Sleek and elegant, the North American P-51D Mustang was truly a “fighter pilot’s dream.” It is perhaps the best known fighter aircraft of all time. Designed by Edgar Schmued in record time at the request of the British in 1940, the Mustang possessed a deadly combination of speed, endurance, maneuverability and firepower. By the end of the Mustang’s production run, more than 15,000 P-51s had been built, and the aircraft had seen service around the world as an escort fighter, fighter/ bomber, dive bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, and finally, a race plane.
Originally fitted with an Allison V-1710 engine, the Mustang proved to be a superb fighter at low to medium altitudes, but its performance dropped off above 12,000 feet. At the urging of a Rolls Royce test pilot, a few Royal Air Force (RAF) P-51s were tested with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and the Mustang found new legs. With the powerful, supercharged Merlin, the Mustang’s high altitude performance dramatically increased, as did the plane’s range. This immediate boost in range allowed the plane, with drop tanks, to escort American bombers into the heart of germany or Japan and back. Once the bombers had full fighter coverage, the air war for Europe and the Pacific was as good as won.
More than any other fighter, the long-ranged, Merlin-equipped Mustang gave the U.S. Army Air Force the air superiority it needed to counter Luftwaffe Bf109s and Fw190s in the strategic air war over Germany. It also served with distinction in the Far East Theatre, during the Korean war, in the Air National guard, and in service with more than 30 countries after World War II. Designed during the stress of war, the P-51 Mustang fighter successes were phenomenal.
The Museum’s P-51D was built by North American Aviation in Inglewood, CA and delivered to the USAAF on March 31, 1945. In April of 1945, it was shipped out of Newark, New Jersey to the 8th Air Force in the European Theatre of operations. In July of the same year, it was returned to Newark and placed in storage. The aircraft was acquired in January 1992 from Jimmy Hunt of Lebanon, Tennessee, in a trade and sale agreement for a T-28B owned by the Museum. At that time, it was painted as “Contrary Mary” of the 8th Air Force’s 78th Fighter group in World War II. In 1996, the Mustang was painted in the personal markings of Tuskegee Airman Captain Roscoe Brown, who commanded the 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter group, 15th Air Force, stationed at Ramitelli, Italy in 1945.