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The P-51 Mustang is perhaps the most iconic allied fighter aircraft of World War II. It was designed and built by North American Aviation in response to a British requirement for a long-range fighter aircraft that could escort Allied bombers on missions deep into enemy territory.
The development of the P-51 Mustang began in 1940, when the British Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation to build a fighter aircraft with a long range. The company's chief engineer, Edgar Schmued, designed an aircraft with a laminar flow wing that reduced drag and increased speed and range.
The first P-51 prototype flew on October 26, 1940. The aircraft proved to be a success, and the British ordered large quantities of the aircraft, which they named the Mustang.
The early P-51s were powered by an Allison V-1710 engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of around 390 mph (630 km/h). However, the aircraft's performance was greatly improved when it was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which increased the top speed to over 440 mph.
The P-51 entered service with the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in 1942, and it quickly proved to be a formidable fighter aircraft. The aircraft's long range enabled it to escort Allied bombers all the way to targets deep inside Germany, greatly increasing the effectiveness of Allied bombing missions.
The P-51 was also a highly effective dogfighter, thanks to its speed, maneuverability, and armament. The aircraft was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns, and later versions were also fitted with rockets and bombs.
The P-51 remained in service with the USAAF and other Allied air forces after World War II. It saw action in the Korean War, and some examples were used by the Israeli Air Force in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Today, a number of examples are still flying and can be seen in airshows and museums around the world. The Mustang still holds world records. In 2013, a P-51 Mustang piloted by Doug Matthews in Palm Beach, Florida set the time to climb to altitudes of 30,000 feet (reached in 18 minutes) and 40,000 ft (reached in 31 minutes), as well as absolute altitude records of 40,100 ft in level flight and 42,500 ft as a maximum altitude. This is a testament to the genius and performance of the design.
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