Little Horse | P-51D Mustang

The P-51 Mustang is said to be one of the best fighter aircraft to have rolled off of production lines during WWII. I think anyone that flew a Mustang then or flies one now would argue that it is an amazing aircraft. The P-51 was built by North American Aviation in response to a request by the British Purchasing Commission. In 1938 British Government setup a purchasing commission in the United States under Sir Henry Self. One of his primary purposes was the design, development, and delivery of American aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the time there was no American plane that met European standards except the P-40 Tomahawk but even that was lacking. NAA President “Dutch” Kindelberger approached Self to sell the B-25 Bomber but instead was asked to produce the P-40 under contract from Curtiss. Kindelberger said that he could build a better, more cost effective and sooner available aircraft using the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine. The delivery date was set to January 1941 and in March of 1940 320 aircraft were purchased.

Edgar Schmued led the development team of NA-73X which had the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine, four .30 in (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns, two in the wings and two beneath the engine firing through the prop arc, laminar flow airfoils, a new radiator that used the “Meredith Effect” of expelling heat adding a jet thrust effect and a fuselage made of conic sections. All of these new features were accomplished after 102 days. It was one of the fastest built aircraft given the war circumstances. In September of 1940 the prototype rolled off of the assembly line and on October 26th 1940 it was test flown by Vance Breese who said it handled well. In September of 1940, 300 more planes were ordered two of which went to the United States Army Air Corps.

Pre War doctrine stated that heavy bombers would get through. Their defenses were too strong, they fly too high and enemy fighters would not be able to knock them down. Up into 1942 the USAAC still believed in this doctrine and refused, despite RAF and Luftwaffe results, that the need for a long range escort fighter was not needed. During the early years of fighting, Spitfire from the Royal Air Force and P-40’s would guard bomber formations until they reached the European coastline. Due to fuel consumption and the constant battle of flying further and further away from home bases something had to give.

Throughout 1942 the evidence was inconclusive that there was any problem with daylight bombing. Then in 1943 at the Casablanca Conference the Combined Bomber Offensive was conceived. Round the clock bombing would be done by daylight runs of the 8th Air Force out of England and nighttime runs done by RAF units. The goal was to destroy key industrial targets, specifically aircraft manufacturing and supply, in order to gain air supremacy before the invasion. Deep penetrations raids were at a first a success but by the end of 1943 losses were mounting. The August raid against Schweinfurt–Regensburg resulted in a loss of 60 B-17’s and on October 14th 77 more were lost. The need for an escort fighter was needed. Many were thought up but the one that had the most promise was the P-51B.

The P-51B/P-51C were equipped with the Packard V-1650-3 Packard Merlin engine which was heavier the Allison. The P-51B was built in Inglewood, CA and the P-51C was built in Dallas, TX. Production started in early 1943 and was in operation by the summer of 1943.

The P-51 was chosen for the use of an escort fighter because of it’s ability to carry 184 gallons internally and then another 85 gallons externally. This gave the plane the ability to travel four hours forty five minutes. While the internal tanks created loss of performance when full it was conceived that they would be used up first while crossing the channel.

Mustang Pilot Aces

Max Speed (MPH)

37'

Wing Span

Mustangs Manufactured

Range (Miles)

32' 3"

Length

Mustangs Remaining

Service Ceiling (ft)

13' 8"

Height

During the winter of 1943-1944 enough Mustangs had arrived to the 8th and 9th Air Force to resume operation Pointblank in early 1944. Cover of the bomber stream consisted of P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt cover during early stages then handed over to the P-51’s for the long stretch into occupied territory. The Mustang had proven superior so well and so quickly the the 8th Air Force started to switch over it’s fifteen fighter groups to Mustangs. By the end of 1944 fourteen groups were flying Mustangs. At the high altitude that the bombers were flying, initial Luftwaffe tactics and fighters were unable to be effective against the new fighter. The twin engine fighter BF-110, Focke Wulfe 190, and BF 109 all were at a disadvantage at the higher altitude in part due to the heavy armament they were carrying to destroy the heavy bombers. New tactics were created for the new escorts and bombers.

