Tag Archives: Packard Motor Car Company

2 July 1943

Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Forces
Captain Charles B. Hall, United States Army Air Corps

2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.

On 2 July, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano,  in western Sicily. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.

“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”

Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, in the cockpit of his Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk fighter, points to a swastika which represents the Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190¹ that he shot down, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.

After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).

Aviation Cadet Charles B. Hall, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1941 (NASM)

Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.

On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)

Lieutenant Charles B. Hall married Miss Maxine Jessie Parish, a stenographer, in Vigo County, Indiana, 14 December 1942.

Captain and Mrs. Charles B. Hall (Maxine Parrish Hall), circa 1945. (William R. Thompson Digital Collection, Illinois Heartland Library System 2007-1-526-27)

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.

Captain Charles B. Hall (left) is congratulated by Major General John K. Cannon, Commanding General, Twelfth Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.

Captain Charles B. Hall is congratulated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee from 1949 until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Hall later married Miss Lola Delois Miles of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.

Major Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Air Force (Retired), was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

1st Lieutenant Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, flew this Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895, when he shot down an enemy airplane, 2 July 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L (Curtiss-Wright Model 87-B3) differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.

The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings, and armament reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40F and P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The Curtiss-Wright P-40L Warhawk was a lightened version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered P-40F. This P-40F is armed with six .50-caliber machine guns, while the P-40L carried just four. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The P-40L was 33 feet, 3-23/32 inches (10.15286 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.36650 meters) and height of 10 feet, 7-25/32 inches (3.24564 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,870 pounds (3,116 kilograms) and the gross weight was 9,416 pounds (4,271 kilograms).

The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. It had a compression ratio of 6.0:1, and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m., and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters), and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). The engine drove an 11-foot (3.353 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).

The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).

Curtiss-Wright built 13,738 P-40-series aircraft. 3,866 of these were the P-40L variant.

This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
This bronze statue of Major Charles Blakesly Hall by Joel Randall is displayed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Sculptor Joel Randall)

¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 May 1948

Jackie Cochran with NX23888, May 1948. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with NX28388, May 1948. (FAI)

24 May 1948: Two days after setting two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World and U.S. National Aeronautic Association speed records with her P-51B Mustang, Jackie Cochran sets two more.

Flying her “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA, serial number 43-24760, civil registration NX28388, Cochran flew an average of 693.780 kilometers per hour (431.094 miles per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.371 miles) closed circuit, without payload, at Santa Rosa Summit, near Indio, California.¹

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 12.18.19

Jackie Cochran bought NX28388 from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. Cochran also flew the green P-51B in the 1946 and 1948 Bendix Trophy Races, in which she placed 2nd and 3rd. Her Mustang was flown by Bruce Gimbel in the 1947 Bendix race, placing 4th.

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).

The P-51B was the first version of the North American Aviation fighter to be powered by the Merlin engine in place of the Allison V-1710. Rolls-Royce had selected the Packard Motor Car Company to build Merlin aircraft engines in the United States under license. NX28388 was powered by a Packard-built V-1650-7, serial number V332415, which was based on the Merlin 66. It was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 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.) 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.

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Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B 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 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.

Jackie Cochran's green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

While being ferried back to the West Coast after the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race, NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing the pilot, Sampson Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

Jackie Cochran's National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives (© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4473, 12148

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 May 1948

Jackie Cochran with her record-setting P-51B Mustang, NX28388.

22 May 1948: Jackie Cochran flew her “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, USAAF serial number 43-24760, civil registration NX28388, over a 2,000 kilometer (1,242.743 miles) closed circuit from Palm Springs, California, to Mesa Gigante, a point near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and return. The flight, timed by H. Dudley Wright, a representative of the National Aeronautic Association, took 2 hours, 46 minutes, 38 seconds.

According to contemporary newspaper reports, difficulties with the airplane’s oxygen system “prevented Miss Cochran from taking advantage of favorable winds at higher altitudes which might have boosted her speed.”

Her Mustang averaged 720.134 kilometers per hour (447.470 miles per hour), setting two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed,¹ and United States National Aeronautic Association speed record for its class.

Two days later, she would set another speed record in this same P-51. While the FAI records have been superseded, the United States records still stand.

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Jackie Cochran’s “Lucky Strike Green” North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang NX28388, #13, with drop tanks, at Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, California, August 1946. (Unattributed)

Jackie Cochran had broken the previous record, 708.592 kilometers per hour (440.299 miles per hour), which had been set by Lieutenant John J. Hancock, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star jet fighter two years earlier.² [See TDiA, 19 May 1946]

Cochran bought NX28388 from North American Aviation, Inc., 6 August 1946. Cochran also flew the green P-51B in the 1946 and 1948 Bendix Trophy Races, in which she placed 2nd and 3rd. Her Mustang was flown by Bruce Gimbel in the 1947 Bendix race, placing 4th.

Jackie Cochran's green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran’s green North American Aviation P-51B-15-NA Mustang, NX28388. (FAI)

Interviewed about the new speed records, Jackie said,

“Last Saturday’s flight was for blood. I bought this P-51 two years ago and ever since have been fixing it up for the one objective of beating the Army’s jet 2,000 kilometer speed record. The Bendix Race and other flights were just incidental. . . .”

