Tag Archives: Packard Motor Car Company

9 April 1951

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Jackie Cochran’s world record-setting North American P-51C Mustang N5528N, “Thunderbird,” circa 1951. (FAI)

9 April 1951: Jackie Cochran set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record and National Aeronautic Association U.S. National Record on 9 April 1951, flying her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, to an average speed of 464.374 miles per hour (747.338 kilometers per hour) over a straight 16 kilometer (9.942 miles) high-altitude course at Indio, California.¹

National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)
National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive. (Bryan R. Swopes)

Thunderbird was Jackie Cochran’s third P-51 Mustang. She had purchased it from Academy Award-winning actor and World War II B-24 wing commander James M. Stewart, 19 December 1949. It was painted cobalt blue with gold lettering and trim.

Thunderbird had also won the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race from Rosamond Dry Lake, California, to Cleveland Municipal Airport, Ohio, with pilot Joe De Bona in the cockpit.

Jackie Cochran's record-setting North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Thunderbird.
North American Aviation P-51C Mustang N5528N, “Thunderbird,” circa 1949. The cobalt blue airplane is carrying Joe De Bona’s race number, 90. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

According to Civil Aviation Administration records, N5528N had been “assembled from components of other aircraft of the same type.” It has no USAAC serial number or North American Aviation serial number. The CAA designated it as a P-51C and assigned 2925 as its serial number. It was certificated in the Experimental category and registered N5528N.

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin, liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12491 at NACA Langley Field, Virginia, 1945. (NSAS)
North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12491 at NACA Langley Field, Virginia, 1945. (NASA)

¹ FAI Record File Number 4477

² FAI Record File Numbers 4476, 12323

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27–28 February 1947

North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, “Betty Jo,” takes off from Hickam Field, 27 February 1947. (Hawaii Aviation)

27–28 February 1947: At 3:05 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, (01:05 G.M.T.), Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, Lieutenant John M. Ard, took off from Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, enroute non-stop to LaGuardia Airport, New York City, New York.

Thacker and Ard were assigned to the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Daytion, Ohio. Their airplane was a North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168 (North American serial number 123-43754). The fighter had been named Betty Jo, in honor of Thacker’s wife. (The painter mistakenly applied the name as Betty Joe.)

North American Aviation P-82B-1 NA Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo, over Los Angeles, California. (U.S. Air Force)

Betty Jo had been modified by North American Aviation at El Segundo, California, in preparation for its long-distance flight. The fighter’s armor was removed, as were the six Colt MG 53-2 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns. Additional internal fuel capacity was added, and the P-82 was equipped with four large external fuel tanks. The Twin Mustang’s fuel capacity was 2,215 gallons (8,385 liters).

Planned route of Betty Jo. (NASM)

Thacker and Ard climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) after takeoff. As the fuel was burned off, the P-82 was able to climb higher. Most of the flight was made between 19,000 and 22,000 feet (5,791–6,706 meters).

After burning off the fuel in the four external tanks, Thacker tried to jettison them, but a mechanical problem prevented three tanks from being released. This resulted in adverse yaw and excessive drag for the overland portion of the flight. Colonel Thacker used the weight of his leg on the control stick to counteract the yaw.

Betty Jo, flying at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), crossed the California coast near Point Arena at 12:34 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (08:34 G.M.T.), 6 hours, 59 minutes after takeoff. The P-82 passed north of Reno, Nevada, at 1:00 a.m. EST (09:00 G.M.T.), and Humboldt, Nevada, 23 minutes later.

North American Aviation P-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168, Betty Jo (U.S. Air Force)

Thacker and Ard next flew over Ogden, Utah, at 3:12 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (10:12 G.M.T.), and Laramie, Wyoming, at 4:05 MST (10:05 G.M.T.). They reported over Chicago at 6:49 a.m., Central Standard Time (12:49 G.M.T.), and Detroit at 8:38 a.m., CST (14:38 G.M.T.).

Betty Jo crossed overhead at LaGuardia Airport at 11:06 a.m., Eastern time (16:06 G.M.T.) and landed there at 11:08:34 a.m. (16:08:34 G.M.T.) The elapsed time from take off at Hickam Field to overhead LaGuardia was 14 hours, 31 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 14 hours, 33 minutes, 34 seconds.

On arrival at LaGuardia, only 60 gallons (227 liters) of fuel remained on board the Twin Mustang.

