NAA while its NA-73X and NA-73 programmes were ongoing.
The US War Department approved an order for two prototype XP-46 pursuit airplanes on 17 January 1940 to be built by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in Buffalo, New York, with the USAAC serial numbers 40-3053 and 40-3054. To speed development, the first example, designated XP-46, was completed with all-up equipment including armament while the second, designated XP-46A, was completed without these articles. XP-46A first flew on 15 February 1941. The fully equipped XP-46 did not make its first flight until 29 September 1941. Both examples were powered by the 1,150 hp Allison V-1710-39 engine.
The XP-46, Curtiss Model 86, was designed by the famed Donovan R. ‘Don’ Berlin as a potential advancement of the P-40 series. The lighter XP-46A reached a maximum level flight speed of 410 mph at 12,200 feet while the heavier XP-46 could only attain a maximum speed of 355 mph at the same altitude. These numbers were not significant enough to warrant a P-46 production run and the programme was subsequently cancelled. Incidentally, a P-40D with all-up weight and powered by the same powerplant, had outperformed the much lighter XP-46A during a fly-off.
Curtiss XP-46 and XP-46A Specifications
Length: 30 ft 2 in.
Height: 10 ft 1 in.
Wing span: 34f t 3¼ in.
Wing area: 208 sq ft
Propulsive system: one 1,150-hp Allison V-1710-39 (F3R) engine
Propeller: three-bladed constant speed electrically actuated pitch angles 10-ft-6-in.-diameter Curtiss Electric Propeller
Maximum speed: 355 mph at 12,200 ft (XP-46); 410 mph at 12,200 feet (XP-46A)
Time to climb: five minutes to 12,300 ft
Empty weight: 5,625 lb
Maximum take-off weight: 7,665 lb
Maximum range: 325 miles
Armament: two nose-mounted .50 calibre machine guns; provision for eight wing-mounted .30 calibre machine guns (XP-46 only)
1939 was a productive year at NAA with a number of notable aircraft programmes underway such as the USAAC BT-14, AT-6, O-47A, B-25, XB-28, XB-28A, the NA-68 or P-64 for Siam (diverted to the USAAC due to Japan’s recent Siam occupation threat), the RAF Harvard and the USN SNJ. Some of these programmes carried over into 1940, and then on 24 April 1940, NAA assigned a new Charge Number (NA-73X) that officially began what would become the Mustang production programme.
One Handsome Steed Indeed: The NA-73X
One of the most significant yet unheralded days in aviation history came about on 26 October 1940, as this was the date when the progenitor of all future Mustangs to come, the NA-73X, first entered into the sphere for which it was designed. The day when Vance Breese, a civilian freelance test pilot, completed a successful twenty-minute test hop out of Mines Field adjacent to NAA. To put this particular date into historical perspective, the Battle of Britain had entered its 109th day, the Detroit Tigers were licking their wounds in the US having lost the 1940 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds four games to three, and in the Far East, the Empire of Japan was still at war with China. Many things can happen during a five-year period. In the first five years of the Forties, an enormous amount of events took place, especially within the once struggling US airframe and powerplant contracting world. It was no different at NAA headquartered in Inglewood, sprawled out alongside the Pacific Ocean. It was an ideal location for this young airplane manufacturing company situated next to Mines Field with a comparatively large airplane production facility. But new business was slow to grow prior to 1940.
With several newly obtained production contracts in hand, coupled to the contracts it already had, business was steadily picking up at NAA in January 1940. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the US would soon be drawn into the war in Europe. But since that had not yet happened NAA was content in producing small numbers of aircraft for the US armed forces, a few friendly nations and her allies in Europe, namely Great Britain and France. Both Great Britain and France had been at war for several months and their air forces were in a desperate need for new combat aircraft. After the fall of France on 25 June 1940, Great Britain faced the might of Nazi Germany on her own, and combat aircraft on order were diverted to Great Britain. Prior to this, however, Great Britain had begun to purchase numerous non-combat and combat aircraft from a number of US manufacturers, but only non-combat trainer-type aircraft from NAA through the first four months of 1940. This was soon to change.