WASP NEWSLETTER, July 1948, Volume V, Number Two, at Page 2.

Jackie Cochran’s North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, NX28388, on the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

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).

NX28388 n the flight line at the Cleveland National Air Races, 1948. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The P-51B was the first version of the North American Aviation fighter to be powered by the Merlin engine in place of the Allison V-1710. Rolls-Royce had selected the Packard Motor Car Company to build Merlin aircraft engines in the United States under license. NX28388 was powered by a Packard-built V-1650-7, serial number V332415, which was based on the Merlin 66. It was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 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.) 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 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-51B 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 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.

While being ferried back to the West Coast after the 1948 Bendix Trophy Race, NX28388 crashed six miles south of Sayre, Oklahoma, 8 September 1948, killing the pilot, Sampson Held. Two witnesses saw a wing come off of the Mustang, followed by an explosion.

Jacki Cochran's National Aeronautic Association record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (Bryan R. Swopes)
Jackie Cochran’s National Aeronautic Association Certificate of Record in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives. (© Bryan R. Swopes)

¹ FAI Record File Number  4479 and 12321

² FAI Record File Number 8941

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1918

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II in flight.

15 May 1918: The prototype Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II made its first flight.

The Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane chasseur which was designed by a French aeronautical engineer, Capitaine Georges Lepère, who had previously designed the Section Technique de l’Aeronautique Dorand AR.1 reconnaissance airplane for the Aéronautique Militaire, the military air service of France. The new airplane was built in the United States by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was a two-place fighter, or chasseur, light bomber, and observation aircraft, and was armed with four machine guns.

A contemporary aviation publication reported:

Flying Qualities—The machine exhibits excellent flying qualities, with ready response of all controls. Longitudinal, lateral and directional stability of the machine is good. In taxying, starting and landing it is entirely satisfactory, and on landing it does not roll more than 300 or 400 ft. [91.4–121.9 meters] All stunt maneuvers can readily be performed, and in general, from a pilot’s point of view, the machine is excellent.

The range of vision is very good, the controls well placed, and instruments so arranged that the pilot need only move his eyes.

AVIATION AND AERONAUTICAL ENGINEERING, Vol. VI, No. 8, 15 May 1919, at Page 426, Column 1.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, P 54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3⅛ inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, ⅝-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

Packard fuselages under construction. (NARA)

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder flying P 53, a Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II,  A.S. 40015, over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

The third Packard Lepère, S.C. 42130, under construction at the Packard Motor Car Co., Detroit, Michigan. (NARA)

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C. II, right profile

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15463 and 15671

² FAI Record File Numbers 15464 and 15675

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 May 1943

North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang 43-12093 (102-24541), the first production P-51B. (NASA Langley Research Center Vintage Photographs Collection)

5 May 1943: First flight of a production North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang, 43-12093 (NAA serial number 102-24541).

Compare the Merlin-powered P-51B, above, to this Allison-engined P-51A-1-NA Mustang, 43-6008 (99-22111). (NASA)

North American Aviation, Inc., located at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California (now, Los Angeles International Airport, or more commonly, LAX), contracted with the British Purchasing Commission to produce a new fighter designed around the liquid-cooled Allison Engineering Company V-1710-F3R V-12 engine. Just 117 days later, the first prototype, the NA-73X, was completed. The airplane made its first flight on 26 October 1940, with free-lance test pilot Vance Breese. The British ordered 320 fighters for the Royal Air Force, and named it the Mustang Mk.I. Soon after, a second order for 300 airplanes came through. On 23 April 1941, North American test pilot Louis Sanford Wait flew the first production airplane, RAF serial number AG345.

The first production Mustang Mk.I, AG345, first flight, 23 April 1941. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The Mk.I was 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) faster than its contemporary, the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, though both used the same engine and propeller. Below 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), the Mustang was also 30–35 m.p.h (48–56 kilometers per hour) faster than a Supermarine Spitfire, which had the more powerful Roll-Royce Merlin V-12.

Allison V-1710-39 (F3R) V-12 aircraft engine, right rear quarter view. (Allison)

The Mustang Mk.I was heavily armed with eight machine guns. Two Browning .50-caliber machine guns were positioned under the engine, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Two more .50s and four .303-caliber Browning Mark II machine guns were installed in the wings.

Two Mustang Mk.Is, the fourth and tenth production airplanes, were turned over to the United States Army Air Corps for testing at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. These were designated XP-51 by the Air Corps. Test pilot Robert Creed Chilton took the first XP-51, 41-038 (ex-RAF AG348) for its first flight, 20 May 1941. Both airplanes were also extensively tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia.

North American Aviation XP-51 at Wright Field. (Charles M. Daniels Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Air Corps initially ordered the airplane as a dive bomber, designated A-36 Apache. With various changes from the British fighter, on 23 June 1942, the Air Corps ordered 1,200 fighters as the P-51A. Chilton flew the first production P-51A, 43-6003, on 3 February 1943.

In England, tests were made of the Mustang Mk.I with Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 and 65 V-12 engines installed in place of the Allison V-1710. Called the Mustang X, it proved to be a superior fighter, particularly at high altitude. The RAF ordered it as the Mustang Mk.III.

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

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-51As 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).

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.

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

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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