Saturday, February 2, 2013

P-51 Mustang: Innovation Personified ca 1943

The term "innovation" gets kicked around a lot these days - maybe rightly so. But during WWII there was tremendous innovation occurring on both sides of the conflict, especially with respect to the development of combat aircraft. The jet engine was coming along and would change air warfare, and civilian air travel after that.  But plugging the gap for the Allied forces who needed a high-performance, reliable, long-range fighter plane that could outmatch what Germany and Japan had to offer was the P-51 Mustang designed and built by North American Aviation ("P" stood for "pursuit," later we renamed such planes "F" for "fighter" - a designation still used today). One of the firm's other accomplishments included the B-24 Mitchell medium bomber used on the Doolittle Raid of the Japanese homeland.

On a fast track, North American's prototype of the P-51was rolled out just 102 days after signing the contract with the Pentagon. Entering the European theatre in 1943, the fighter had an immediate effect on the air war and ended up with a kill ratio of 8:1.

The Mustang incorporated a number of innovations that made it a superior aircraft for its time.

·       A thicker wing in its center portion. This improved lift and reduced drag and therefore increased speed.

·       The thicker wing allowed more room for fuel, extending the fighter’s range.

·       A variable pitch prop provided increased fuel efficiency and therefore increased range.

·       The new bubble canopy provided pilots with enhanced visual surveillance decreasing the changes they could be surprised from behind.

·       Finally, the mating of the British Merlin Rolls-Royce V-12 engine greatly improved performance and reliability over the original Allison engine, giving the Mustang a combat edge.

The Aircraft Owner website has one of the best short videos out there portraying the Mustang in flight (showing five of the aircraft that are still flying today).

These two photos hail from a Nashua, NH warbird show in 2004.