Friday, April 18, 2008

Was this the BEST BRITISH Fighter of… WW II?

Was the P-51 Mustang the best British fighter plane of WW II?


The P-51 was an American fighter produced by North American Aviation of California!!


Not, exactly.


But for first 117 DAYS of her infancy, only the British were interested in her!

WORLD WAR II was really heating up in March of 1940, and more P-40s were needed for the war effort. Desperately.

Curtis Aircraft, who manufactured the P-40 Tomahawk, was already at full capacity, so North American Aviation (NAA) was asked by Sir Henry Self of the British Government Purchasing Commission if they would tool-up to produce more P-40s for the RAF.

One task, among Self's many assigned tasks, was to organize the development and manufacture of American fighter aircraft for the RAF.

NAA President "Dutch" Kindelberger who had approached Sir Henry in the high hope of selling their new medium bomber, the B-25, to the British… was blindsided by Self’s request for P-40 production.

“Dutch” took the British request to his chief designer.

Ed Schmued, then Chief of Preliminary Design at North American didn’t think much of that.

"A Curtis aircraft produced in our buildings? Nope."

Since it would take 120 days to tool-up for the P-40, Ed assured “Dutch” that the team at North American could produce a BETTER aircraft, from scratch, with the same engine, in less time.

The British mulled this one over.

Sure NAA had produced countless Harvards as needed, and North American’s facilities were underutilized, but a new fighter in less than 120 days? That seemed delirious, to put it kindly.

Well, someone in the British High Command thought NORTH AMERICAN AVIATION could do it because the go-ahead was given.

NAA received a call from Sir Wilfred Freeman of the British Ministry of Aircraft Production and his order for 320 units of the “new” aircraft ensured the aircraft would go into production. The aircraft, then known as the NA-73X, was to be called “the Mustang” by British request.

Trouble in the hen house.

The USAAC (United States Army Air Corps), of course, got word of the new fighter, and it had the veto power to block any foreign sales it viewed as not being in the interest of the Republic. And it did.

Now, what would the British do?


The British proposed the terms and the USAAC eventually accepted.

The USAAC would get two free Mustangs for evaluation purposes, and the RAF would get their 320 (plus 300 more) Mustangs without any delivery interruptions.

BRITISH INVOLVEMENT later improved the Mustang design because the British altered their Mustangs with better engines (aftermarket Merlin 61s) and added aftermarket “Malcolm Hoods” (or the bubble canopies) that were already appearing on their late model “Spits”, Tempests and Typhoons. Then the British demanded the Americans follow suit.

Afterall, better meant much faster (433 mph) and bubble canopies meant the pilot could see behind himself as well.

After putting British Merlins (Packard Merlin V-1650 engines) into production P-51Bs by replacing the Allison engines… North American Aviation adapted the “Malcolm Hoods” with their own elongated teardrop canopy design. This eliminated the back decking which had proven to be a blind spot, and was previously found behind the pilot's canopy.

The "evolved" P-51, the P-51D was thus born (see the photo above) and became the definitive P-51 design we all know and love.

The Americans and their Allies knew the P-51 was a clear "winner". It was everything the USAAF had hoped, and had been waiting for. It could even be the long-range fighter escort American bombers needed over Reich territory.

So with a resolve seen from no other nation on earth, America quadrupled production of their Mustang until 15, 000 P-51s (all variants) were eventually produced.

Hermann Göring, Head of the German Luffwaffe noted,

"When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the jig was up."

I guess so.

On a lessor note, many of the 158 P-51s still flying today came into the civilian market from the RCAF.

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