Contemporary news reports gave the total distance of the flight as 4,978 miles (8,011 kilometers), but current information is that it was 5,051 miles (8,129 kilometers). Using the second distance, Betty Jo averaged 347.95 miles per hour (559.97 kilometers per hour) over the course.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Thacker, left, and First Lieutenant John M. Ard, standing on the wing of the North American P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang, 44-65168, Betty Jo. (Unattributed)

Betty Jo is the ninth production North American Aviation P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang. The airplane was designed toward the end of World War II as a very long range escort fighter operated by two pilots. It was built using two lengthened P-51H Mustang fuselages and standard left and right wings. A center wing section and horizontal stabilizer joined the two fuselages.

The P-82B was 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) long, with a wingspan of 51 feet, 3 inches  (15.621 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 10 inches (4.216 meters). The airplane’s empty weight is 13,405 pounds (6,080 kilograms), and maximum gross weight, 22,000 pounds (9,979 kilograms).

The P-82B-1-NA Twin Mustang was powered by liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-19 and -21 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines. They drove counter rotating Aeroproducts four-bladed propellers. through a 0.479:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-19 was rated at 1,700 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 19¾ inches of boost for takeoff, with military power rating of 2,200 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,875 horsepower at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). At 1,770 pounds (803 kilograms), the V-1650-19 was the heaviest Packard Merlin variant produced.

The P-82B had a maximum speed of 482 miles per hour (776 kilometers per hour) at 25,100 feet (7,650 meters) and its service ceiling was 41,600 feet (12,680 meters). Its range was 1,390 miles (2,237 kilometers).

North American Aviation XP-82 Twin Mustang prototype with 8-gun pod, rockets and bombs. (North American Aviation, Inc./Boeing Images)

The P-82B was armed with six air-cooled Colt Automatic Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50,  MG 53-2, located in the center wing section, with 300 rounds of ammunition per gun. A pod containing eight additional .50-caliber machine guns could be installed under the center wing section. The Twin Mustang could also carry up to four 1,000 pound bombs, two 2,000 pound bombs, or twenty-five 5-inch rockets on underwing hard points.

After the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service in 1947, many aircraft designations were changed. The P-82B was redesignated as F-82B.

North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang 44-65168 at the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio, 1952. (NASA)

In September 1950, F-82B 44-65168 was transferred to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for use in testing ram jet engines at the Cleveland Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. It was damaged in June 1957. The airplane was retired and turned over to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Robert E. Thacker was born 21 February 1918 in California. He was the second of four children of Percie C. Thacker and Margaret Eadie Thacker.

in 1939, Thacker was appointed an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, and trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 21 June 1940.

On 3 March 1941, 2nd Lieutenant Thacker married Miss Betty Jo Smoot at Yuma, Arizona. They would be married for 71 years until she died in 1992.

On 1 November 1941, Thacker was appointed a first lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.).

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2443 over the Hawaiian Islands, circa 1941. This is the same type airplane as flown by Lt. Thacker, 6–7 December 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

In December 1941, Lieutenant Thacker was one of a group of pilots assigned to ferry new Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers from the United States to the Philippine Islands, with a stop at Hickam Field. The bombers took off from Hamilton Field in Marin County, California. on 6 December. Thacker’s airplane was B-17E 41-2432, named The Last Straw. The inbound Flying Fortresses arrived over Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2432, The Last Straw, undergoing maintenance in the South West Pacific Area, circa 1943. (David Vincent Collection/HistoryNet)

On 31 March 1942, Lieutenant Thacker was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. He flew over New Guinea during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 4–8 May 1942. On 15 February 1943, he was promoted to major, A.U.S. (A.C.).

Assigned as operations officer of the 384th Bombardment Group at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England, Thacker was promoted to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S., 8 July 1944. He is credited with 28 combat missions flown over Europe, frequently as a group or wing leader.

Following World War II, Lt. Colonel Thacker reverted to his permanent rank, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with his date of rank 7 December 1944. Thacker was transferred to the U.S. Air Force after its establishment, 18 September 1947. He retained his permanent rank.

Colonel Thacker also flew in combat during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Thacker was a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, and tested many aircraft at Muroc Army Air Field (Edwards Air Force Base), beginning with the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.

Colonel Thacker retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1970.

Robert E. Thacker with his North American Aviation F-82B Twin Mustang, Betty Jo, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Thacker celebrated his 100th Birthday at his home in San Clemente, California, 21 February 2018.

“Retired Air Force Col. Robert Thacker address his friends after they sang Happy Birthday to him during his 100th birthday party in San Clemente on Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 February 1932

Ruth Rowland Nichols (FAI)

14 February 1932: Taking off from Floyd Bennett Field, Ruth Rowland Nichols flew Miss Teaneck, a Lockheed Vega 1 owned by Clarence Duncan Chamberlin, to an altitude of 19,928 feet (6,074 meters).¹

The airplane’s owner had flown it to 19,393 feet (5,911 meters) on 24 January 1932.

