The fast and agile North American P51 Mustangs that ranged over Europe the last two years of the second world war probably played as large a part in final Germanys defeat as the Spitfire and Hurricane did in winning the Battle of Britain.
The P51 Mustang was the first single engine long range fighter able to escort US army air force bombers all the way to Berlin and back. The Luftwaffe fighter pilots could no longer wait for the American fighters to turn back before attacking the unescorted bombers.
The first version was designed and built for the RAF in 120 days in 1940 but was not an instant success. Fitted with an Alison engine it was faster and more manoeuvrable than any other US fighter at low altitude. Unfortunately the power of the Allison engine decreased at higher altitudes leaving the Mustang under powered as it climbed to meet German fighters. To exploit their low-level performance Mk1 Mustangs were initially used by the RAF and later the USAAF in tactical reconnaissance and ground attack roles.
The Mustang was transformed in 1942 when a Rolls Royce Merlin engine used in the Spitfire was fitted. This near perfect marriage of engine and platform made the 1944 P-51D, with its bubble canopy and six-guns, one of the most iconic and potent fighters of the second world war. Its pilots used its performance and armament to tackle some of the most successful Luftwaffe fighters including the potent Focke Wulf FW190 and first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262.
The P51 was pressed into service again in the Korean war as a ground attack aircraft, a role it was not ideally suited to. The liquid cooled Merlin engine was susceptible to groundfire but despite heavy losses they inflicted considerable damage on the North Korean ground forces using rockets, napalm and bombs.