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Mustang, the all-the-way escort fighter
THE BOMBERS: Eighth Air Corps bombers left their British bases an hour ahead of the Mustangs, escorted in the first part of the mission by shorter-ranged P-38s and P-47s.
HAND OVER: The faster Mustangs would catch the formation over the Dutch/German border, where they would relieve the P-38s and Thunderbolts high above the B-17s.
ESCORT: Some fighters flew close escort. Their nearness boosted the morale of the bomber crews, who had been so severely mauled over Germany the year before.
DOGFIGHTER: The Mustang had more than long range. It was fast and it was a ferocious dogfighter, as the pilot of this Messerschmitt Bf 109G shot down by a P-51 discovered.
CONTROL OF THE SKIES: It was the appearance of swarms of these graceful fighters in the skies over Germany that was to signal the death knell of the Luftwaffe.
North American P-51D Mustang
All the way
With underwing tanks, Mustangs had enough range to be able to escort their charges 1,700 miles to the target. When they got there, they were agile enough to beat all comers.
The Mustang's hard-hitting and accurate guns made it an excellent ground attack aircraft, that could also deliver air-to-ground rockets or bombs.
The Mustang's phenomenal range and performance made it ideal for escorting high-flying B-29s across the vast Pacific.
The early Mustang was transformed into a superb high-level fighter by the British-designed, Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which could deliver 1,510 horsepower.
The Mustang's impeccable handling characteristics, bubble canopy and performance make it a popular rich man's toy - and many of them are still flying today. This example even carries a passenger.
FACTS AND FIGURES
▶ Ordered by the British, the prototype Mustang was proposed, designed, built and flown in an incredible 117 days.
▶ That initial aircraft was the first of 15,686 examples of the P-51 produced.
▶ The Mustang was flown by 11 Allied air forces in addition to the U.S. Air Corps.
▶ 281 Allied Mustang pilots qualified as "Aces," with five or more kills.
▶ The late-model P-51H was, at 472 m.p.h., one of the fastest piston-engine fighters.
▶ In October 1944, Mustang pilot Lieutenant Urban L. Drew managed the astonishing feat of shooting down two Me 262 jets.