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August 03, 2023

The P-51 Mustang has been called the ultimate piston-engined fighter of World War II, with approximately 15,000 units produced between 1941 and 1945. Mustangs served valiantly in nearly every WWII combat arena, as well as the Korean War. Keep reading to learn more about this incredible plane, and P-51 Mustang Twilight Tear PlaneTags by MotoArt.



P51 Mustang: What makes this plane so special? 

P-51 Mustang

 

The P-51 Mustang, an emblematic fighter aircraft, soared into the pages of history as one of the most influential and successful warplanes ever built. Developed during the early 1940s by North American Aviation, the P-51 became synonymous with American air power during World War II. With its sleek design, formidable firepower, and exceptional performance, this legendary aircraft became the backbone of the Allied air forces, playing a pivotal role in turning the tide of the war.


The P-51 Mustang's appearance was nothing short of breathtaking. With its elegant, streamlined design, the aircraft exuded both power and grace. Its long and pointed nose housed the potent Packard V-1650 Merlin engine, while the elliptical wings and vertical tail fin accentuated its aerodynamic prowess. The introduction of the bubble-top canopy with the P-51D variant not only enhanced its aesthetics but also provided the pilot with excellent visibility, a critical advantage during intense aerial combat.


Armed with six machine guns, the P-51 packed a formidable punch against enemy aircraft, earning it a reputation as a fearsome adversary in dogfights. Its ability to outmaneuver and outfly many of its adversaries made it a favorite among pilots, and its remarkable speed allowed it to chase down and engage enemy planes with ease.

 

P-51 assembly line

One of the North American P-51 fighter fuselage assembly lines - Library of Congress

 

The P-51 Mustang was primarily produced and operated during the years 1941 to 1945. Its early development, on behalf of the British Royal Air Force, took place in 1940 when the prototype, known as the NA-73X, first took flight. However, it wasn't until 1942 that the Mustang truly came into its own with the introduction of the P-51B and P-51C variants, equipped with the powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that catapulted it to new heights. By 1943, the P-51D model, featuring the iconic teardrop canopy and six .50 caliber AN/M2 Browning machine guns, entered production and quickly became the most widely produced and successful version of the aircraft.


The P-51 Mustang was designed to excel in multiple roles, but its most significant contribution came as a long-range fighter and bomber escort. During World War II, the Allies' strategic bombing campaigns against Germany's industrial centers faced constant threats from enemy fighters. The P-51 was tasked with providing crucial protection to the heavy bombers, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator, as they ventured deep into enemy territory. With its impressive range, the P-51 was capable of accompanying the bombers on their missions, ensuring their safety and increasing the effectiveness of the bombing raids.


The P-51 Mustang stands as an enduring symbol of aviation excellence and heroism. Built during the turbulent times of World War II, this remarkable aircraft showcased the ingenuity, engineering prowess, and determination of its creators and pilots alike. Its impact on the outcome of the war, particularly in the skies over Europe, cannot be overstated. Even decades after its heyday, the P-51 remains an icon, capturing the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and reminding us of the bravery and sacrifice of those who took to the skies in defense of freedom.


P-51 Mustang Development and Manufacturing


The development and manufacturing of the P-51 Mustang were significant achievements in the history of aviation.  The P-51 Mustang was designed and developed by North American Aviation (NAA) in response to a British request for a new fighter aircraft in the early 1940s. The British Purchasing Commission approached NAA, seeking a fighter plane that could perform at high altitudes and carry long-range escort missions for bombers. 


NAA's chief engineer, Edgar Schmued, led the design team that created the aircraft. Schmued incorporated several innovative features into the design, including the use of an advanced laminar flow wing, which helped reduce drag and increase efficiency at high speeds.

 

NA-73X prototype

 

The initial prototype of the P-51, known as the NA-73X, made its first flight on October 26, 1940. The prototype showed promise, but it was not until the aircraft was equipped with a British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that its true potential was unlocked. The Merlin engine transformed the P-51's performance, allowing it to reach higher speeds and perform exceptionally well at high altitudes. This marked a turning point in the aircraft's development, and the improved version was designated as the P-51B and P-51C.


The production of the P-51 Mustang was carried out on a massive scale to meet the demand for high-performance fighters during World War II. Various versions of the aircraft were manufactured, each with improvements over the previous models. The majority of P-51 Mustangs were produced at North American Aviation's plants in Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas. Additionally, a significant number of aircraft were also produced under license by the Canadian company Canadian Car and Foundry (CCF). 

 

North American Aviation P-51 manufacturingWing sections for B-25 bombers and P-51 fighters, move down long assembly lines at North American Aviation plant at Inglewood, California. Library of Congress

 

The P-51 underwent continuous upgrades throughout its production run, with changes in armament, avionics, and other components to enhance its capabilities further. The introduction of the P-51D model marked a critical milestone in the aircraft's production. It featured a "teardrop" canopy design, which greatly improved visibility for the pilot, and had six .50 caliber machine guns, making it a formidable fighter and a highly effective bomber escort.

