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Mustang in Flight: 1942

October 1942. P-51 "Mustang" fighter in flight near the Inglewood, California, plant of North American Aviation.  4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer. View full size.

October 1942. P-51 "Mustang" fighter in flight near the Inglewood, California, plant of North American Aviation. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer. View full size.


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Packard Merlins

At the beginning of the war, 1939, the British air ministry sent a buying team to the USA to source a fighter superior to the british spitfire and a supply of Merlin engines. It appears that Rolls-Royce feared they would not be able to supply Merlins in sufficient quantity for the number of aircraft projected to use them, among them Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster bomber and others, so they contracted Packard to produce Merlins under licence.

When the US found itself at war after Pearl Harbour, it checked around it's its armament inventory and found Mustangs awaiting shipment to us British, these were immediately impounded, re-gunned and and impressed into USAAF service. They also discovered a ready supply of Merlin engines being built in their own backyard. The aircraft proved to be a disappointment in British service and was relegated to ground attack. It was only when a Merlin was fitted that it's its laminar flow wing came into it's its own. By the way it's its bubble canopy and drop tanks were also fitted by us first. The US never managed to fit a cannon of US design in it's its fighters and even in Korea the North American Sabre still had to rely on 0.5 machine guns against the Russian Mig-15 cannons. Mustangs were not much used by us British after that, we preferred to rely on the constantly improving Spitfire.


When North American designed the NA73-X, the factory named the entire project "Apache." The P51/Mustang IA was designed without British involvement and still had the original factory label. The P51, after production, was slated for half USAAF training units and half British deployment. The British commonly renamed American aircraft but in the case of the P51 (no A,B,C or D/K) the Americans had always referred to the planes as Apache. The Army echelon did not like the name and they were more than happy to change it to Mustang later.

"Invader" is what US Army theater personnel called the A36 Apache, but it was never an official designation.


Hello, I can't understand how to add your blog ( ) in my rss reader

[Click the "Shorpy RSS" link at the top of the homepage. - Dave]

This is either an I/P-51 or a P-51A

The inlet scoop over the engine behind the prop is indicative of the Allison powered versions of the Mustang. These were the very first models produced and saw limited service as attack aircraft due to their poor performance above 20,000 feet. The big change for the Mustang came with the addition of the British Merlin engine..... the rest is history.


It did have an unique official designation of P-51-1 for 57 planes for AAF use withdrawn from an RAF Defense Aid (Lend-Lease) contract for 150 as their Mustang 1A. Serials for that contract were 41-11981 to -11980, but there is no found record of exactly which ones went to AAF. Confusion arises in that all were similar to Mustang I but for wing cannon; however, Mustang 1 was factory Model 83, and Mustang 1A in this contract was Model 91 with no new model number assigned. To muddy the waters moreso, AAF first applied a designation of F-6A—as a photo ship—but that idea was tossed out. There is some thought that it was to be Model 92, but that had already been assigned to a Boeing B-29 contract which was canceled, so cooler minds took the easy way out by simply adding a dash 1 and moved on to other things.

A-36 was the Invader, not Apache

If the the P-51A (cannon armed) also was in the AAF Apache era I can't say for certain, but the reply below restricting the Apache appellation to the A-36 is in error. Later the A-26 assumed the Invader name, but that p[lane did not reach operational combat units until months after Overlord.

Philip C. Marchese, Jr.


This is a P-51 (no suffix), RAF equivalent is Mustang IA. Only this version had the four 20mm Hispano guns. Mustang Mk. I's had two chin-mounted .50 caliber machine guns and one .50 caliber and two .303's in each wing for a total of eight. The Mk. I's were exported for use by the RAF and RCAF.

Apache? Not.

While basically the same airframe it's not an Apache. A-36's had dive brakes on the wings.

"Mustang I"

This is a Mustang I, the original version built for the Brits before the US put in their order. The primary clue is in the guns -- all US versions were armed with Browning 50 caliber machine guns, which have barrels short enough to almost fit in the wings. Only stubs will show for 50 calibers. On the other hand, the Mustang I was ordered with four Hispano 20 mm cannons instead of machine guns. The long gun fairings conclusively identify this as an Allison engined, 20mm cannon armed, Mustang I.

(The British gave their aircraft a snappy name, like "Spitfire" or "mustang", and identified models by roman numerals. On the other hand, the US relied on familiar type and model numbers, like "P" (for Pursuit)- 51. In the US system, versions were identified by letters, and minor modifications by "block numbers." For example, "P-47D-25")

Early vs. Late P-51 Mustangs

The Brits were not impressed with the first P51s we sent them, but some bright fellow thought to put an engine from the Spitfire in one.

We started making that Rolls-Royce Merlin engine over here (in a Packard plant?) to put in the later Mustang, turning it into a world-beater.


My records show this aircraft as being built for the RAF, but retained by the USAAC for testing. Serial number of the aircraft is 41-37416. Aircraft was destroyed during shipment to Europe in 1943.

Alfred Palmer: 1906-1993

Alfred Palmer's obituary from Feb. 2, 1993:

(San Francisco Chronicle)

Alfred Palmer, a career photographer who got his first camera from Ansel Adams and who had his first public show at the age of 84, died Sunday. Mr. Palmer, a longtime Bay Area resident who most recently lived in Larkspur, died in San Rafael after a long illness. He was 86.

A staff photographer and film maker for such shipping companies as Dollar, Matson and American President Lines, Mr. Palmer had his debut exhibition in 1990.

"It's about time," he said during the two-part show at the Bank of America Concourse Gallery. The first exhibition included World War II photographs taken when he worked for the Office of War Information.

The second included pictures from his travels during the 1920s and 1930s and featured such photographs as an untouchable in Bombay, an old man in Beijing and temple dancers in Bali.

Mr. Palmer estimated that he traveled half a million miles at sea during his career and circumnavigated the globe "more times than I can remember."

In 1917, he helped a young Ansel Adams carry his heavy tripod and camera around the Yosemite Valley, where Adams took some of his most famous and striking photographs. At the end of the expedition, Adams presented Mr. Palmer with a $1 Box Brownie camera. "He made me a photographer," Mr. Palmer later told an interviewer.

A former merchant seaman, Mr. Palmer also produced films about the American Merchant Marine.

Mr. Palmer is survived by his wife, Alexa, of San Rafael; three children, Julia Gennert of Bolinas, Donald Palmer of Stinson Beach and David Palmer of Los Altos; and nine grandchildren.

Memorial services are pending.

Also known as the Apache

This model was also known by the name "Apache."

Beautiful aircraft!

Looks to be a P-51B IIRC, which was made specifically for ground attack. This was with the Allison engines, and was considered underpowered until incorporation with the Merlin engine that enabled it to (later) establish itself as one of the top fighters of WWII.

Thanks for sharing this :)


Did planes like these leave the plant unpainted?

[It is painted. Compare with unpainted. - Dave]

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