The P-51B was the first Mustang to be built in quantity specifically for USAAF use. It was born after successful British trials of the Mustang X, 5 Mustang Is which had their Allison engines replaced with Merlin engines by Rolls-Royce (the first such conversion on October 13, 1942).
It should be noted that the only difference between the P-51B and P-51C was that the C was manufactured at North Americans Dallas Plant, rather than Inglewood. Early aircraft had four .50 cal machine guns, but this was quickly upgraded to six. In the game, this has been accounted for by giving the P-51B the four .50 cal and the P-51C six. Some, but not all, P-51B/Cs were fitted with a bulged â€˜Malcolm Hoodâ€™ to improve visibility. This too has been accounted for in the game in that the C has the Malcolm Hood whilst the B does not. As a note for skinners, feel free to use the in game P-51Cs for aircraft designated as Bâ€™s as there was no real life difference aside from manufacture location. The game meerly incorporates all later refinements into the C.
The P-51B/C served mainly with the USAAFâ€™s UK based 8th Air Force as a long range escort fighter. The first operation was to Kiel in December 1943 and in March 1944 the first mission to Berlin and back was performed, escorting B-17s and B-24s. They also served in the Mediterranean and China-Burma-India theatres as well as equipping RAF and Commonwealth squadrons in Britain, Europe and Italy.
Accounting for the bulk of Mustang production the P-51D and closely related K represent the â€˜quintessentialâ€™ Mustang. The P-51D differed externally from the P-51B/C by virtue of its cut down rear fuselage decking and sliding â€˜teardropâ€™ canopy. This resulted from the analysis of combat reports by pilots flying the earlier models and, although they were almost unanimous in their praise for the aircraftâ€™s performance and flying qualities, the need for improved visibility, especially to the rear, was a common complaint. Two P-51Bs (43-12101 and 43-12102) were allocated for conversion to prototypes for the new type. Referred to at the time as the XP-51D, the first of them flew on November 17, 1943.
P-51D production was initiated at Inglewood (as the P-51D-NA) in January 1944 followed by the Dallas plant (P-51D-NT) the following July. The Closely relate K was built only at Dallas and differed from the D in having an Aeroproducts propeller instead of the usual Hamilton Standard unit, only 1,500 Ks were built. Additionally, the 200 Ca-17â€™s and CA-18â€™s were exactly identical to the P-51D. The only difference being that the CA-17/18 was manufactured by Australiaâ€™s Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. All of these were operated by the RAAF alongside some 299 P-51Dâ€™s sent to Australia bay the US. North Americanâ€™s production of the P-51D end on VJ Day.
The RAF received 271 P-51Ds and 594 P-51Ks under Lend-Lease. Both were designated Mustang IV. The P-51D began to supplement the Bs and Cs in Europe in June 1944 followed by the P-51K later that year. By the end of 1944, 14 of the USAAFâ€™s Eighth Air Forceâ€™s Fighter Groups were equipped with either P-51Ds or P-51Ks.
In 1948 the P-51 became the F-51, and the photo-recon F-6 Mustangs were redesignated as RF-51â€™s. The F-51B remained in service with the USAF until 1949. The F-51K remained in limited service until 1951 while the F-51D served right up through the Korean War. Additionally, many Mustangs ended up serving in the Airforces of developing nations, with Israeli Mustangs seeing extensive action during the Suez Crisis in 1956. The Dominican Republic was the final Military operator of the Mustang, not retiring its last F-51Dâ€™s until 1944, some forty one years after the first prototype flew.