8P- 51 Mustang – 15,586
Given its fame and reputation in combat, it’s difficult to believe that the Mustang is only number eight on the production scale. That, however, makes sense, as it didn’t enter production until 1941, got into combat with the RAF in early 1942, and with the USAAF a year later. Its production life is one of the shortest of the high-production aircraft of the war, which says a lot for America’s ability to produce when its industrial might is focused on a single goal. (It also helped that U.S. industries were never harassed by bombing raids.)
The Mustang introduced some new concepts to American fighters, including the laminar flow wing and a method known as “conicalprojection,” where the complex shapes were reduced to flat sections like a map of the world. More important, it was possibly the first fighter to be built with the external skin being heavier and carrying more of the flight loads. That design simplified the internal structure required to stabilize it while greatly reducing the parts count and making production easier. That’s exactly the opposite of the Zero, which used very thin skins and lots of internal structure, rendering it very light but also very complex.
The Mustang didn’t go into production until 1941, yet more than 15,000 were produced in four years. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
The Mustang’s place on the priority list changed dramatically when it was test-flown with the Merlin engine. With that one change, it zoomed to the front of the line. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)