In early April of 1940, Kindelberger met with then head of the British Purchasing Commission, Sir Henry Self, in his New York City office in an attempt to sell the new B-25 medium class bomber to the RAF. The first B-25 airplane, piloted by test pilot Vance Breese, was not to make its inaugural flight until 19 August 1940. Since the B-25 was yet untested, Self was not interested in this bomber at the time. Self instead requested the NAA to build the forthcoming Curtiss P-40D Kittyhawk (an advanced version of the US Army Air Corps Warhawk) for the RAF. Self was well aware of Kindelberger’s leadership and of his firm’s ability to build and deliver good airplanes to Great Britain on time and budget. He also knew that NAA had not yet sold or mass produced a dedicated fighter airplane to an armed force. Knowing this, Self thought Kindelberger would welcome new business and jump at the chance to build the new version of the P-40 for the RAF. Self was wrong.
The elegant and unique NA-73X airplane was hand-built by a small group of hand-picked airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanics. She is freeze-framed here just prior to performing several low-, medium- and high-speed taxi tests in late October 1940 with her V-1710-39 (F3R) engine running and 10-ft-6-in.-diameter three-bladed propeller spinning. (NAA via Peter M. Bowers)
Kindelberger countered with a proposal to build an entirely new fighter that would be superior to the P-40D. He said his firm could design and build a demonstration airplane faster than it would take to tool up for mass P-40D production. Moreover, Kindelberger added, the new Curtiss fighter had not yet flown nor was it on the assembly line. Self agreed and gave Kindelberger the green light to proceed with his new fighter programme.
After Kindelberger returned to Inglewood from New York City, he immediately called for a meeting with his top managers and aeronautical engineers. He told them what had transpired in New York City and of the daunting task now at hand. Kindelberger turned the new job over to his preliminary design team headed by chief engineer Raymond H. ‘Ray’ Rice and chief engineer Edward O. ‘Ed’ Schmued, a German immigrant.
The original start date for the NA-73X programme, according to official NAA documentation, was 24 April 1940, or a few weeks after Kindelberger and Self had first discussed and had agreed that NAA would manufacture a brand new fighter than co-building the P-40D under licence from Curtiss. The P-40D first flew just short of a month later on 22 May 1940 and subsequently entered into limited production at the Curtiss facility, Buffalo, New York. Only a small number of P-40D fighters were built as the next variant, the P-40E, proved to be a superior airplane. Therefore, NAA’s decision to not build the P-40D was a wise move on their part. In the meantime, Schmued and his peers had to design a first-rate fighter almost entirely within the parameters of the RAF rather than USAAC specifications. During its early design phase, it was temporarily known as X73 as that particular number was the next NAA Charge Number available as well as an experimental airplane. It soon received its official Charge Number of NA-73X, and since it was not to be a bona fide military airplane, NAA applied for and received Civil Registration Number NX-19998.
First metal was cut on 31 May 1940 and the sleek new demonstration fighter, sans engine and associated equipment, was completed on 9 September 1940, just 102 days later. To accomplish this, in part, two small groups of hand-picked assembly workers worked two eight-hour shifts per day seven days a week. So new was this airplane that its design landing gear wheels had not yet been fabricated and it was resting on temporary wheels from the AT-6 Texan advanced trainer supply chain.
Length: 32 ft 2⅝ in.
Height: 11 ft ¾in.
Wing span: 37 ft 5/16 in.
Wing area: 233 sq ft
Propulsive system: one 1,150-hp Allison V-1710-39 (F3R) Vee engine
Propeller: three-bladed constant speed electrically actuated pitch angles 10-ft-6-in.-diameter Curtiss Electric Propeller
Maximum speed: 380 mph at 11,000 ft
Empty weight: 6,278 lb
Maximum take-off weight: 7,965 lb
Maximum range: N/A
Armament: none installed but British specification called for four .50 cal. and four .30 cal. machine guns
The NAA P-51 Mustang is perhaps the most famous fighter of the Second World War, and, many would say, the best all-round piston-engined, propeller-driven fighter produced by any of the combatants during that conflict. Total production of all Mustangs amounted to 15,586 in the US counting the 100 unassembled P-51Ds shipped to Australia, ranking only behind the P-47 Thunderbolt in being the fighter manufactured in greatest numbers for the US Army Air Forces.
