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The British Purchasing Commission turned to North American Aviation at the start of 1940 because they wanted to have the Curtiss P-40 manufactured there under licence. But NAA reckoned they could get an improved successor with the same engine into the air quicker than going into production with the P-40. And on October 26 of the same year, the NA-73, named “Mustang” by the Royal Air Force, made its maiden flight. A new radiator design and the laminar flow wing made it even faster than the P-40. But the Allison V-1710 engine used to power both models limited the Mustang's high-altitude performance so much that the early version was not, as had been intended, deployed as a fighter plane, but instead as a low-altitude fighter-bomber and tactical reconnaissance aircraft during aerial warfare in Europe.

With the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, which were fitted from the P-51B version, the Mustangs were then able to match the performance of enemy fighters at altitudes above 15,000 ft. Because of their outstanding performance, they even went on to replace the Lockheed P-38 and Republic P-47 as escort fighters. After the Second World War, the United States Air Force changed the designation from P-51 (P for "Pursuit") to F-51 (F for "Fighter") because of a new designation scheme. For the Korean War, the still widely available F-51 was brought back into service and used for ground attack. Some air forces, especially in Latin America, continued to use the Mustang right up until the 1980s.

In the special-themed “Warbirds” area of AIRPOWER16’s Static Display visitors can see a Mustang that was imported from the USA to France in 2013: the P-51D "Moonbeam McSwine". The aircraft’s livery pays tribute to the Mustang of the same name flown by ace pilot Captain William T. Whisner.

  • © Bundesheer / Andreas Macher

  • © Bundesheer / Andreas Macher

  • © Bundesheer / Markus Zinner

Facts & Figures

Manufacturer North American Aviation
Length 9.83 m
Height 4.1 m
Wingspan 11.28 m
Empty Weight 3,180 kg
Max. take-off weight 5,490 kg
Max. speed 703 km/h / 380 kts
Service ceiling 12,800 m / 42,000 ft
Engine Rolls Royce Merlin / Packard V-1650
Power 1,745 HP
Crew 1
Display Static