 

P-51 ("Mustang) fighter planes. A partial view of North American's flight ramp at Inglewood, California. In the foreground is a P-51 fighter which has just rolled off the final assembly line. It is now awaiting its coat of war paint. Library of Congress

 

By the end of World War II, thousands of P-51 Mustangs had been built, and they played a pivotal role in air operations on both the European and Pacific fronts. Their long-range capabilities made them invaluable for protecting bombers during strategic bombing missions and engaging in dogfights with enemy fighters. After the war, the P-51 continued to serve in various air forces around the world, and some were even adapted for other roles, such as reconnaissance and ground attack. The Mustang's legacy endured, and it remains an iconic symbol of the era and one of the most celebrated and beloved fighter planes in aviation history.


P-51 packed at InglewoodUtilizing as little space as possible, North American "Mustang" are packed neatly in crates for shipment to the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the Inglewood, California, plant. Library of Congress

 

P-51 Features

 

Twilight Tear

 Photo by Caz Caswell, used with permission

 

The P-51 Mustang was a single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft with a distinctive and elegant appearance. Here are some key features of its appearance and design:


  • Sleek and Streamlined: The P-51 had a sleek and aerodynamic design, with smooth lines that minimized drag and allowed it to fly faster and more efficiently. Its appearance was often described as "graceful" and "beautiful."

  • Long and Pointed Nose: The most recognizable feature of the P-51 was its long, pointed nose, which housed the powerful Packard V-1650 Merlin engine and provided space for the plane's armament. The engine's air intake was located just below the nose, giving it a distinctive look.

  • Elliptical Wings: The wings of the P-51 were designed in an elliptical shape, which contributed to its excellent maneuverability and stability during flight. These wings were a key factor in the aircraft's high performance.

  • Bubble Canopy: The P-51 Mustang was one of the first fighter planes to be equipped with a bubble canopy, which was a large, rounded, and mostly transparent cockpit canopy. This provided the pilot with excellent all-around visibility, enhancing situational awareness during combat.

  • Tail Fin and Rudder: The tail section of the P-51 had a vertical fin, which was a vertical surface at the rear of the plane, and a rudder, which was a movable control surface attached to the vertical fin. These components helped the pilot control the aircraft during flight, making it more agile and responsive.

  • Undercarriage: The landing gear of the P-51 consisted of two main wheels located under the wings and a smaller wheel at the rear under the tail. The landing gear could be retracted during flight to reduce drag and increase speed.

  • Armament: The P-51 Mustang was armed with various combinations of machine guns and cannons. The most common armament included six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, making the Mustang a formidable adversary in air combat.

  • Range and Drop Tanks: One of the significant advantages of the P-51 was its long range. To extend its flight duration, the aircraft could carry external fuel tanks, known as drop tanks, which were attached under the wings. These tanks could be jettisoned when empty to improve the plane's maneuverability.

Overall, the P-51 Mustang's appearance was a perfect blend of form and function. Its beauty was not just skin deep; it was a high-performance machine that combined speed, maneuverability, and firepower, making it one of the most iconic and effective fighter aircraft of its time.



P-51D Mustang At A Glance

P-51D PlaneTags

 

Specifications:

  • Manufacturer: North American Aviation, Inc.
  • Serial #: 44-63864
  • Crew: 1
  • Wing Span: 37 Ft 0 In
  • Length: 32 Ft 3 In
  • Height: 13 Ft 8 In
  • Armament: 6x .50-Caliber An/M2 Browning Machine Guns And 10x 5-Inch T64 HVAR Rockets Or 2,000 Lb Of Bombs

Performance:

  • Combat Range: 1,650 Mi W/External Tanks
  • Cruise Speed: 230 Kts
  • Ceiling: 41,900 Ft
  • Empty Weight: 7,635 Lb
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 12,100 Lb
  • Rate Of Climb: 3,200 Ft/Min
  • Engine: 1x Packard V-1650-7 Merlin 12 Cylinder Liquid Cooled Engine W/4x Hamilton Standard Constant-Speed Propellers


44-63864: Twilight Tear

 

 

Twilight Tear Mustang

Photo by Richard E. Flagg - ukairfields, used with permission

 

44-63864 was accepted by the USAAF on December 14, 1944, and served with the 8th Air Force, 78th Fighter Group , 83rd Fighter Squadron in Duxford, England throughout the duration of World War II. Piloted by Hubert “Bill” Davis, the plane was named after his favorite race horse. 