Mustangs accounted for 4,950 of the 10,720 air combat victories claimed by the USAAF in Europe, and 4,131 of the 8,160 ground strafing claims made in the same theatre, accounting for 48.9 per cent of total losses inflicted on the enemy. They shot down at least 230 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ or ‘Doodlebugs’ and even managed to score 130 kills against the revolutionary jet-powered Me 262 Schwalbe (‘Swallow’) fighter.
The original Mustang, the NA-73X, featured an all-metal stressed-skin structure with the wing having a sheet-web main spar and an almost equally strong rear spar to carry the ailerons and flaps. Special attention was paid to features which would make the aircraft simple and inexpensive to manufacture. The two wing spars had to be far enough apart to accommodate the length of a .50 calibre machine gun with only the barrel protruding ahead of the main spar. Most previous NAA aircraft had left and right wings bolted to a horizontal centre section, but the Mustang had its wings meeting on the centreline with dihedral emanating from that line.
A special NACA laminar flow wing profile was adopted for the Mustang. This was an aerofoil that had a thickness that increased far beyond the usual location, i.e., to fifty per cent chord rather than the usual twenty per cent. These profiles had little camber, the undersurface being almost a mirror image of the upper. This wing was more ‘slippery’ than previous profiles and provided lesser aerodynamic drag at high speeds than conventional aerofoils. However, it also had less lift at low speeds, so the NA-73X had to have large and powerful flaps to keep landing speeds from being impractically high. The wing structure was designed to be simple and easy to construct as possible. The leading and trailing edges were straight lines to the fullest extent possible, and the underlying structure was straightforward to manufacture. The wing was made in left and right halves that were joined at the centreline.
The main landing gear members had a track of almost twelve feet, which made landing much easier than the Spitfire and Bf 109. The main wheels retracted inwards into wheel wells in the wing forward leading edge, the leading edges kinked forwards at the fuselage join to provide sufficient room. The retracted wheels were covered by doors hinged near the aircraft centreline and closed by their own jacks when the landing gear was fully extended. The tail wheel was fully retractable into a compartment with twin doors. Liked to the rudder, the tail wheel was steerable.
The British specified that a liquid-cooled inline engine be used and the Allison V-1710 twelve-cylinder Vee was the only American-built engine that fitted the bill. The Allison V-1710 was slightly larger than the Merlin, lighter and similar in power at low altitudes. However, at high altitudes the Allison suffered from a rapid drop in power in comparison to the Merlin. NAA briefly considered using an exhaust-driven turbo supercharger to improve high-altitude performance, but ruled against it on the grounds of a tight schedule. The Allison engine had a downdraft carburettor, so the ram inlet of the NA-73X was located above the cowling. Radiators for cooling the ethylene glycol and lubricating oil were located in a single heat exchanger installed underneath the rear fuselage in a streamlined duct. The duct had the ability to supply additional propulsive thrust by adding heat energy to the incoming air and expelling it out the back at a higher velocity. The drawbacks of such a cooling arrangement were the extra weight and combat vulnerability of the long pipes that led to and from the engine. Fuel was housed in two self-sealing tanks housed in the wing spars, one in each inboard wing. Total capacity was 180 US gallons, almost twice the fuel capacity of a Spitfire.
This is the first of 320 Mustang Mk.I NA-73 airplanes (AG345) that made its first flight on 23 April 1941. It was retained by the flight test division of NAA for ongoing developmental purposes which included the installation of dive brakes on its upper and lower wing surfaces and bomb racks for the upcoming A-36 programme. (NAA via Peter M. Bowers)
At British insistence, armament was somewhat heavier than American standards of the day. Two .50 calibre M2 Browning heavy machine guns were installed in the underside of the nose beside the engine crankcase, synchronised to fire through the propeller arc. The left gun was staggered ahead of the right in order that the magazines could lie one behind the other. Two .50 calibre guns were mounted upright inside the wings, outboard of the landing gears. Four .30 calibre Browning machine guns were mounted further outboard on the wing with each inboard .30 calibre gun being mounted lower so that its muzzle was below the leading edge. Ammunition for the wing guns was stored in three long span wise ammunition boxes perpendicular to the guns.
