A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang was the first U.S. built fighter airplane to push its nose over Europe after the fall of France. Mustangs met and conquered every German plane from the early Junkers to the sleek, twin-jet Messerschmitt 262s. Although first designed for the British as a medium-altitude fighter, the Mustang excelled in hedge-hopping strafing runs and long-range escort duty. It made a name for itself by blasting trains, ships and enemy installations in Western Europe and by devastating Axis defenses before the Allied invasion of Italy. The Mustang was the first single-engine plane based in Britain to penetrate Germany, first to reach Berlin, first to go with the heavy bombers over the Ploiesti oil fields in Romania, and first to make a major-scale, all-fighter sweep specifically to hunt down the dwindling Luftwaffe. One of the highest honors accorded to the Mustang was its rating in 1944 by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee as “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence.” The North American prototype, NA-73X, was first flown on Oct. 25, 1940. At least eight versions of the Mustang were produced.
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