A contemporary newspaper reported:

RUTH NICHOLS SETS NEW ALTITUDE RECORD

     Ruth Nichols’ flight in a Lockheed monoplane powered with a 225 horsepower Packard Diesel motor to an altitude of 21,350 feet [6,507 meters] Friday had been credited to the Rye girl unofficially as a new altitude record for Diesel engines. A sealed barograph, removed from the plane, has been sent to Washington to the Bureau of Standards to determine the exact altitude figure.

The Bronxville Press, Vol. VIII, No. 14, Tuesday, February 15, 1932, Columns 1 and 2

—The Stanford Daily, Volume 81, Issue 13, Thursday 25 February 1932, Page 4, Columns 1 and 2

RUTH NICHOLS SENDS ‘FLYING FURNACE’ TO HEIGHT OF FOUR MILES

     New York, Feb. 14—(AP)—Ruth Nichols, society aviatrix, flew Clarence Chamberlain’s [sic] “Flying Furnace” to a new altitude record, on the basis of an unofficial reading of her altimeter. When she landed it registered 21,300 feet, while Chamberlain’s [sic] official record for the Diesel-motored craft was 19,363 feet.

     Miss Nichols took off at 4:15 p.m. from Floyd Bennett airport and landed an hour and one minute later after an exciting flight.

     She encountered temperatures of 15 degrees below zero, she said, and at 20,000 feet two of her cylinders blew out. At that height, too, she was forced to the use of her oxygen tank.

     In addition to the sealed barograph, which was taken from the plane at once to be sent to Washington for official calibration, Miss Nichols had three altimeters, two of which went out of commission in the upper atmosphere. The unofficial reading was taken from the third altimeter.

     Despite her crippled engine and the fact that she had no brakes, she made a perfect landing and announced she had enjoyed the flight.

     He unofficial altimeter reading was greater than that of Chamberlin after his flight and it is believed the official calibration would establish the new record for planes of this type.

     Chamberlin was present as her technical advisor, and he gave last-minute instructions as she stepped into the cockpit, wearing a heavy flying suit, lined boots, and a purple scarf wound about her head instead of a helmet.

     The plane carried 13 gallons of furnace oil, and one tank of oxygen. The regular wheels were changed smaller, lighter ones before the flight.

     Miss Nichols hold several records and has reached an altitude of 28,743 feet in a gasoline plane.

The Kokomo Tribune, Volume XLIV, No, 123, Monday, 15 February 1932, Page 7 at Columns 6 and 7

Miss Teaneck had been modified. The original engine Wright Whirlwind engine had been replaced by an air-cooled, 982.26-cubic-inch-displacement (16.096 liter) Packard DR-980 nine-cylinder radial diesel-cycle (or “compression-ignition”) engine. The DR-980 had one valve per cylinder and a compression ratio of 16:1. It had a continuous power rating of 225 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., and 240 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The DR-980 was 3 feet, ¾-inch (0.933 meters) long, 3 feet, 9-11/16 inches (1.160 meters) in diameter, and weighed 510 pounds (231 kilograms). The Packard Motor Car Company built approximately 100 DR-980s, and a single DR-980B which used two valves per cylinder and was rated at 280 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. The Colllier Trophy was awarded to Packard for its work on this engine.

The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The Vega was flown by one pilot in an open cockpit and could carry four passengers in the cabin. It was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet, 0 inches (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,875 pounds (851 kilograms) and a gross weight of 3,470 pounds (1,574 kilograms).

The early Vegas were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine producing 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The Vega had a cruising speed of 118 miles per hour (190 kilometers per hour) and atop speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour)—very fast for its time. The airplane’s range was 900 miles (1,448.4 kilometers). It could fly at an altitude 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).

The first Lockheed Vega 1, NX913, Golden Eagle. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

¹ Virtually every source located by TDiA states that Ruth Nichols established an altitude record with this flight. Many state that it was a “world altitude record” and many also say that this record “still stands today.” A check with the National Aeronautics Association did not find such a record. Also, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale lists three world records credited to Ruth Nichols. This is flight is not listed. A very few sources called this an “unofficial record.”

© 2018 Bryan R. Swopes

 

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27 January 1957

The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)
The last North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs in squadron service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, 27 January 1957. This airplane, F-51D-25-NA 44-72948, is on display at the WV ANG headquarters, Yeager Regional Airport, Charleston, WV. (U.S. Air Force)

27 January 1957: The last North American Aviation F-51D Mustang fighters in operational service with the United States Air Force were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard, Martinsburg, West Virginia.