The NA-73X prototype emerged from the Inglewood plant in only 102 days; however, it rolled out of the factory without an engine that had been delayed due to availability. In the absence of new disc brakes, the aircraft was rolled on wheels borrowed from an AT-6 Texan trainer. It was unpainted except for six aperture shapes painted on the wing leading edges to show where the guns would be installed. These aperture shapes were retouched and painted over in many reproductions of the most famous photographs of the aircraft. Only later was the Civil Registration Number NX-19998 applied and the fuselage ahead of the cockpit painted with anti-dazzle black.
The reason for the delay in engine delivery was that government furnished equipment (GFE) was supplied on an as available basis. Since the NA-73X was a private venture, it was not allocated as an urgent priority in comparison with P-40s that were then rolling off the production lines. The engine that was eventually installed was a non-turbo supercharged Allison V-1710-39 (F3R) liquid-cooled Vee rated at 1,150 hp.
Veteran test pilot Vance Breese flew the NA-73X for the first time on 26 October 1940. Weights were 6,278 lb empty, 7,965 lb normal loaded. It was a clear twenty-five mph faster than the P-40 and powered by the very same engine. Following tests, there were several changes in the geometry of the ventral ducting and controllable flaps. By the time the NA-73 had been cleared for production, the duct had its inlet moved downwards so that its upper lip was lower than the underside of the wing, thus avoiding the ingestion of a turbulent boundary layer of air into the radiator cooler.
The Mustang was different from the P-39 because it was a tail-dragger whereas the P-39 was not, with a long nose blocking the pilot’s forward view, requiring sweeping ‘S’ turns while taxiing. The P-51 was a more powerful beast and also benefited from a large four-blade paddle propeller. Take-offs and landings were a little tricky, but once in the air, the Mustang was pleasant and forgiving to fly. Best of all, it was fast. The Merlin possessed great gobs of power and was equally at home at high and low throttle thanks to a two-stage, two-speed supercharger. The Mustang carried enough fuel to reach deep into the heart of the Third Reich and could turn on a dime. It was crucial to keep it in trim, but as experience with the fighter developed, trimming became an automatic procedure for its pilots. Even at such an early stage, the Mustang was deemed special, even before it was measured against the cream of the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109s and Fw 190s. The P-51D and P-51K with their bubble-top canopies are the best-known versions of the Mustang and the most widely used variants of the fighter.
One NA-102 P-51B-1-NA (43-12102) was modified to accept the new teardrop-shaped, full-blown sliding cockpit canopy often referred to as the bubble-top canopy. With follow-on improvements such as six rather than four wing-mounted .50 calibre machine guns and an uprated V-1650-7 Merlin engine, this design led to the creation of the P-51D Mustang. (Stan Piet)
A problem encountered with the Merlin-powered P-51B/C version was the poor view from the cockpit, particularly towards the rear. The ‘Malcolm Hood’ fitted to the P-51B/C was an early attempt to correct this deficiency. However, a more lasting solution was sought. In January 1943, Col. Mark Bradley had been sent to England and saw how the new ‘bubble’ or ‘teardrop’ canopy had given Spitfire and Typhoon pilots an unobstructed 360-degree vision. He returned to Wright Field in June and began exploring the possibility of incorporating bubble canopies on USAAF fighters.
Republic Aviation installed a bubble canopy on the P-47D Thunderbolt in record time and Bradley flew it to Inglewood to demonstrate its features. Following discussions with the British, and after examination of the clear-blown ‘teardrop’ canopies of Spitfires and Typhoons, NAA secured an agreement with the Army to test a similar canopy on a Mustang in order to improve the pilot’s view from the cockpit.
