First Flight of the P-51 Mustang

First Flight of the P-51 Mustang

US #3142a – from the Classic American Aircraft Sheet

On October 26, 1940, the P-51 Mustang completed its first flight.

In April 1940, the British government sought to purchase planes from American manufacturers.  At the time, the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk was the best American fighter aircraft in production, however, the Curtiss-Wright plant was working at capacity.

US #3142a – Classic First Day Cover

Then North American Aviation (NAA), which was already producing other planes for the Royal Air Force (RAF), offered to produce their B-25 Mitchell medium bombers.  The RAF asked if they could produce the P-40s under a license from Curtiss instead.  The NAA then responded that they could build better planes with the same engine faster than producing P-40s.  That March, the RAF ordered 320 planes and requested they be completed by January 1941.

US #3142a – Mystic First Day Cover

The prototype plane was completed in September 1940, just 102 days after the order was placed.  Then on October 26, 1940, test pilot, Vance Breese took a P-51 on its first flight.  A year later, the first Mustangs arrived in the United Kingdom and in January 1942, they entered service.

US #2838b pictures P-51s escorting B-17s on a bombing raid in 1944.

Although the basic design of the P-51 was sound, tests soon proved that the Mustang’s greatest disadvantage was its engine.  In the RAF’s opinion, it was “a bloody good airplane” needing only “a bit more poke.”  Engineers on both sides of the Atlantic contemplated the problem, and eventually, it was suggested that a Rolls Royce Merlin engine be installed – a modification that dramatically improved the P-51’s performance and revolutionized its potential. The first of these new models entered service in December 1943 in the skies over Europe.

US #2838b – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

Able to fly long range, the Mustang could now reach beyond Berlin, as far as Austria and Czechoslovakia.  Known for accompanying the B-17s on their longest raids, the P-51 was also employed as a fighter, fighter-bomber, dive-bomber, and reconnaissance aircraft.  The P-51 was seen as the finest all-around piston-engine fighter in service.  Affectionately referred to as the Mustang, its nickname was a suitable choice – referring not only to the plane’s American beginnings but also its untamed power.

Marshall Islands #708 includes a stamp picturing a P-51B.

By the end of World War II, P-51 Mustangs had taken down 4,950 enemy aircraft, more than any other fighter in Europe.  Mustangs remained in use into the Korean War as the main fighter of the United Nations.  They were soon replaced with jet fighters though, such as the F-86 Sabre.  However, other countries continued to use it for several more years before it was retired in 1983.  In all, about 15,000 were built.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
[Total: 60 Average: 4.8]

Share this article

6 responses to "First Flight of the P-51 Mustang"

6 thoughts on “First Flight of the P-51 Mustang”

  1. I won a paper route trip to Maine in 1964. The pilot of the float plane told me that he a Mustag fighter pilot in WEII. He was flying for The Great Northern Paper Co and said the Mustag was the bezt plane he ever flew and he missed it. He was from Texas. Wish I could remember his name. We flew to Rainbow Lake.

  2. I think of the Tuskegee Airmen when I see a P-51 with a red tail like this one. I hope one day the USPS will honor them or General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. ( Commander of the Tuskegee Airmen). They have a great story in WWII history.

  3. There is a cinematic film that will be released in December. It deals with American fighter pilots during the Korean War. They are depicted flying Corsairs F4U. I believe the film’s main story concerns the Afro-Americans and Caucasian pilots during the above-mentioned conflict. From the trailers I’ve seen, it looks to be a very good production.


Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!