26 July 1944: This iconic World War II photograph, “The Bottisham Four”, is one of a series depicting a flight of four North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighters, three P-51D and one P-51B, of the 375th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group, based at RAF Bottisham, Cambridgeshire, England, as they fly formation with a B-17 Flying Fortress camera ship from the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy).
None of these aircraft would survive the war. Fourteen days after this photo was taken the number two plane, E2 S, crashed, killing the pilot. Three days later, 12 August 1944, at 1505 hours, group commanding officer Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., flying the lead plane, Lou IV, was killed and his Mustang destroyed when dive bombing the Arras marshaling yards in France. The number four plane, the P-51B Suzy G, crash-landed following a combat mission and was destroyed, 11 September 1944. Sky Bouncer, the number three P-51D, crashed on takeoff 3 April 1945.
Lead: P-51D-5-NA 44-13410, E2 C, flown by group commander Colonel Thomas J.J. Christian, Jr., and named Lou IV after his daughter.
Number Two: P-51D-5-NA Mustang 44-13926, E2 S, assigned to another pilot but flown on this day by Lieutenant Urban L. (“Ben”) Drew.
Number Three: P-51D-5-NA 44-13568, E2 A, named Sky Bouncer, piloted by squadron operations officer Captain Bruce W. (“Red”) Rowlett.
Number Four: P-51B-15-NA Mustang 42-106811, E2 H, flown by Captain Francis T. Glanker and named Suzy G after his wife. The underlined letter H indicates that this airplane is the second in the squadron identified with that letter.
The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation fighter, with a total of 8,156 produced by North American at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas, and 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. It was a single-seat, single engine fighter, powered by the Packard Motor Car Company’s license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63, either a V-1650-3 or V-1650-7. These were a 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines, which produced 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning at 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton-Standard constant speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.40 meters).
The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463.2 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,488.5 kilograms). Its maximum speed was 437 miles per hour (703.3 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the maximum range was 1,650 miles (2,655 kilometers).
The P-51D was armed with six AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition was provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the outer two pairs of guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing, in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.
© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes