The North American P-51 Mustang is known as one of the finest fighter aircraft produced during World War II. This aircraft was instrumental in extending Allied airpower into the Axis defenses in both the European and Pacific theatres of World War II. The design began as an alternative to North American Aviation subcontracting construction for the P-40 Warhawk.
Designed and built in 120 days, the North American prototype, NA-73X, was first flown on October 25, 1940. The early Mustangs were powered by General Motors Allison V-12 engines (identifiable with 3 blade propellers). Then the British experimented with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine installation, which produced significant performance improvements. Thus manufacture of the Mustang commenced with the Packard-Detroit built V-12 Merlin engine (identified with 4 blade propellers). Over 15,000 Mustang airframes were built during the war in both Los Angeles and Dallas North American factories.
The Mustang flew combat with many countries and in the major operations around the world. The P-51 served United States Army Air Corps in both the European theatre and the Pacific theatre. In Europe, it provided long range escort to American bombers. It is thought that when Luftwaffe Field Marshall Herman Goering saw Mustangs over Berlin, he said "We have lost the war". The most profound missions could be said to have been flown by Mustangs in the Pacific theatre operating from the island base of Iwo Jima. These highly dangerous 7+ hour missions involved flying 3 hours across the open Pacific to the completely hostile target of Japan and then 3+ hours return to Iwo Jima. Loss over the open sea was a threat as well as capture in Japan where very few POWs survived. The Mustang also served in the Korean War providing the ground support operations for the new United States Air Force. As well as American service, the P-51 was flown by all the major allied countries in the world. Its final official military service ended with the Dominican Republic Air Force in 1984.
Civilian operators continue keeping the P-51 Mustang alive and active in today's modern aviation world. The most common airframes today are the P-51D Mustangs, with back seats replacing the range-extending 85 gallon fuel tank. Also seen are the large canopy TF-51 aircraft. These are full dual control Mustangs, the version of which was developed during the end of World War II to improve flight training. Today's aircraft also remain a part of the National Air Races at Reno, Nevada and as well, at many airshows around the world.