The North American Aviation (NAA) P-51 Mustang had cemented its legacy as one of the world’s finest all-around piston-engine fighters when it first came about in World War II. Its induction into the Allied forces played a pivotal role in defeating the ruthless Nazi Germans and, eventually, the rest of the Axis powers.

Before its successful reign in the skies, however, the Mustang had been shunned many times by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF)—initially refusing to see its strong potential to become a significant centerpiece that could lead them to victory. Due to the delay in its adoption and mass production, thousands of young airmen succumbed to their deaths in aviation bloodbaths over Europe. According to some Air Force historians, the P-15 delay “came close to representing the costliest mistake made by the AAF in World War II.”

Fortunately for the Allied forces, this hasn’t been the case, all thanks to a man who discovered and believed in the Mustang’s capabilities of becoming a reliable, deadly fighter escort to bombers.

Mighty Eight P51s
P-51 Mustangs of the 375th Fighter Squadron, Eighth Air Force “Mighty Eight” circa 1944. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

P-51’s Inception and Fight for Production

A single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft, the P-51 is a brainchild of NAA Chief Designer J.H. “Dutch” Kindleberger for the British Royal Air Force (RAF).

The year was 1940, and Kindleberger and his team were looking into making a new jet fighter from scratch rather than producing another Curtiss P-40 Warhawk under license. With notes on the mediocre performance of preceding aircraft taken into consideration, the team came up with what the Brits dubbed as Mustang, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that could soar at a maximum speed of well over 400 miles per hour and an impressive endurance with a range of at least 2,000 miles. Sporting a Duralumin alloy, the Mustang quickly proved to be a silver bullet of a plane during flight tests. It turns out that the Merlin engine improved the aircraft’s overall performance, particularly at high altitudes, which most current fighters lacked at the time.

North American P-51B Mustang
North American P-51B Mustang circa 1946. (Image source: NASA/DVIDS)

It has an overall measure of 32 feet in length and 37 feet in wingspan and is typically armed with two .50-caliber nose-mounted and four .30-caliber wing-mounted machine guns with a maximum load of up to 2,000 lbs of bombs or at least ten 5-inch rockets. One later version had four 20mm cannons, while another ground-attack/dive bomber version (dubbed the “A-36 Mustang/Apache/Invader”) served for the USAAF.

Dark Obstacles and Its Dramatic Arrival in USAAF

Air raids and assaults by Allies forces, particularly conducted by the USAAF aircraft over Germany, had seen little to no success because of the Third Reich Luftwaffe‘s premier fighters, who dominated the skies at that time.

Bombarding efforts conducted during the summer and autumn of 1943 had been less productive as neither of the USAAF’s fighter plane models could match the Luftwaffe’s, leaving the massive B-17 Flying Fortresses exposed and vulnerable. This has taken a toll on the reputable Eight Air Force (also known as the “Mighty Eight”) as they have suffered a staggering loss on both warplanes and airmen.