North American P-51D Mustang in Detail (Revisited) Part 1 – Fuselages

text and photos by Martin Waligorski

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Overall view of Hendon’s new exhibition hall – Milestones of Flight – 100 Years of Aviation, where a pristine P-51D meets the visitor at the entrance end of the display. The recently built Milestones hall is in my opinion one of the best aircraft museum exhibitions anywhere in the world – it is spacious, well-lit, the aircraft can be conveniently viewed from all angles, from the ground or from the gallery above. And of course, it features many unique aircraft: Ki-100, Me 262, Bf 109G, Mosquito, Tempest to name just a few.


This aircraft used to fly as a warbird, and therefore features a few non-original installations and equipment. Still, it is a remarkably well restored P-51 – as you will see further in this photo set. For a model-interested museum visitor, this is as good a P-51 as it gets.


Displayed on a rotating base, this P-51 may not be the most unique of Hendon’s exhibits, but is certainly on of the most handsome ones, and a fitting addition to Hendon’s mind-boggling collection of historic aircraft.


To show some of the details I have also used photographs of a number of other preserved P-51Ds, mostly from the Imperial War Museum’s collections in Duxford and London. This one, ”Big Beautiful Doll” is displayed in London. Suspended from the ceiling, it offers unobstructed good view of underside details.


The mostly quoted British contribution to P-51 development is the Merlin engine, but there was another, and that is the bubble canopy. In January 1943, Col Mark Bradley had been sent to England, and while there he saw how the newly-invented canopy had given Typhoon pilots unobstructed 360-degree vision. He returned to Wright Field in June, and immediately began exploring the possibility of putting bubble canopies on USAAF fighters. Republic Aviation put a bubble canopy on the P-47D Thunderbolt in record time, and Bradley flew it to Inglewood to show it to North American. Following discussions with the British and after examination of the clear-blown ”teardrop” canopies of later Spitfires and Typhoons, it was agreed to test a similar canopy on a Mustang. And so a P-51D was born.


Other side of the canopy hood. The headrest and semi-circular bracing behind it are original, but the WW2-type radio equipment is missing from this aircraft. The radio and battery boxes were quite bulky and would be visible in the space behind the pilot’s seat even from this angle. It is also worth noting that there were different types of radio on P-51Ds. Early series aircraft featured a set of BC-457 transmitter, BC-453 receiver and a battery (3 boxes), while this was later replaced with SCR-522 VHF transceiver with battery (two boxes). The SCR-522 was actually a copy of British TR 1143, and was also used on British Mustangs.


View of the fuselage spine behind cockpit witch prominent cutout for the canopy guiding rail, and the antenna mast behind. Note the oval panel at its base.


The dorsal fin shown here was added after the first production batches of P-51D to restore the aircraft’s directional stability reduced due to the smaller profile area of the bubble-canopy fuselage. The first production run of the P-51D having this was P-51D-10-NA. Some of the earlier P-51Ds and a few P-51B &Cs were retrofitted with this dorsal fin.

The fin was a simple folded sheet of plate without airfoil section.


View of the port side of the fuselage behind the canopy shows the antenna mast, canopy rail, and a red filler cap for the fuselage fuel tank. It was this tank, introduced on P-51B, which allowed the Mustang to fly all the way to Berlin and back. Fully filled, however, it shifted the centre of gravity backward causing some adverse effects on the directional stability which made the aircraft difficult to fly on the outward leg of its long-range missions.


A better view of the windscreen and the anti-glare panel in front of it. The area under the windscreen was painted black. Also note the position of the gunsight.

Note also the circular vent below the canopy rim.


It is interesting to compare the look of bare aluminium plate between different P-51s – there is always something individual about the look of these planes. Compare the ”tin-look” of this Mustang with the highly-polished finish of the Hendon machine.


The scoop underneath the rear fuselage housing cooling radiators was a distinctive feature of the Mustang, and was made noticeably deeper deeper on Merlin-powered models than before and had a sharp-angled inlet standing more than two inches away from the underside of the fuselage.

As the engine was now geared for high-altitude performance, intercooler radiator was added to the radiator group. Instead of the oil cooler being situated in the centre of a circular coolant radiator, it was relocated to the front of the duct and provided with its own ventral exit door. Further downstream, in a greatly enlarged duct, was the huge rectangular coolant matrix, with a much bigger exit door at the rear.


Detail of the outlet door. The aerodynamical refinement of the ventral intake and duct system represents state-of-the-art of the period: It actually added a few mph to Mustang’s top speed.


Two front views of the nose and a canopy give a good idea about cross-section of these elements.


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This article was originally published in IPMS Stockholms Magazine in December 2005