Tinker History: P-51 Mustang

  • Published
  • By Greg L. Davis
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The North American P-51 “Mustang” was a single-engine, air-superiority fighter and bomber escort which served the Army Air Corps during World War II in all theaters. The sleek design was built around the massive V-12 engine driving an even larger propeller. The aircraft was famously used in the European theater to escort massive formations of allied bombers striking deep in to the heart of the Third Reich.

According to official Tinker history documents and photographs, the Oklahoma City Air Depot conducted maintenance and modifications to 25 Mustangs from Jan. 1951 to Dec. 1953.

The P-51 was generally armed with six .50 cal. machine guns, three in the leading edge of each wing root. It could also carry up to 2,000 pounds of external stores including bombs, rockets and long-range drop tanks. The V-12 engine is very efficient at high altitudes which allowed it to remain with striking bomber formations. There were five distinct versions of the Mustang beginning with the P-51A, P-51B, P-51C, P-51D with high-visibility bubble canopy, and P-51K. There were also multiple reconnaissance variants and even a Twin-Mustang; two P-51s joined together with a center wing and flown by one pilot, known as the P-82.

The all-black pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, and flew P-47 Thunderbolt and multiple versions of the P-51 Mustang. The “Red Tailed” Tuskegee Airmen gained not only fame, but the everlasting respect of the bomber crews they escorted over Europe by attaining one of the lowest combat loss rates of any escort unit in the European theater.

The P-51 had moved from front-line service to a dependable, but aging mount with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves by the time the Korean War kicked off. The Air Force was quickly transitioning in to the jet age by this time, but soon found it still needed tough aircraft like the F-51 which could handle rough airfield and maintenance conditions. The F-51 Mustang was put in to the fight flying from airfields in Japan and the Korean Peninsula in support of United Nations troops.  Some of the Air Force’s most recognizable combat leaders at the time and in later years, such as General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., flew the Mustang during their early careers. The final operational F-51s were retired from service with the Air National Guard in 1957.


Manufacturer: North American

Aircraft type: P-51

Nickname: Mustang

Crew: 1

Power plant: One Rolls Royce/Packard-Merlin V1650 in-line V-12 piston engine creating 1,490 horse power

In-service dates: 1940-1957

Number produced: 14,068

Tinker connection: Maintenance and preparation for Korean War use