The P-51 Mustang

I finally decided to write about the Mustang. I was holding off for a long time because it’s a plane with such a well known history and such a glorified history that there really wasn’t anything more I could say about it but since it is important with what I’m trying to accomplish here so it seemed appropriate to add. Please note that this will be a post that I can’t possibly be able to talk about everything with this plane, there will most definitely be another post later on.

Well where to start. The P-51 Mustang is said to be one of the best fighter aircraft to have rolled off of production lines during WWII. I think anyone that flew a Mustang then or flies one now would argue that it is an amazing aircraft. The P-51 was built by North American Aviation in response to a request by the British Purchasing Commission. In 1938 British Government setup a purchasing commission in the United States under Sir Henry Self. One of his primary purposes was the design, development, and delivery of American aircraft to the Royal Air Force. At the time there was no American plane that met European standards except the P-40 Tomahawk but even that was lacking. NAA President “Dutch” Kindelberger approached Self to sell the B-25 Bomber but instead was asked to produce the P-40 under contract from Curtiss. Kindelberger said that he could build a better, more cost effective and sooner available aircraft using the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine. The delivery date was set to January 1941 and in March of 1940 320 aircraft were purchased.

Edgar Schmued led the development team of NA-73X which had the same Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled engine, four .30 in (7.62 mm) M1919 Browning machine guns, two in the wings and two beneath the engine firing through the prop arc, laminar flow airfoils, a new radiator that used the “Meredith Effect” of expelling heat adding a jet thrust effect and a fuselage made of conic sections. All of these new features were accomplished after 102 days. It was one of the fastest built aircraft given the war circumstances. In September of 1940 the prototype rolled off of the assembly line and on October 26th 1940 it was test flown by Vance Breese who said it handled well. In September of 1940, 300 more planes were ordered two of which went to the United States Army Air Corps.

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This is Kermit Weeks P-51C, Ina the Macon Belle, in honor of the Red Tail Lee Archer. It can be seen at Fantasy of Flight, FL.

Pre War doctrine stated that heavy bombers would get through. Their defenses were too strong, they fly too high and enemy fighters would not be able to knock them down. Up into 1942 the USAAC still believed in this doctrine and refused, despite RAF and Luftwaffe results, that the need for a long range escort fighter was not needed. During the early years of fighting, Spitifre from the Royal Air Force and P-40’s would guard bomber formations until they reached the European coastline. Due to fuel consumption and the constant battle of flying further and further away from home bases something had to give.

Throughout 1942 the evidance was inconclusive that there was any problem with daylight bombing. Then in 1943 at the Casablanca Conference the Combined Bomber Offensive was conceived. Round the clock bombing would be done by daylight runs of the 8th Air Force out of England and nighttime runs done by RAF units. the goal was to destroy key industrial targets, specifically aircraft manufactoring and supply, in order to gain air supremacy before the invasion. Deep penetrations raids were at a first a success but by the end of 1943 losses were mounting. The August raid against Schweinfurt–Regensburg resulted in a loss of 60 B-27’s and on October 14th 77 more were lost. The need for an escort fighter was needed. Many were thought up but the one that had the most promise was the P-51B.

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Seen here is the P-51A Miss Virginia. This is the only authentic flying example of a P-51A in the world and is operated by Plane of Fame Air Museum out of Chino, CA. One thing that makes this plane very unique is it’s 1,120hp Allison V-171 0-39 engine. The Allison engine was believed to be one of the best engines for low altitudes under 15,000 and the P-51A and earlier designs utilized this ability with great effectiveness. However after the need for an escort fighter was made Mustangs were modified to carry the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in B’s and C’s models.

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The P-51C seen here is set in the almost classic English air base scenario with the hangar in the background and the clouds rolling in over the channel. The P-51B/P-51C were equipped with the Packard V-1650-3 Packard Merlin engine which was heavier the Allsion. The P-51B was built in Inlgewood, CA and the P-51C was built in Dallas, TX. Production started in early 1943 and was in operation by the summer of 1943.

The P-51 was choosen for the use of an escort fighter because of it’s ability to carry 184 gallons internally and then another 85 gallons externally. This gave the plane the ability to travel four hours forty five minutes. While the internal tanks created loss of performance when full it was concieved that they would be used up first while crossing the channel.

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The Mustang was the clear answer to the problem. During the winter of 1943-1944 enough Mustangs had arrived to the 8th and 9th Air Force to resume operation Pointblank in early 1944. Cover of the bomber stream consisted of P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt cover during early stages then handed over to the P-51’s for the long stretch into occupied territory. The Mustang had proven superior so well and so quickly the the 8th Air Force started to switch over it’s fifteen fighter groups to Mustangs. By the end of 1944 fourteen groups were flying Mustangs. At the high altitude that the bombers were flying, initial Luftwaffe tactics and fighters were unable to be effective against the new fighter. The twin engine fighters BF 110, Focke Wulfe 190, and BF 109 all were at a disadvantage at the higher altitude in part due to the heavy armament they were carrying to destroy the heavy bombers. New tactics were created for the new escorts and bombers.

