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North American P-51 Mustang Fighter

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P-51 Armament Array

P-51a Mustangwith Allison engine - WWII

Early P-51A which was powered by an Allison engine. United States Air Force photo.

The P-51 Mustang is well-known for its role as a long range escort fighter in Europe during World War II. Its armament array varied through World War II from four to six to 0.50 inch wing machine guns or four 20mm wing cannons. Additional armament could include 8 high velocity aircraft rockets, 2,000 pounds of bombs, or M10 triple-tube rocket launchers.

Merlin Engine and High Performance Mustangs

In 1943, the B and C versions of the Mustang were equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine (Packard also built Merlin engines in the U.S. under license). The results were high performing P-51s which could be used as long range escort fighters for B-17 and b-24 bombers. They were also now fast enough to intercept and shoot down the V-1 rockets being launched at London.

Change in US Fighter Strategy

By February of 1944, a change in strategy allowed the American fighters to range ahead of the bombers and attack German fighters while they were still trying to get into position for their own attacks. These new tactics took a significant toll of German fighter pilots.

P-51D Version Mustang

P-51D Mustang  American fighter plane with Merlin engine

P-51D Mustang with D-Day stripes. United States Air Force photo.

Arriving in Europe in spring of 1944 the P-51D version became the primary USAAF fighter and was produced in larger numbers than any other Mustang. The D version increased pilot visibility with its bubble shaped canopy and had an increased armament of six machine guns.

Mustang One of Best WWII Fighters


In final analysis, the North American Mustang was one of the best fighters of WWII.

The P-51s in service with the USAAF alone carried out no fewer than 213,873 missions, flying for more that 1,120,000 hours. They destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft, 4,131 of which were on the ground, a number amounting to 48.9% of the total losses suffered by the enemy, according to Angelucci, Matricardi, Pinto in Complete book of World War II Combat Aircraft, (p288). After the important roll it played in WWII, the P-51 Mustang went on to see combat in the Korean War.


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* P-51 Mustang facts

Category Fighter
Manufacturer North American Aviation
Introduced 1942
Used in

United States Army Air Forces

Royal Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
South Africa Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Free French Air Force
Nationalist Chinese Air Force

Number built 1,988 of the B version
16,766 all versions
Cruising speed 362 mph
Max. speed 437 mph
Altitude 41,900 feet service ceiling
Range 1,650 miles with external tanks
* Numbers are approximate