P-51B-1-NA (43-12101) was selected to be modified as the test vehicle for the new bubble canopy. The aircraft was known as the bubble-top P-51B or ‘XP-51D’ depending on one’s source of information. The teardrop-shaped bubble-type hood offered an almost completely unobstructed vision around 360 degrees with virtually no distortion.
The large rear section did not reach its point of maximum height until a point well aft of the pilot’s head was reached, since wind tunnel testing showed that this shape was found to offer the best combination of viewing angles and minimum aerodynamic drag. The Plexiglas hood was mounted in rubber set in a metal frame, the sill around the bottom being very deep. This was needed to provide the strength and rigidity required to avoid distortion and to prevent binding or jamming of the canopy in the fuselage rails while it was opened and closed. There were three rails, one on each side of the cockpit and another along the upper centreline of the rear fuselage. The canopy was manually opened and closed by a handle crank operated by the pilot. In order to accommodate the new all-round vision hood, the rear fuselage of the Mustang was shortened; however, the amount of retooling needed to accomplish this was not extensive and very little re-stressing of the fuselage structure was necessary.
This excellent side view of the prototype bubble-top cockpit canopy-fitted P-51B-1-NA (43-12102) shows the classic lines of what would grace the P-51D and all subsequent versions of the Mustang. Often described as the most elegant looking of all piston-powered and propeller-driven fighter airplanes of the Second World War, it was this very airplane – the ‘XP-51D’ – that led the way. (Rockwell International via Chris Wamsley)
Two NA-106 P-51D demonstrator airplanes were built and flown prior to P-51D production, but both were lost due to tragic accidents. A USAAF Materiel Command test pilot, Agustus W. Pitcarin, was killed on 11 January 1944 while flying the first of two NA-106 P-51D-1-NA airplanes (42-106539) off Redondo Beach, California. The cause of the crash was structural failure. The second, NA-106 P-51D-1-NA (42-106540), was lost when it crashed about one mile south of Chunky, Mississippi, on 25 June 1945. It was assigned to the 347th Army Air Force Base Unit (AAFBU) Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) of the 2nd Air Force and based at Key Field. Its pilot, Henry E. Crist, was killed in the crash. Thus, no ‘prototype’ NA-106 airplanes survived.
One of the shortcomings of the earlier P-51B and P-51C airplanes was their limited firepower of four .50 calibre machine guns. In addition, the guns in each wing were tilted over at sharp angles requiring a sharp kink in the ammunition belt feeds and resulting in frequent gun jams. NAA took the opportunity afforded by the introduction of the new Mustang to correct this problem. The gun installation was completely redesigned and the result was the installation of three MG53-2 .50 calibre machine guns in each wing, all mounted upright and fed by unkinked ammunition belts. The inboard guns each had 400 rounds per gun (RPG) and the others 270 rounds per gun. However, Mustang pilots had the option of removing two of the guns and having just four with 400 rounds each.
Another visible change introduced by the P-51D was in the increase of the wing root chord. The main landing gear was strengthened in order to accommodate the additional weight, but the wheels maintained the same diameter of twenty-seven inches. However, the wheel bays and doors were modified and the kink in the wing leading edge was made much more pronounced. The kink in the wing of the P-51B/C was barely noticeable, but it was more pronounced in the P-51D.
There were issues with the installation of the eighty-five-US gallon tank in the rear fuselage of the P-51B and its adverse effects on directional stability. Things got worse for the P-51D in which the cutting down of the top line of the rear fuselage caused keel area to be lost. In order to provide for improved directional stability, a dorsal fin was added ahead of the rudder during the production run of the P-51D Block 10. Some of the earlier P-51Ds (plus a few P-51Bs) were retrofitted with this dorsal fin. The extra weight and drag caused by this fin was rather small, but it helped in improving directional stability, especially when the rear fuselage fuel tank was full. (It came to pass that sixty-five gallons would be carried in these tanks and that their fuel was to be burned off first.)