 

Hubert "Bill" Davis

 

The 78th Fighter Group was activated in 1942 and moved to England’s RAF Duxford Aerodrome in April 1943. The FG trained with P-38s and P-47s, before converting to P-51 Mustangs in December 1944. The 78th escorted B-17 and B-24 bombers as they attacked Axis targets in Europe, strafing and dive-bombing airfields, trains, canals and other key locations. After moving to Mustangs, the fighter group was able to fly escort missions deep into Germany, a distance that the P-38 was not capable of reaching.  They also participated in the Battle of the Bulge and airborne assault across the Rhine, receiving two Distinguished Unit Citations for their efforts. 

 

P-51 Mustang Twilight Tear

Photo by Richard E. Flagg - ukairfields, used with permission

 

Following its wartime service, it was stored in Germany but it did not stay there for long. Like many P-51s, its WWII years were followed by many more years of duty. ‘463864 also served with the Swedish Air Force, Israeli Air Force, and under private ownership, including William Lear Jr. Following a crash in Iceland in 1963, it remained in storage there until October 1986. After passing through more hands, the wreckage of Twilight Tear, now registered as N42805, was acquired by Ron Fagen in 2005 and its restoration began in earnest. 

 

P-51D Mustang

 

During the restoration, Ron Fagen and Fagen Fighters WWII Museum uncovered more of its rich history and decided to return Twilight Tear to its original specifications and colors when flown by Davis during World War II. 

 

Twilight Tear P-51D

Photo by Richard E. Flagg - ukairfields, used with permission

 

Andrea Eldridge, pilot, aircraft restorer, Phantom owner, and writer, wrote about Twilight Tear for Warbird Digest in 2012 and has allowed us permission to include portions of the article below. 


Finally, after passing through the hands of CanadianCham Gill on February 25, 1991, warbird  restorer Ken Hake purchased the Mustang three months later on July 20 and shipped it back to Kansas and American soil. When Ken Hake decided to retire before restoring Serial No. 44-63864, he offered the project to his friends, Ron and Diane Fagen of Granite Falls, Minnesota, who purchased it in addition to several P-40s in various states, on October 14, 2005. The project was immediately registered with the FAA but relegated to the back of the hangar while other aircraft, including the P-38 Ruff Stuff and an Aleutian Tiger P-40, were restored.

Recognition as a result of meticulous historical research on the part of AirCorps Aviation, currently located in Bemidji, Minnesota, arrived after a long and thorough investigation, when the FAA affirmed that Serial No. 44-63864 belonged to the plane owned by Fagen Fighters — the authentic “Twilight Tear”. In the case of “Twilight Tear” it was proven that warbird restoration not only requires inspired artistic craftsmanship from the mechanics but an equally important academic effort from the historians and researchers able to navigate boxes of paperwork spanning several bureaucratic hoops, which by now must be old hat, a license from the Federal Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was acquired so the six Browning .50 caliber machine guns could be restored and fired on the ground. The Mustang’s tail was jacked up so through the functioning K-14 gun sight installed in the aircraft could be located the target banner 75 yards away on a range built by Fagen’s excavation company. Good times!

 

Here is a video made in July 2011, showing Twilight Tear firing 6 .50 caliber M2 Brownings.

 



MotoArt’s P-51D


MotoArt owner Dave Hall and the PlaneTags team were ecstatic to tag the storied Twilight Tear, using the original skin that had been replaced during the restoration process. “We are so honored to partner with Fagen Fighters to create Twilight Tear PlaneTags,” says Hall. “This is an amazing Mustang with an incredible story to tell.” 

 

44-63864

Photo by Richard E. Flagg - ukairfields, used with permission

 

The team worked around the clock to produce the P-51D PlaneTags in time for EAA AirVenture, where Twilight Tear would be appearing. Oshkosh attendees were able to purchase the new Mustang PlaneTags during the week-long air show. 

 

  P-51D PlaneTags in production

 

 

Twilight Tear PlaneTags


Our P-51D PlaneTags are made from the authentic skin of 44-63864, which was removed during the restoration of Twilight Tear. They are numbered in a series of 1,000 and will be initially available in the following variants:

  • Solid metal
  • Solid metal with rivet holes

 

These beautiful P-51 Mustang PlaneTags belong in the collection of any warbird or history fan. They were soft launched at Oshkosh 2023 and were well received. They are destined to become collectors items so grab one when they are released on Thursday, August 3, 2023 at 12pm PT. 




P-51 PlaneTags


MotoArt created P-51K Mustang PlaneTags in January 2021, made from 44-12852.  Read about it P-51K Mustang: One Plane's Journey



Fagen Fighters PlaneTags


Check out another great Fagen Fighters aircraft that MotoArt tagged in 2022 - the Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldive r made from BuNo 83393. Read about this dive bomber on our blog and pick up one for your collection while there are some available.

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