North American P-51 Mustang figher plane over France. Mustangs served in nearly every combat zone. P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in Europe.

The North American P-51D Mustang

By HistoryNet Staff
4/6/2016 • World War II Magazine

Ready to Ride

Art by Jim Laurier
Art by Jim Laurier


IN MAY 1940, British war planners asked North American Aviation to design and build a fighter-bomber with firepower, climb, speed, agility, and range sufficient to carry the fight to Berlin and back. By September, the firm had a prototype for what became one of the war’s most recognizable silhouettes. Debuting in combat with RAF pilots on the stick, the Mustang by late 1943 had become the escort of choice for Allied bombers over Europe and, in time, Japan. Pilots hailed the elegant machine’s robust, durable design, which evolved through multiple variations. Of 15,000-plus produced, more than 8,100 were P-51Ds, introduced in mid-1944. Auxiliary fuel tanks stretched the P-51’s range to 1,650 miles; a pilot could cross the Channel into European air space, tangle with Luftwaffe fliers, and return to England. Critics sniffed at a P-51’s inability to turn like a Spitfire, Messerschmitt, or Focke-Wulf—but no rival could match a Mustang for range and ceiling. A dogfighter’s dream, able to catch and kill V-1 buzz bombs, the P-51 achieved permanent iconhood.


Originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.

One Response to The North American P-51D Mustang

  1. sam says:

    Your M/A ’16 Weapons Manual on the P-51 was interesting, but touched on a sore spot for me. You mentioned criticism of the fact that the P-51 could not turn with the Spit et al. I’m not a fighter pilot or even a pilot, but have been a buff (not like the B-52) since childhood. I suspect that the early movies made after WW1 somehow imbued everyone, even “experts,” with the notion that the primary factor in fighter performance is how tight a plane can turn. If that were true WW2 would have been won by the Germans flying Fokker Triplanes. The facts that I have read make turning only one factor. Even in WW1 the majority of victims in an aerial kill were unaware of their attacker until he started firing. I’ve read that the P-40 could out turn the Spitfire and it was considered all but obsolete in ’41. The top two American aces both flew the slow turning P-38. Turning tight is not the only way to get lead on the enemy. In Viet Nam F-4’s managed to do it on MiG-17’s. I’ve never heard a real fighter pilot say that “Turning is life.” But I’ve heard several say that, “Speed is life.” Don’t take my comments too negatively, however, I love your magazine. It’s great.

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