The P-51D/K introduced the K-14 computing gyro gunsight based on a British (Ferranti) design. When it first appeared, it was considered miraculous. The pilot needed only to dial in the wing span of the enemy aircraft he was chasing and then feed in the target range by turning a handgrip on the throttle lever. Everything was then done by an analogue computer. All the pilot had to do was to get the wingtips of his target lined up on the bright ring projected on the gunsight and press the trigger. The K-14 was fitted almost from the start of P-51D production, the P-51K receiving this sight from mid-1944. This sight played a major and decisive role in the P-51D’s impressive score of aerial victories.
Inglewood delivered 6,502 P-51Ds, ordered as the NA-109 (D-1 to D-10), NA-111 (D-15 and D-20) and NA-122 (D-15 and D-30). P-51Ds were also constructed in NAA’s Dallas plant, which built some 1,600 of these fighters before production finally ceased. Dallas-built blocks D-5 through D-20 were known as NA-111, with blocks D-25 and D-30 being known as NA-124. Almost all Block 25 and subsequent Ds had under-wing hardpoints not only for bombs and fuel tanks but also for various types of rocket launchers. These included zero-length stubs for six five-inch rockets or as many as ten if drop tanks were not carried. Alternatively, ‘Bazooka’ tubes could be installed in triple clusters. There were a few field conversions to special armament fits, examples including two tanks and six 100 lb bombs, four 100 lb bombs, plus thirty-six fragmentation bombs or four seventy-four-US gallon drop tanks. CBI aircraft usually had a direction-finding loop antenna ahead of the fin. The Dallas plant also built 1,500 P-51Ks, which differed from the P-51D in having an 11-ft-diameter Aeroproducts propeller in place of the 11-ft-2-in.-diameter Hamilton Standard unit. These were all known as NA-111 by the company. The P-51K had a slightly inferior performance to that of the P-51D. Rocket stubs were introduced on the P-51K-10-NT and subsequent batches of the K production line at Dallas.
A total of 163 of these P-51Ks were completed as F-6K photo-reconnaissance aircraft. 126 Inglewood-built P-51Ds from blocks 20, 25 and 30 were converted after completion as F-6Ds. A few others were similarly converted near the end of the war. All photographic Mustangs carried two cameras in the rear fuselage, usually a K17 and a K22, one looking out almost horizontally off to the left and the other down below looking out at an oblique angle. Most F-6Ds and Ks carried a direction-finding receiver serviced by a rotating loop antenna mounted just ahead of the dorsal fin. Most of the F-6Ds and Ks retained their six-gun armament.
One P-51D (44-14017) was temporarily borrowed by the US Navy to determine if it would be suitable for carrier-based operations. Bureau Number 57987 was assigned. The P-51D was found to be unacceptable, primarily because of the poor rudder control at low airspeeds, particularly at high angles of attack.
Ten Dallas-built P-51Ds were built as two-seat pilot trainer and transition airplanes with an additional seat fitted behind the pilot’s seat. These were given the designation TP-51D. In order to accommodate the second seat, the radio equipment had to be relocated and an additional seat with full dual controls was installed behind the normal seat. The standard bubble canopy was large enough to accommodate the extra seat. One of the TP-51Ds was modified for use as a special high-speed observation post by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, which he used to inspect the Normandy beachheads in June
The P-51D began to arrive in Europe in quantity in March 1944. The 55th Fighter Group was the first to get the P-51D, trading in its P-38s for the new bubble-topped fighters. The change from the torque-less twin-engine P-38 to the single-engine P-51 did cause some initial problems, and the lack of directional stability by the presence of a full fuselage tank took a lot of getting used to. However, once their pilots became fully adjusted to their new mounts, they found that the P-51D possessed a marked edge in both speed and manoeuverability over all Luftwaffe piston-engine fighters at altitudes above 20,000 feet. However, Luftwaffe pilots considered the Mustang to be vulnerable to cannon fire, particularly the liquid-cooled Merlin engine that could be put out of action by just one hit.
The Mustang was the only Allied fighter with sufficient range to accompany bombers on their shuttle missions in which landings were made in Russia after deep-penetration targets had been attacked from English bases. The Mustangs also participated in low-altitude strikes on Luftwaffe airfields, a dangerous undertaking as these fields were heavily defended by 88-mm anti-aircraft artillery.
