Tag Archives: North American Aviation P-51 Mustang

20 August 1944

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG346 at Speke Aerodrome, Liverpool, England, November 1941. © IWM (ATP 10608C)

20 August 1944: Mustang Mk.I AG346, while flying with No. 168 Squadron, Second Tactical Air Force, Royal Air Force, from a forward airfield at Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, Normandy, France, was shot down near Gacé by antiaircraft fire.

The very first operational North American Mustang, AG346 (North American serial number 73-3099) was the second airplane to come off the assembly line at Inglewood, California.

After flight testing by North American’s test pilots and Royal Air Force fighter pilots Chris Clarkson and Michael “Red Knight” Crossley, AG346 was crated and then shipped to England, arriving at Liverpool, 24 October 1941. It was taken to the Lockheed facility at Speke Aerodrome (now, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, LPL) where it was reassembled and put through additional performance and flight tests.

AG346 was then assigned to an operational RAF fighter squadron. It served with Nos. 225, 63 and 26 Squadrons before being assigned to No. 41 Operations Training Unit. AG346 was returned to operations with No. 16 Squadron, and finally, No. 168 Squadron.

A North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force, banking over Pierrefitte-en-Cinglais, Normandy, on a tactical reconnaissance sortie, August 1944. Allied tanks can be seen on the road below. © IWM (C 4559)

The Mustang Mk.I was a new fighter built by North American Aviation, Inc., for the Royal Air Force. The RAF had contracted with NAA to design and build a fighter with a liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 12-cylinder engine. The first order from the British Purchasing Commission was for 320 airplanes, and a second order for another 300 soon followed.

The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single-engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches (11.373 meters) and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches (3.721 meters). The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds (2,849 kilograms) and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

North American Aviation Inc. Mustang Mk.I fighter, AG348, built for the Royal Air Force, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California, 1941. This airplane would be transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps as XP-51 41-038. North American Aviation, Inc., photograph. (Ray Wagner Collection/SDASM)

The Mustang Mk.I was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R (V-1710-39) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The engine had a takeoff rating of 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level with 45.5 inches of manifold pressure (1.51 Bar), and a war emergency rating of 1,490 horsepower with 56 inches of manifold pressure (1.90 Bar). The Allison drove a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meter) diameter, three-bladed, Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-39 was 7 feet, 4.38 inches (2.245 meters) long, 3 feet, 0.54 inches (0.928 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).

This engine gave the Mustang Mk.I a maximum speed of 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) and cruise speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 30,800 feet (9,388 meters) and range was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers).

North American Aviation Mustang Mk.I AG365 of the Air Fighting Development Unit at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, February 1942. © IWM (CH17966)

The Mustang Mk.I was equipped with four Browning .303 Mk.II machine guns, two in each wing, and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with one in each wing and two mounted in the nose under the engine.

The British would recommend that the Allison be replaced by the Rolls Royce Merlin V-12. This became the Mustang Mk.III and the U.S.A.A.F. P-51B. Eventually, over 15,000 Mustangs were built, and it was a highly successful combat aircraft. Today, after 70 years, the Mustang is one of the most recognizable of all airplanes.

AG346 was the first one to go to war.

No. 168 Squadron was a reconnaissance unit. Its motto was Rerum cognoscere causas (“To know the cause of things”)

Mustang Mk.1 of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force. (RAF)
Mustang Mk.I of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force. (RAF)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 August 1979

Red Baron, an Unlimited Class RB51 Mustang. (Octane 130)
Red Baron, an Unlimited Class RB51. (Octane 130)

14 August 1979: Air racer Steve Hinton set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) speed record for piston engine, propeller-driven airplanes when he flew his highly-modified North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, Red Baron, to an average 803.138 kilometers per hour (499.047 miles per hour) over a 3 kilometer course at Tonapah, Nevada.¹

Unlimited Class North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, Red Baron.
Unlimited Class North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, Red Baron. (Jon R. Wallace)
Steve Hinton

Steve Hinton’s Mustang was a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT, serial number 44-84961. His company, Fighter Rebuilders, modified the airplane for racing. The most noticeable change is the substitution of the standard Packard V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 engine and its four-bladed propeller with a larger, more powerful, 2,239.33-cubic-inch-displacement (36.695 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged Rolls-Royce Griffon 57 single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine and dual, three-bladed, counter-rotating propellers from an Avro Shackleton bomber. A revised engine cowling gave Red Baron an appearance similar to the Allison-powered XP-51.

Red Baron crashed 16 September 1979 when an oil pump failure caused the propeller blades to move to flat pitch, dramatically increasing aerodynamic drag. Hinton suffered serious injuries but survived.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8438

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 August 1962

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, is greeted by his 7-year-old son, Gary, after his record-setting flight into space. “Boy, that was a ride.” (LIFE Magazine)

3 August 1962: Following his record-setting flight into space aboard an X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, 17 July 1962, Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, was featured with a cover photograph on the LIFE Magazine issue for the week of 3 August 1962. LIFE was the most prestigious news magazine of its time.

This was the first time that a manned aircraft had gone higher than 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). It was also the first flight above 50 miles (80.47 kilometers). For that achievement, Bob White became the first X-15 pilot to be awarded U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. His 314,750-foot altitude (95,936 meters) also established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world altitude record, which will probably never be broken.

To qualify, a new record would have to exceed White’s altitude by at least 3%, or more than 324,419 feet (98,882.9 meters). As the FAI-recognized boundary of Space is the Kármán line (100 kilometers, or 328,083.99 feet), any prospective challenger would have to hit a very narrow band of the atmosphere.

Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force
Command Pilot Astronaut insignia, United States Air Force

Major White had been the first pilot to fly faster than Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He was the first to fly over 200,000 feet (60,960 meters), then over 300,000 feet (91,440 meters). He was a graduate of the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and flew tests of many aircraft at Edwards before entering the X-15 program. He made at total of sixteen X-15 flights.

In this photograph, Lt. Robert M. White is on the right, with Lt. F. Mark Johnson (left) and Major Lee G. Mendenhall, all of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group. (Little Friends)
In this photograph, Lieutenant Robert M. White is on the right, with Lieutenant F. Mark Johnson (left) and Major Lee G. Mendenhall (center), all of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group. Lieutenant Johnson’s fighter, Sweet “Dosey” II, is a North American Aviation P-51D-10-NA Mustang, 44-14089. (Little Friends)

A P-51 Mustang fighter pilot in World War II, Bob White was shot down on his 52nd combat mission in February 1945 and captured. He was held as a prisoner of war until the war in Europe came to an end in April 1945. White was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and was assigned to a fighter squadron stationed in Japan. Later, he flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief supersonic fighter bomber, including leading the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel White next went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he was director of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle systems program. He then returned to Edwards Air Force Base, California, as commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center. White was promoted to Major General in 1975.

General White retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1981. He died 17 March 2010.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)
Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 1961. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 June–26 July 1940

North American Aviation Engineering Test Pilot Louis Wait with a wind tunnel model of the NA-73X. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

28 June 1940: A ¼–scale mahogany model of the North American Aviation NA-73X, prototype of the Royal Air Force Mustang Mk.1, was tested in the Ten-Foot Wind Tunnel at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) in Pasadena, California, from 28 June to 26 July 1940.

The Ten-Foot Tunnel was funded by a $300,000 grant from the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation. Construction of the Laboratory began in 1927 and the wind tunnel became operational in November 1929. A 15 foot (4.572 meter) diameter fan was capable of producing air speeds up to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The first complete scale model airplane to be tested was the Northrop Alpha.

Airships, airplanes, and structures (bridges, buildings) were tested in the tunnel. According to Caltech, the Douglas Aircraft Company used the facility more than any other manufacturer.

During World War II, a staff of sixty worked three shifts, seven days a week. A technician who worked there later said, “We had a tighter schedule than the tightest schedule anyone ever had.”

The wind tunnel’s test equipment was damaged by the Whittier Narrows Earthquake. It was closed in 1997 to be replaced by a new facility.

Model builders working on a scale model wing for use in NACA’s wind tunnels. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 April 1941

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton with the North American Aviation prototype NA-73X, NX19998. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

3 April 1941: North American Aviation test pilot Robert Creed Chilton takes his first flight—a one hour familiarization—in the company’s prototype of a new fighter for the Royal Air Force, the NA-73X, NX19998, at Mines Field. (Mines would later become Los Angeles International Airport, LAX.)

The airplane’s had first been flown by free-lance test pilot Vance Breese, 26 October 1940,  and he had flown it several times. North American’s Chief Test Pilot, Paul Baird Balfour, on his first flight in NX19998, ran out of fuel and crash landed in a plowed field 150 yards (137 meters) west of the airfield, 20 November 1940. The prototype had flown just 3 hours, 20 minutes.

The NA-73X was repaired and Bob Chilton was assigned to complete the testing program. The airplane would become the legendary P-51 Mustang, and Chilton would continue to conduct the majority of flight testing on its improvements and modifications.

Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stand on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation)
Test pilot Robert C. Chilton stands on the wing of a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

Robert Creed Chilton was born 6 February 1912 at Eugene, Oregon, the third of five children of Leo Wesley Chilton, a physician, and Edith Gertrude Gray. He attended Boise High School in Idaho, graduating in 1931. Chilton participated in football, track and basketball, and also competed in the state music contest. After high school, Chilton attended the University of Oregon where he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity (ΣΧ). He was also a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Bob Chilton enlisted as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 25 June 1937. He was trained as a fighter pilot at Randolph Field and Kelly Field in Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1938. Lieutenant Chilton was assigned to fly the Curtiss P-36 Hawk with the 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Because of a medical condition, he was released from active duty, 1 April 1939.

At some time prior to 1940, Bob Chilton, married his first wife, Catherine. They lived in Santa Maria, California, where he worked as a pilot at the local airport.

In January 1941, Chilton went to work as a production test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, California. After just a few months, he was assigned to the NA-73X.

Chilton married his second wife, Betty W. Shoemaker, 15 November 1951.

On 10 April 1952, Bob Chilton returned to active duty with the U.S. Air Force, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served as Chief of the Repulic F-84 and F-105 Weapons System Project Office, Air Material Command, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, until 9 March 1957.

From 1958, Chilton was a vice president for Horkey-Moore Associates, an engineering research and development company in Torrance, California, founded by former North American aerodynamacist Edward J. Horkey. In 1961, he followed Horkey to the Space Equipment Corporation, parent company of Thompson Industries and Kerr Products, also located in Torrance. Chilton served as corporate secretary and contracts administrator.

Chilton married his third wife, Wilhelmina E. Redding (Billie E. Johnson) at Los Angeles, 26 July 1964. They divorced in 1972.

In 1965, Bob Chilton returned to North American Aviation as a flight test program manager. He retired in 1977.

Robert Creed Chilton died at Eugene, Oregon, 31 December 1994, at the age of 82 years.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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