In 1944 General James “Jimmy” Doolittle took command of the 8th Air Force and one of the first measures he took was to take the fighters off of defense measures of the bomber stream and assign them to attack enemy fighters whenever they were found. The goal was to gain air supremacy and while this decision was not as popular with bomber crews the end result was a much faster destruction of Luftwaffe fighters. P-51’s would go on “fighter sweeps” in front of the bomber stream to clear out enemy fighters first. In response to this the Luftwaffe developed new tactics one of which was combining heavily armored FW 190A’s out front and followed by lighter fighters, BF 109’s in mass. The idea was for the FW 190A’s to attack the bombers while the BF 109’s would keep the P-51’s busy. While difficult to accomplish, when it did work the affects were devastating.

After mid 1944 fighter sweeps weren’t enough so the systematic strafing of enemy air fields was started by returning escorting fighters and later strafing missions were started with P-51’s going specifically to hit Luftwaffe air fields. One of the most successful strikes was when P-51’s would strafe enemy fields that were recovering the German Jet fighter ME 262 which was extremely vulnerable during recovery. This of course didn’t happen until 1945.

Starting in late 1944, P-51D Mustangs started arriving in England with an upgraded wing root design which made it more capable of carrying heavier loads for the additional strafing and bombing runs that were now in practice. Also the P-51D had a bubble canopy, one long piece of plastic instead of the standard birdcage canopy which had limited visibility due to the metal used to hold the glass together. The same Roll Royce Merlin Packard V-1650-7 engine was used.

In 1943 P-51B’s started arriving with the American Volunteer Group in China and in 1945 P-51B’s and C’s started going to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force. In late 1943 P-51B’s started arriving in Italy for the 12th and 15t Air Force. These Mediterranean based fighter groups consisted of the same rolls as those based out of England with protection of bomber streams over Northern Italy, France, Romania, and other occupied territories. The fighting in that region was a bit different with the goal set to destroy the German oil reserves and refineries. Enemy fighters consisted of more then just the Luftwaffe but also the Italian Air Force and Romanian pilots. It was in the Mediterranean Theater that the famous group known as the Red Tails, the all African American Group, would make their name.

While a late comer to the Pacific Theater the P-51 did serve on escort missions for B-29 Superfortress’s and ground strafing mission during the island hoping campaign. Over 15,000 P-51’s were built during the war and stayed in service until 1984. The P-51 served in Air Force’s all over the world and remained in operation for the US Air Force until 1980.

The P-51 is one of the most iconic and recognized aircraft of WWII. In part it was due to the overwhelming amount of planes that were built, but it was also because so many men came back from their missions. The Texas Flying Legends Museum is fortunate to have two flying examples of the D model mustang and is proud to honor the men and women that flew the mustang.

This P-51D Mustang served in the European theatre flown by Lt Charles Koenig who named it Little Horse. In May of 1944, Ken Dahlberg arrived in England on a troop ship and was assigned to the 354th Fighter Group. The only problem was that he had been practicing in a P-47, and the squadron he was assigned to flew P-51 Mustangs. His total training on the P-51 was a half-hour orientation flight but six months into his flying career, he was 23rd on the list of all the fighter aces in Europe, making him a triple ace. It was the memories of Ken Dahlberg who inspired the Paul Ehlen to paint this rebuild in the scheme of Little Horse.

By the winter of 1944, Dahlberg had crashed two planes and escaped enemy capture on both occasions. On his third crash, he wasn’t quite so lucky. Dahlberg’s fellow pilots saw he had a direct hit from an .88 and reported him as probably killed in action. Dahlberg had a hard landing and tried to escape, but ended up in a German prison camp until Patton’s Third Army liberated the POW camp.

After D-Day the 354th Fighter Group moved to France from their base in England. To show respect and friendship to the French, Koenig decided to rechristen his aircraft Le Petite Cheval which made the locals very happy.

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