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In 1944 General James “Jimmy” Doolittle took command of the 8th Air Force and one of the first measures he took was to take the fighters off of defense measures of the bomber stream and assign them to attack enemy fighters whenever they were found. The goal was to gain air supremacy and while this decision was not as poplar with bomber crews the end result was a much faster destruction of Luftwaffe fighters. P-51’s would go on “fighter sweeps in front of the bomber stream to clear out enemy fighters first. In response to this the Luftwaffe developed new tactics one of which was combining heavily armored FW 190A’s out front and followed by lighter fighters, BF 109’s in mass. The idea was for the FW 190A’s to attack the bombers while the BF 109’s would keep the P-51’s busy. While difficult to accomplish, when it did work the affects were devastating.

After mid 1944 fighter sweeps weren’t enough so the systematic strafing of enemy air fields was started by returning escorting fighters and later strafing missions were started with P-51’s going specifically to hit Luftwaffe air fields. One of the most successful strikes was when P-51’s would strafe enemy fields that were recovering the German Jet fighter ME 262 which was extremely vulnerable during recovery. This of course didn’t happen until 1945.

Starting in late 1944, P-51D Mustangs started arriving in England with an upgraded wing root design which made it more capable of carrying heavier loads for the additional strafing and bombing runs that were now in practice. Also the P-51D had a bubble canopy, one long piece of plastic instead of the standard birdcage canopy which had limited visibility due to the metal used to hold the glass together. The same Roll Royce Merlin Packard V-1650-7 engine was used.

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In 1943 P-51B’s started arriving with the American Volunteer Group in China and in 1945 P-51B’s and C’s started going to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force. In late 1943 P-51B’s started arriving in Italy for the 12th and 15t Air Force. These Mediterranean based fighter groups consisted of the same rolls as those based out of England with protection of bomber streams over Northern Italy, France, Romania, and other occupied territories. The fighting in that region was a bit different with the goal set to destroy the German oil reserves and refineries. Enemy fighters consisted of more then just the Luftwaffe but also the Italian Air Force and Romanian pilots. It was in the Mediterranean Theater that the famous group known as the Red Tails, the all African American Group, would make their name.

While a late comer to the Pacific Theater the P-51 did serve on escort missions for B-29 Superfortress’s and ground strafing mission during the island hoping campaign. Jerry Yellin a Mustang pilot who flew 19 missions including escort and strafing, remembered the sights, smells and feelings of flying over the islands. Jerry flew the last mission of WWII in which his wingman was shot down. The war had ended just hours beforehand but news had not reached them yet.

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Over 15,000 P-51’s were built during the war and stayed in service until 1984. The P-51 served in Air Force’s all over the world and remained in operation for the US Air Force until 1980. As such an iconic plane many were bought for museums and for flying memorials to the brave pilots that flew them. Due to the planes speed and performance characteristics many were purchased for airshows and aerobatic displays. One of the most profound uses was for air racing. The P-51 Mustang was flown at the Cleveland Air Races before they were shut down in 1949 and then the Mustang has been flown for decades at the Reno National Championship Air Races where for over a decade the winner has been a Mustang model. Seen her are two of just that. The one on the left is Bob Hoover’s Old Yeller P-51D Mustang that he used for decades as a performance piece for airshows and aviation events all over the country. The one on the right is Strega, twelve time National Air Races champion.

The P-51 is one of the most iconic and recognized aircraft of WWII. In part it was due to the overwhelming amount of planes that were built. But it was also because so many men wanted to be fighter pilots. As a result of both and because the P-51 was so well built many of the men that flew it were able to return home and thus their stories live on.

Images Captured with Nikon, D3, D4, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Day the Air Force was Created

On this day in 1947 the United States Air Force was officially created and the United States Army Air Force was officially disbanded. For decades the command structure of the Air Force was disputed over. Starting with the Army Signal Corp in 1914, then the Army Air Corp in 1926, then the GHQ in 1935 and finally the United States Army Air Force from 1941-1947 which was created for better use of funds, supplies and allocation during the war effort. Throughout WWII several people fought for independent air force to reduce restrictions that were being placed on the USAAF due to the need for planes to go to both the Navy and Army. After the war ended it took two years before a restructure of the United States Government defense took place in which the Department of the Navy, Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force was created under the Department of Defense.

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The USAAF helped bring an end to WWII with it’s vast fleet of iconic allied aircraft and tireless devotion of the pilots, mechanics, ground personnel and administrative staff. If not for the great legacy that the USAAF had during the war it is conceivable that a separate air force might not have been created. Since that day in 1947 the USAF has gone on to create thousands of jobs, engineer countless new planes and help protect our freedom.

