In late 1942, North American Aviation was fully involved in production of the P-51B/C Mustangs with the Packard built Rolls Royce Merlin engine (the first P-51D prototype with the signature bubble canopy was still months away). The Mustang was now a formidable fighter at high altitude and its long range was just being realized as the tool needed to escort USAAF Eighth Air Force bombers on deep penetration missions into Germany.
The Mustang was originally built for Britain's Royal Air Force, but within the framework of Lend-Lease, had to be built to Army Air Corps specifications. In the P-51B, the addition of the Merlin engine had added weight to the fighter, as did the greater strength requirements of US Army specifications. Britain, however, saw the Merlin Mustang as a potential fighter-interceptor that could supplement the Spitfire in defense of the UK.
The P-51B Mustang incorporated the Merlin engine, making it a potent high altitude escort fighter.
most American fighters of the day, the Mustang was considered
by the British to be too heavy, too slow in a climb, and having
too slow a roll rate to be effective as an interceptor.
After talks between Edgar Schmued (N.A.A.'s design chief on the Mustang) and British representatives, North American began a program to address these issues in a new variant of the Mustang, made to the less stringent strength requirements of the British rather than the specifications of the US Army.
The goal was faster rate of climb (like the Spitfire), faster roll rate (like the FW-190), reduction of weight, and correction of a number of issues being reported by pilots already flying the P-51B Mustangs in combat.
As was required under Lend-Lease, the Army issued an order for the new design as the XP-51F in January of 1943, and work began on what was to become a nearly entirely new aircraft. Subsequent developments, including the XP-51G and XP-51J models helped iron out a myriad of design and performance issues, including testing of various engines and aerodynamics.
Early Lightweights incorporated the four machine guns of the B/C Mustangs and the 'new' bubble canopy.
The experimental designs incorporated lightweight construction methods from examples of British and captured German fighters, and included the new bubble canopy design later used on the P-51D/K models. Notable changes from production "B/C" models included wings without the leading edge "kink", lighter landing gear with smaller wheels, redesigned cowling with integral motor mounts, redesigned fuselage with a larger radiator scoop, and improved versions of the Merlin engine.
The P-51D/K model became the mainstay of the Eigth Air Force and gained air dominance in Europe.
By mid 1944, Mustangs were taking control of the skies over Europe and the Army began to plan ahead to the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Taking the research results from the experimental Mustangs, N.A.A. developed the P-51H design featuring higher speed, better maneuverability, and longer range. The "H" model was essentially the same as the XP-51G with a smaller canopy, lengthened fuselage, improved visibility from a raised cockpit, and the new Packard-Merlin V-1650-9 engine with water injection giving the new Mustang a top speed of 487 mph. The P-51H became the fastest production piston engine fighter produced during WWII.
Nearly a totaly new design, the P-51H was the ultimate Mustang in speed and maneuverability.
production design changes included a taller vertical stabilizer
to address directional stability issues caused by the greater
power, incorporation of the latest radio equipment, and strengthening
of the wings and fuselage.
The Army promptly ordered 2,400 of the new Mustang, with the first example rolling off the assembly line in February of 1945. As the first 370 examples were built, the war in Europe came to a close, followed some bloody months later by the surrender of the Japanese after the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With the end of hostilities, the Army Air Force promptly cancelled many orders for aircraft, including the P-51H. Production was allowed to continue until all of the pre-built sub-assemblies were used up, resulting in a final production total of 555 P-51H Mustangs.
The British, at whose request the development program had been initiated, apparently never received any of the new Mustang. No order was placed as the war in Europe ended, as did the RAF requirement for the new fighter.
Produced too late in the war, the P-51H did not see combat. During the Berlin crisis and subsequent Berlin Airlift, the Air Force deployed P-51H's to the only direct front the USA had with the Soviet Union. "H" Mustangs were deployed to the harsh environment of Alaska to guard this distant frontier, but no conflict developed there. In addition, P-51H Mustangs served as long-range escort during the initial development of the new Strategic Air Command.
The developments of new jet aircraft would overshadow the "H", which stood along with the P-51D as the front line defense fighter during the transition to jets. By the 1950's, most P-51H's were delivered to the Air National Guard before once again, they were eventually replaced by jets in the mid fifties.
The outbreak of the Korean Conflict might have brought the "H" into combat, but several factors precluded the use of the type. The Air Force still had over 1400 P-51D's in service with the USAF, ANG, or in storage, along with a large number of trained and experienced maintenance and crew. The airfield conditions in Korea were similar to the rough conditions in Western Europe during the Second World War, and the "H" model's lighter landing gear and smaller tires were not designed for these conditions. The limited number of aircraft, and the scattered nature of it's deployment in the Air Force and ANG made assembling a cohesive, trained force of "H" Mustang pilots and crews difficult.
Their rugged construction and large numbers made the P-51D/K Mustangs the main ground support aircraft in Korea, despite their vulnerability to ground fire.
The P-51H continued in Air National Guard Service until the Mid-Fifties, when the last examples were replaced with newer jet aircraft. Many planes were simply scrapped at the end of their life in the ANG, their last flight being the trip to final salvage.
Chanute Air Museum Mustang first served with the 621st Fighter-Bomber
Wing stationed at Pinecastle AFB in Florida. There it was used
for training of pilots in air to air, and air to ground combat
at the Pinecastle bombing range along side B-17s and other attack
On June 11, 1946, it was officially transferred to Chanute AFB to train ground crew personnel in airframe repair and maintenance. In 1949, the aircraft was officially retired and was retained at Chanute.
At any rate, it eventually was placed on outdoor display at Chanute, and went through several paint schemes before being painted in the colors of the Massachusetts ANG. During this time, the plane was stripped of most of its cockpit and various parts were removed, damaged or stolen.
Today, only six P-51H Mustangs are known to exist. We are proud to have one of these here at the Chanute Air Museum.
After fifty years of exposure and limited maintenance, efforts are now underway to rebuild and restore this aircraft, preserving it for future generations.
October of 2003, the Mustang Restoration Project was established
to begin work on this rare aircraft, with the goal of rebuilding
it to as near original condition as is possible.
This is a difficult and major effort. The P-51H shares less than 10% of common parts with other P-51 models, and nearly everything must be refurbished or custom built to replace original parts. Thanks to the generous support of contributors, the Mustang Restoration Project has been able to complete extensive restoration work without any cost to the museum.
The Mustang is now painted to represent P-51H 44-64195 of the 82nd Fighter Group at Grenier New Hampshire. Flown by WWII Ace Capt. Claude Crenshaw, it sports the LOUISIANNA HEATWAVE nose art and displays 11 victory markings representing his 7 air and 3.3 ground victories. For more information on Capt. Crenshaw, use the link at the top of this page.
a not-for-profit organization, the Chanute Air Musuem has a very
limited budget for restoration of its extensive aircraft collection,
and it is only through the help of donations that the project
In addition to tax-deductible contributions of money, the program actively seeks donations of parts, documentation, supplies, tools, and histories of the people that built, maintained and flew these fine aircraft.
If you would like to help, simply click on the PROJECT INFO tag at the top of the page.