The North American P-51D ‘Mustang’ was arguably the best piston-engined fighter aircraft of World War II and a fitting symbol of the airpower of the United States of America.
Design work on the P-51D commenced in 1943. The aircraft was powered by the improved Packard V-1650-7 engine (basically the Rolls-Royce ‘Merlin’ RM10SM produced under license), which provided 1,490 horsepower for take-off and 1720 hp with maximum emergency power boost. The basic differences in relation to P-51B/C were: the provision of a teardrop-shaped ‘bubble’ canopy, the lack of a high-ridged fuselage aft of the cockpit, a wing with slightly greater chord at the root, the onboard armament increased to six machine guns and stronger main gear with modified wheel wells and covers. Another significant addition, introduced along with the P-51D-10, was the dorsal fin extension, fitted just ahead of the vertical stabilizer.
The fin compensated somewhat for the directional instability that had resulted from the loss of aft keel area. Beginning with the D-20, the reflector N-9 gunsight was replaced by the K-14 gyro-stabilized lead/deflection computing gunsight, the so-called ‘Ace Maker’. The fabric-covered elevators were replaced by metal ones. The D-25 sub-version introduced provision for launching underwing rockets. During production the aircraft’s instruments also underwent several changes.
The P-51D was the most numerous variant of this fighter. The North American plant in Inglewood, California, delivered 6,500 aircraft, whereas the Dallas plant in Texas produced a further 1,600 (of which 136 were rebuilt as reconaissance F-6Ds, and 10 more as double-seat TP-51Ds). A further 200 P-51Ds rolled off the assembly lines of the Australian CAC (including 80 assembled from parts delivered from the USA and 120 more produced under license). The Dallas plant also constructed 1,500 P-51Ks, of which 163 were rebuilt as reconnaissance F-6Ks. The only significant difference between the P-51K and the P-51D was the former’s use of a slightly smaller propeller made by Aeroproducts, in place of the latter’s Hamilton Standard propeller.
The first P-51Ds were delivered to USAAF combat units in March 1944. During World War II, P-51D/Ks served with the air forces of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and China. In the Commonwealth countries they were known as Mustang Mk IVs. After the war Mustangs saw service with, among others, the Philippines, Israel, South Korea, Cuba, Sweden, Uruguay and Italy.
P-51Ds (by that time re-designated F-51Ds) also participated in the war in Korea and several other local conflicts. In the USA, the last F-51D was retired from military service in 1957, but in some other countries they remained in operational use until the early 1980s!
Nowadays, several dozen P-51D/Ks, most of them privately owned, are still airworthy. Re-painted in more or less accurate schemes and markings of the WWII era, these famous machines invariably evoke admiration among the numerous enthusiasts of this remarkable fighter.
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