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 – 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. But they were soon replaced with jet fighters, 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.

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  1. History can inspire the young mind. Free thinkers, however, may not work in a socialist agenda. They would prefer more “sheep “.

  2. STEM Vs History I don’t think so. STEM is an effort to get students interested in science and engineering. So call it science as we did in olden times. If history is left out talk to the school system, don’t blame science.

  3. Don’t blame socialism for lack of free thinking. The socialists in Sweden have produced world leading science.
    Though I detest fascism, the national socialists in Germany produced very advanced science— and that is where the US space program got its best thinkers.
    If people are safe and secure and don’t have to worry about their healthcare or where their next meal is coming from, they have more capacity to freely think.

  4. That interest in science has been at the expense of literature and history. It has been for decades. History is left out because it does not bring in the financial allocations to schools. One can talk to the school system. See how far it gets. Students used to study civics. Where is that in a current curriculum?

    1. It was probably serving in foreign countries like Nicaragua. However the date could be wrong. My favorite WWII fighter is the P-40 made famous by the Flying Tigers

  5. History should indeed continue to be taught. As time goes on, however, details that once were deemed pertinent inevitably become buried by successive details. For example, the Monitor vs. Merrimack battle in the Civil War was incredibly important, but with 150+ years of likewise important events, some things have to be dropped in order to teach others. Details on the P-51, while interesting to anyone of us reading this article, cannot take the fore. Since then we’ve had Korea, Vietnam, two gulf wars, 9/11, etc.

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