Many were needed for the Flight

The Arsenal of Democracy couldn’t have happened without the support of many people. They said that 56 planes took part of the flyover on May 8th which is a lot when you think about it. Planes and Pilots came from all over the country to be a part of the event and many of those pilots spent time practicing and doing photo flights. There was so much commotion at Culpeper throughout the week but the airport felt rather calm most of the time. Last Wednesday everyone was busy getting planes maintained and cleaned so that they could fly in the practice flight the next day. The T6’s were part of the trainer formation that flew on Friday and they would go up repeatedly to practice. This particular P-51, “Ain’t Misbehaving” was coming back from their practice flight of a four ship of mustangs as well. All of this was shot with a D4 and 70-200 VRII.

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Working with the subject as it Flies by

Only half of the fun is spent on the ground, but the real thrill comes when that plane comes roaring overhead going hundreds of miles an hour and are gone as fast as they are seen. This is the time when you have to have good panning technique because those planes move by way to fast and you don’t always get a second chance. Even at an airshow when the planes schedules are often the same on multiple days, the skies are not always same. Besides the image being sharp the most important element after that is the background. When planes are flying they have to be seen as going fast because they are. There has to be something in the image to show off that momentum. Clouds in the background are a great place to start.

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Clouds are a great place to start because they are everywhere. You just have to be panning when the plane is going by an area that has clouds to get that nice shot. In some instances the plane can be made to look like it’s going by even faster by having something behind that had more structure. If the plane is flying low enough or if you are standing up high enough something like a mountain can be compressed with a long lens and look like a blur behind the plane. This adds the speed and depth to the image.

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With prop planes there is one essential element that has to be shown moving and that is the propeller. If the prop is frozen then the plane looks like it is a model on a string and not moving. The only way to get that blur is with a slower shutter speed. There is a ratio of the number of blades, to how fast the prop is turning equals how slow a shutter speed. This can be as slow as 1/30 of a second to get a full 360 degree disk. If you don’t have good panning technique then the image won’t be sharp. Practice is essential to making it all work properly.

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One other really key element to ground to air photography is paying attention to what comes next. You have to be planning on what planes are coming next, how many are coming, what direction and where is the best light coming from. You have to be constantly scanning the skies. If you’re not scanning the skies then by the time that plane is overhead and you’re not ready, you’ll probably miss the shot.

Getting Ready for the Invasion

One of the most iconic subjects on warbirds today are the black and white invasion stripes. For those of you that don’t know these stripes were painted on the wings of every plane that flew during the Normandy invasion or, D-Day. The idea was that the men on the ground would be able to tell friendly planes from foe by seeing these stripes. It would help keep our pilots safe as they made their ground attacks on enemy installations so that the boys of the invasion fleet could keep pushing back through the fifty miles of beach that they needed to secure.

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This past year at Oshkosh the Texas Flying Legends did a great salute to our veterans with a panel of vets and a recreation of the D-Day invasion with their C-53, which just came out of paint, and a paint crew putting on the invasion stripes. Using mops, buckets and brushes they used a water based crayola paint that washed right off but looks real and made these stripes across the plane. Up close you can see that the stripes aren’t perfect with bristles and imperfections in the paint but from far away you can’t tell. The reality is this is how it was done. It was an all hands on deck project the night before the invasion that made this all possible and everyone at every rank was involved at the England bases to get it done.

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Today of course we see these lines all over the place. On different Mustangs, C-47’s and P-47 Thunderbolts. They can be seen on a variety of different aircraft as they have become a very symbolic part of WWII. It was these three planes though that were among the biggest players during the invasion.

The Bremont Horsemen

The best part of being a photographer is that you always get to photograph something different every time you pick up a camera. Sometimes it’s something dramatic and sometimes it’s a little less so. As long as its fun that’s all that matters. Well while down in Chino I got the chance to photograph the Bremont Horsemen Aerobatic Team which was quite a thrill to see. It’s not everyday that three Mustangs and then three F86 Sabres fly together in such a tight formation. The group has gone through a series of other aircraft to perfect their routine to what it is today. Although it may seem more simplistic without all the flips and tumbles as some other aerobatic performers do, it’s actually an incredibly skilled performance with such a tight formation throughout the whole routine. It was fun to watch.

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New to the Blog!

For the past couple of weeks i have been working on remodeling and updating my site. Much of this was due to my good friend RC Concepcion who not only helped with the remodeling process but has taught me a number of things about wordpress. Well with Photoshop world done, which was one great event, i went back to tweaky things. Yesterday I put up a number of galleries showing off some more of my work. I ended working on so many that i actually ran out of space on my site in the ftp page and there’s still more to come! Give them a look see they are all up top, well worth your time.

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