Pilot Journal
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Gathering Of Mustangs

The Final Roundup

Mustang P-51sIt’s perhaps the most iconic military airplane in the history of aviation. Regardless of its real talents (and they’re considerable), the North American P-51 Mustang has achieved a status among fighters unmatched by any other aircraft. It may not have been the fastest, best armored, most maneuverable or longest ranged when it was in service in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, but it’s still generally regarded as the world’s best, all-around piston fighter." />


Mustang Front View

In Columbus, the fans celebrated all things Mustang, from the sporty Ford car to the legendary airplane. I even thought I saw a herd of wild mustangs grazing in the grass on the opposite side of the runway. One of the highlights of the show was the mass flyover of what were planned as 51 P-51s. Even if the actual number was slightly less than that, it undoubtedly represented the largest group of Mustangs in the air at the same time and place since WWII.

P-51 Mustang Lovers
More than 200,000 people attended the four-day event at Rickenbacker International Airport, where 78 P-51 Mustangs were on display.

Virtually every pilot knows at least some of the P-51’s story. In 1940, the British Isles were under siege in what was to become known as the Battle of Britain. Winston Churchill called on the United States for help. At the time, the only fighters even remotely capable of countering the German Me-109 were the Bell P-39, an underpowered ground-attack aircraft, and the Curtiss P-40, an antiquated 1933 design with limited speed and high-altitude performance. Churchill reluctantly requested a large order of P-40s to help defend against the expected German invasion.

Unfortunately, Curtiss Aircraft, designer of the P-40, was already at peak production and couldn’t turn out additional airplanes in time to help the British. In desperation, Churchill turned to North American Aviation, a company the British had dealt with before.

North American had never built a fighter, but NAA president Dutch Kindelberger was convinced his company could design and build a prototype super fighter in the same time it would take to retool and ramp up production on the P-40 under license. In a twist of irony, Kindelberger put expatriate German designer Ed Schmued in charge of the project, along with codesigner Ray Price, and promised the British the new fighter, initially dubbed the NA-73X, would be completed in only four months.


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