8P- 51 Mus­tang – 15,586

Flight Journal - - THE MOST PRODUCED -

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)

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