Tag Archives: Packard V-1650-7 Merlin

12 October 1944

1st Lieutenant Chuck Yeager. (American Air Museum in Britain)

12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

1st Lieutenant Charles E. Yeager with “Glamorous Glenn II,” at USAAF Station 157, Raydon, Suffolk, England, 17 October 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.

“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II had previously been assigned to Captain Charles K. Peters and named Daddy Rabbit. Flown by another pilot, Second Lieutenant Horace Roycroft, 44-13897 was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather. Lieutenant Roycroft was killed.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This fighter is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. 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 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

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 with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. 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)
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 with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

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

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated 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 other four 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.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT Mustang 44-84900 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, circa 1945–1952. (NASA)

© 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.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-30-at-19.30.27
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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 12.19.05

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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9 April 1951

Jackie Cochran with her North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N5528N, circa December 1949. (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.

That same day, Jackie Cochran flew her new airplane to two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a 500 kilometer Closed Circuit Without Payload, and a U.S. National Aeronautic Association record, with an average speed of  703.275 kilometers per hour (436.995 miles per hour).

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

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.

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

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.

North American Aviation P-51B-1-NA Mustang in flight. (Air Force Historical Research Agency)

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

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1948

Flight of three North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs, 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., U.S. Air Force. (Kentucky National Guard)

7 January 1948: Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., 165th Fighter Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, received a request from the control tower at Godman Army Air Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky, to investigate an Unidentified Object visible to the southwest.

The object was observed by four members of the control tower staff for approximately 35 minutes, from 2:20–2:55 p.m., Central Standard Time.¹

Prior to the sighting by Godman Tower personnel, there had been several telephone calls to the tower from the Kentucky Highway Patrol, reporting numerous sightings by people in two towns which were 147 miles (237 kilometers) apart. The reported sightings were of a large, circular craft, moving at high speed.

Captain Mantell led C Flight, four North American Aviation F-51D ² Mustang fighters, in pursuit. Two pilots broke off because of low fuel, and Mantell became separated from his wingman. He reported that he was climbing through 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) with a large metallic object in sight. He then disappeared. . . .

A flight of North American Aviation F-51D Mustangs assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard, circa 1947. (Kentucky Air National Guard)

It is probable that Captain Mantell lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen. The wreckage of his fighter, F-51D-25-NA serial number 44-63869, was found 5 miles (8 kilometers) southwest of Franklin, Kentucky (Mantell’s birthplace), which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south southwest of Godman Field. Captain Mantell was dead. His wrist watch was stopped at 3:18.

Occurring exactly 6 months after “The Roswell Incident” in New Mexico, “The Mantell Incident” was one of the most publicized “UFO” reports of the 1950s.

The Air Force determined that Mantell was either chasing Venus or a top secret Project Skyhook balloon, and that he had lost consciousness due to hypoxia. The fighter broke up in flight. Looking back with the advantage of 70 years hindsight, the most likely explanation for the Mantell UFO is the balloon.

The wreck of Captain Mantell’s North American Aviation F-51D Mustang, 44-63869.

Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was born at Franklin, Kentucky, 30 June 1922. He was the first of three children of Thomas Francis Mantell, a traveling salesman, and Claire Morrison Mantell.³ He graduated from Louisville Male High School in 1942.

Mantell married Miss Margarete (“Peggy”) Moseley. They would have two children, Thomas F. Mantell III, and Terry Lee Mantell.

Avn. Cad. Thomas F. Mantell

Mantell enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, as an aviation cadet, 16 June 1942. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Army of the United States, 30 June 1943.

Lieutenant Mantell was assigned as a Douglas C-47 Skytrain pilot with the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, 440th Troop Carrier Group, Ninth Air Force, at RAF Bottesford. He flew in combat operations during the Normandy Campaign, and is credited with 107:00 flight hours of actual combat time.

On D-Day, Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, was assigned to tow a  Waco CG-4A glider into the invasion zone. The Skytrain was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire. He successfully completed his mission and flew the incredibly damaged airplane back to England. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters (four awards) by the end of the war.

Thomas Mantell’s Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Vulture’s Delight, with damage from D-Day. The “6Z” painted on the forward fuselage identifies this airplane as from the 96th Troop Carrier Squadron. (Saturday Night Uforia)

Following World War II, Captain Mantell joined the new 165th Fighter Squadron, 123 Fighter Group, Kentucky Air National Guard, which had been established 16 February 1947. The group was based at Standiford Field, Louisville (now, Louisville International Airport, SDF). Mantell transitioned from transport pilot to fighter pilot. In his civilian life, Mantell owned and operated a flight school in Louisville.

165th Fighter Squadron pilots. Mantell is in the front row, second from right. (Find A Grave)

Captain Mantell had flown a total of 2,167:00 hours, with 1,608:00 as first pilot. The majority of his flight experience was in the twin-engine Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport. He had only 67:00 hours in the F-51 Mustang. Studies have shown that pilots—regardless of their total flight experience—who have less than 100 hours in type have the same accident rate as a student pilot.

There were unsubstantiated rumors that Mantell’s body had been burned or had been riddled with bullets. The actual cause of his death was described by the medical examiner as “dislocation of the brain.”

Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr., was the first flight casualty of the Kentucky Air National Guard. He was buried at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville.

Captain Mantell’s fighter had served with the 358th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, the “Steeple Morden Strafers,” during World War II. It was assigned to Lieutenant Halbert G. Marsh, who is credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft on the ground, 16 April 1945. This photograph was taken at RAF Speke, Liverpool, following the War. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Mantell’s fighter, North American Aviation F-51D-25-NA Mustang 44-63869, was a very low-time airplane, having flown just 174 hours, 25 minutes, since it came off the assembly line at Inglewood, California, 15 December 1944. Its Packard V-1650-7 Merlin engine, serial number V-328830, had the same 174:25 TTSN.

¹ Sources vary as to the time of the incident, with some citing Central Standard Time, others Eastern Standard Time. The EST and CST boundary divides the state of Kentucky, which probably explains the discrepancies.

² The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang was redesignated F-51 by the U.S. Air Force in 1948.

³ Some sources identify Mantell’s mother as Elsie Mary Morrison Mantell.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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