In 1943, the Allies were aware that the Luftwaffe was planning to introduce turbojet-powered aircraft over Germany and these would provide a serious threat to Allied bombers and the escorting fighters. Mustangs first encountered Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket-powered fighters on 18 July 1944 when a pair of Me 163s flew unscathed through a flight of P-51s. On 5 August 1944, Me 163s destroyed three bombers and shot down three P-51s. On 16 August, a Mustang flown by Lt. Col. John B. Murphy of the 359th Fighter Group finally managed to shoot down a Me 163. Although the Me 163 gained much publicity and threw the Allied high command into a near panic, the rocket-powered fighter had an extremely short endurance in the air and was very dangerous to fly due to its highly explosive rocket fuels. It is doubtful that these rocket-powered fighters destroyed more than a dozen or so Allied aircraft during the entire course of the war.
Most enemy jet contacts up until October 1944 had been with the rocket-powered Me 163 Komet. However, the Messerschmitt Me 262 began to appear in combat. The first jet kill by a Mustang was on 7 October 1944 when Lt. Urban L. Dreq of the 361st Fighter Group shot down two Me 262s while they were taking off from their base. The Me 262 was nearly 100 mph faster than the P-51D, which put the Mustang at a distinct disadvantage, and also packed a mighty wallop of four 30-mm MK 108 cannon. In order to attack the jets in the air, the P-51 needed to dive in order to be able to close on the enemy when they attacked the bombers. If attacked by a Me 262, the P-51 could easily turn and manoeuvre inside the enemy jet, placing itself in a position to meet the jet head on or to get a quick burst of gunfire if the enemy overshot. The Mustang was in a better position to defend itself in a dogfight with a Me 262 than it was able to fend off Me 262 attacks on bombers.
It was eventually decided that the best strategy in fighting the jets was to jump them while they were taking off from or landing at their bases. The early jets suffered from very poor acceleration due to their fragile Jumo 004 engines and were therefore extremely vulnerable during take-off and landing. The usual tactic was for scores of Mustangs to circle high over known Me 262 bases, daring the jets to take-off. If any rose to the challenge, diving Mustangs would be upon them almost before their wheels could be retracted. If the Messerschmitts refused to take the bait, the bases would be strafed and jets destroyed on the ground. To counteract their mounting Me 262 losses, the Luftwaffe formed special units equipped with the Focke-Wulf 190 D-9 (‘Dora Neun’), regarded by many as their finest piston-engine fighter of the war. Manned by experienced crews from JG52 and JG54, they provided top cover to the vulnerable Me 262s over their airfields. To make the D-9s clearly visible to German anti-aircraft gunners, their undersides were painted red with white stripes, hence the ‘parrot wing’ or the ‘strangler swarm’ was born.
The newly arrived Mustang was recognised as the best fighter aircraft yet to be delivered from the US. It was found to be superior to the Kittyhawk, Airacobra and Spitfire in both speed and manoeuvrability at low altitudes. Maximum speed was 382 mph at 13,000 feet. At all heights up to 15,000 feet, the Mustang was faster than any other fighter then in service with the RAF. Rate of climb, acceleration, speed in a dive, stability, handling in all configurations, rate of roll and radius of turn were all rated as being satisfactory to outstanding. The armament of four .50 calibre and four .30 calibre machine guns was heavy and effective. The range was nearly double that of any RAF single-engine fighter. It was twenty-five to forty-five mph faster than the Spitfire V at altitudes up to 15,000 feet. The problem was the rapid fall-off in performance at altitudes above 15,000 feet, caused by its low-altitude Allison engine that was supercharged for best performance at low levels. The Spitfire could climb to 20,000 feet in seven minutes, while the Mustang required eleven minutes. Both the Spitfire and Bf 109 were more nimble at higher altitudes. The Mustang weighed about a third as the Spitfire and was considered as being somewhat underpowered.
The relatively poor high-altitude performance of the Mustang was more than just a minor deficiency since most aerial combat over Europe at that time was taking place at medium to high altitudes (20,000 to 30,000 feet). Consequently, it was decided that the Mustang Mark I/IA was best used for low-level tactical reconnaissance and ground attack where full advantage could be taken of its exceptional low-altitude performance.
