The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War, among other conflicts. The Mustang was designed in April 1940 by a design team headed by James Kindelberger of North American Aviation (NAA) in response to a requirement of the British Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under license for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather than build an old design from another company, North American Aviation proposed the design and production of a more modern fighter. The prototype NA-73X airframe was rolled out on 9 September 1940, 102 days after the contract was signed, and first flew on 26 October.
In 1938, the British government established a purchasing commission in the United States, headed by Sir Henry Self. Self was given overall responsibility for Royal Air Force (RAF) production, research and development, and also served with Sir Wilfrid Freeman, the Air Member for Development and Production. Self also sat on the British Air Council Sub-committee on Supply (or “Supply Committee”) and one of his tasks was to organize the manufacturing and supply of American fighter aircraft for the RAF. At the time, the choice was very limited, as no U.S. aircraft then in production or flying met European standards, with only the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk coming close. The Curtiss-Wright plant was running at capacity, so P-40s were in short supply.
|National origin||United States|
|Manufacturer||North American Aviation|
|First flight||26 October 1940|
|Introduction||January 1942 (RAF)|
|Status||Retired from military service 1984 (Dominican Air Force)|
|Primary users||United States Army Air Forces|
Royal Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
|Number built||More than 15,000|
|Variants||North American A-36 Apache|
Rolls-Royce Mustang Mk.X
|Developed into||North American F-82 Twin Mustang|
Piper PA-48 Enforcer
North American Aviation (NAA) was already supplying its Harvard trainer to the RAF, but was otherwise underused. NAA President “Dutch” Kindelberger approached Self to sell a new medium bomber, the North American B-25 Mitchell. Instead, Self asked if NAA could manufacture P-40s under license from Curtiss. Kindelberger said NAA could have a better aircraft with the same Allison V-1710 engine in the air sooner than establishing a production line for the P-40.