North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA 44-73574, 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photographs below, North American Aviation F-51D-30-NA 44-74936, was was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where it is on display. It is painted with the markings of another Mustang, P-51D-15-NA, 44-15174, Shimmy IV, of the 361st Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Group, which served in Italy during World War II. The actual Shimmy IV was lost over Austria, 9 December 1944. (The U.S. Air Force redesignated the P-51 to F-51 in 1948.)

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation single-place, single-engine, fighter, 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).

Like the P-51B and C variants, the P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 905 pounds (411 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D Mustang had a maximum speed of 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).

Armorers carry six Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a parked P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were 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. 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.

North American Aviation, Inc., produced a total of total of 8,156 P-51D Mustangs at Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas. Another 200 were built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia.

North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA Mustang, 44-74936, marked as P-51D-15-NA 44-15174, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, North American Aviation P-51D-30-NA 44-74936, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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11 January 1944

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, United States Army Air Corps, with his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, “DING HAO!” at RAF Boxted, 25 April 1944. (Imperial War Museum)

11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, Air Corps, United States Army, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.

As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard became separated from his group, but climbed back to rejoin the bombers.

More that thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly went after them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.

For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz in June 1944. He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to have received this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Before the War, Howard had been a U.S. Navy pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor. In June 1941 he resigned his commission to join the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—in Burma, fighting for the Chinese against Japan. He commanded the 2nd Pursuit Squadron and is credited with shooting down 6 Japanese fighters.

James Howard’s P-51 Mustang was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from his AVG combat missions.¹ [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de”) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard adds another victory mark to his North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to

HOWARD, JAMES H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Oschersleben, Germany, 11 January 1944. Entered service at: St. Louis, Missouri. Birth: Canton, China. G.O. No.: 45, 5 June 1944.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Oschersleben, Germany, on 11 January 1944. On that day Col. Howard was the leader of a group of P-51 aircraft providing support for a heavy bomber formation on a long-range mission deep in enemy territory. As Col. Howard’s group met the bombers in the target area the bomber force was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. Col. Howard, with his group, and at once engaged the enemy and himself destroyed a German ME. 110. As a result of this attack Col. Howard lost contact with his group, and at once returned to the level of the bomber formation. He then saw that the bombers were being heavily attacked by enemy planes and that no other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard could have waited to attempt to assemble his group before engaging the enemy, he chose instead to attack singlehanded a formation of more than 30 German airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety he immediately pressed home determined attacks for some thirty minutes, during which time he destroyed 3 enemy airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the end of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of action and his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low. Despite these handicaps and the almost insuperable odds against him, Col. Howard continued his aggressive action in an attempt to protect the bombers from the numerous fighters. His skill, courage, and intrepidity on this occasion set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Major James H. Howard, center, with a group of pilots of the 354th Fighter Group, with a North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, at RAF Boxted. (Imperial War Museum)

The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is a single-place, single-engine long range fighter. It is a low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear and is of all-metal construction. The fighter is powered by a liquid-cooled V-12 engine. It was originally produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force as the Mustang Mk.I. Two examples were provided to the U.S. Army Air Corps, designated XP-51. This resulted in orders for the P-51A and A-36 Apache dive bomber variant. These early Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1750 engine driving a three-bladed propeller, which also powered the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

In 1942, soon after the first  production Mustang Mk.I arrived in England, Rolls-Royce began experimenting with a borrowed airplane, AM121, in which they installed the Supermarine Spitfire’s Merlin 61 engine. This resulted in an airplane of superior performance.

In the United States, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, had begun building Merlin engines under license from Rolls-Royce. These American engines were designated V-1650. North American modified two P-51s from the production line to install the Packard V-1650-3. These were designated XP-51B. Testing revealed that the new variant was so good that the Army Air Corps limited its order for P-51As to 310 airplanes and production was changed to the P-51B.

North American Aviation P-51B Mustang with identification stripes. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51B and P-51C are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc., at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas. plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m at 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. at 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

Major James H. Howard’s North American Aviation P-51B-5-NA Mustang, 43-6315, DING HAO! (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 27695)

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel, the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

In military service, armament consisted of four air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James H. Howard, U.S. Army Air Corps, with DING HAO!, his P-51B Mustang, at RAF Boxted, 1944. At the time of this photo, the Mustang had been modified with a sliding “Malcom hood” canopy. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Major Howard may have flown a different airplane on 11 January 1944. A handwritten caption of the reverse of the top photograph reads, “Howard in own P-51B at Boxted, 25/4/44 not AC in which he won MOH, lt Col James Howard was awarded only Medal of Honour (highest US Award) to go to a fighter pilot flying in the ETO. Action on 11/1/44.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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