The first RAF unit to receive the Mustang was No. 26 Squadron at RAF Gatwick and operated the fighter in February 1942. In April, two more squadrons received Mustangs and eight more in June. Most of the aircraft went to Army Cooperation Command, usually replacing Curtiss Tomahawks or Westland Lysanders. The first Mustang combat mission was undertaken by Flying Officer (F/O) G. N. Dawson of No. 26 Squadron on 10 May 1942, strafing hangars and a train in France.
It was initially feared that the Mustang Mark I might be mistaken for a Bf 109 during the stress of combat and most of the Mustang Mark Is in front line RAF service had bright yellow bands painted across their wings to provide recognition for friendly anti-aircraft batteries.
The first Mustang Mark I operational sortie was on 27 July 1942. Mustang Mark Is participated in the disastrous Dieppe landings by British commandos on 19 August 1942 where they saw their first air-to-air action. During this operation, pilots of No. 414 Squadron of the RCAF were attacked by Fw 190s. An American RCAF volunteer, F/O Hollis H. Hills, shot down one of the enemy, which was first blood for the Mustang.
In October of 1942, on a mission to the Dortmund-Ems Canal and other objectives in Holland, the Mustang Mark I became the first single-engine fighter based in Great Britain to penetrate the German border. By this time, the Mustang Mark I equipped Nos 2, 4, 16, 26, 63, 169, 239, 241, 268 and 613 Squadrons of the RAF, plus Numbers 400, 414 and 430 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and No. 309 (Polish) Squadron of the RAF.
A P-51C-5-NA (42-103484) named ‘Delphine’ of the 111TRS at Dijon, France, in October 1944 after its conversion to an F-6C. (USAF)
Tactical reports from Army Cooperation Command and RAF units were quite laudatory. The Mustang Mark I and Mustang Mark IAs were able to take an incredible amount of battle damage. The long range of the Mustang made it an excellent tactical reconnaissance aircraft and its heavy armament made it effective against most ground targets. In one eighteen-month period of operations, 200 locomotives and 200 barges were destroyed or severely damaged, and an undetermined number of enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground. This was accomplished at the expense of only one Mustang being shot down by enemy fighters, five being lost to flak and two vanishing with no record of them or the pilots’ fate. At low altitudes, the Mustang was faster than the Bf 109 and Fw 190. At sea level, the Mustang could run away from any enemy aircraft. The flaps were very useful in combat to substantially reduce the turning radius. Mustang Mark Is and Mustang Mark IAs served with the Army Cooperation Command and RAF up until 1944. These early production Mustangs knew few equals in the role of low-altitude interdiction and reconnaissance.
In the end, it is safe to say that the Mustang series of fighters played an immense role in the defeating of Germany, Italy and Japan and helped bring about the end of the Second World War. In the Korean War, P-51D, P-51K and RF-51 Mustangs likewise played important roles to help defeat North Korea. So all in all – in two bloody wars – Mustangs were invaluable instruments for the purposes of air superiority, bomber escort, ground attack, photographic reconnaissance and mapping missions.
Naval Aviators Flew Mustangs Too
Cruiser Scout Squadron 8 (VCS 8) with the approval of the Commander of US Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters, on 21 April 1944, sent nine of its naval aviators to the 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron for temporary duty or TDY with this unit. At this time, the 111TRS was operational with F-6A tactical reconnaissance Mustangs. These aviators, once familiar with the F-6As, flew operational missions in support of the Italian campaign.
In late July 1944, F-6C tactical reconnaissance Mustangs were delivered to the 111th TRS for exclusive use by the pilots of VCS-8. The Commander of Task Force 86 requested that all eleven pilots (up from nine) from VCS-8 be returned to their ships on 30 August 1944, exactly fifteen days after the Allied invasion of southern France had begun. For a short time, these flyers were based in southern France. They were located at St Raphael/Frejus Airfield from where they flew their high-speed scouting missions.