STORY: THIS IS IT !
The Luftwaffe fighters had fought the unescorted B-17's to a standoff, with both sides having unacceptable losses, with the B-17's losing planes and men, and the German fighters losing airplanes. The new strategy was not possible with the aircraft presently in England. The fighter craft simply did not have enough range to be effective. The P-47 was equipped with a big belly tank which was of no value on a deep penetration of Germany. The twin engine P-38 was brought in, but was a failure. The first group of twelve was all shot down on their first flight. The P-38 had a wing that was too thick, and with only a low blower supercharger in the Allison engine, performance deteriorated quickly above 22,000 feet. We were flying above 30,000 feet, and the P-38's were no match for the Me-109.
Early in the war in the spring of 1940, the English were shopping for fighter planes in the US. Their top of the line fighter plane was the Spitfire, but required 330,000 man- hours per airplane to build. There was no way they could build an air force with their limited manpower sources, and realized they must to turn to other source for combat aircraft. They preferred the P-40, but the Curtis factory was totally booked with orders. They approached James "Dutch " Kindelburg, President of North American Aircraft, who said he was booked solid with P-40 orders but he could build a better plane in 120 days. Legend has it he stayed late that night and drew the new plane design on sheets of butcher paper. The same technique was used by Bill Lear in his Lear Corporate Jet. The next morning, Dutch called his team of engineers and builders together, and told them he wanted a flyable airplane in 120 days. In 120 days, North American rolled out the first P-51 ( called the Mustang by the English) without an engine and with wheels borrowed from an AT-6. In a few more days, a 1200 horsepower Allison engine and the proper landing gear been had been installed. On the first test flight the test pilot radioed "We have a winner here. I'm at 400 indicated, and it flies sweet."
The RAF got its Mustangs in late 1941, and combat loaded, flew at 380 MPH, and was the best aircraft they had ever seen. However, it was powered with the Allison engine with only a low speed supercharger, and at 20000 feet it simply ran out of puff. Then someone had a brilliant but obvious idea of mating this wonderful airframe with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Merlin, of course, was King Arthur's magician and the engine fit like magic. It would do 432 MPH at 32000 feet, for the Merlin had a marvelous two speed supercharger. However, when it shifted from low blower to high blower, it seemed like the engine was about to fall off.
North American immediately switched to Packard- built Merlins. Packard had superb quality control and built precision engines. Incidently, in 1941, a new Packard cost $7000, a Lincoln $1500, and a Cadillac $1400. General "Hap" Arnold immediately ordered 2000 P-51's. They made a few changes such as removing a few big heavy radios and installing a small four channel FM transceiver which was clear as a bell. This made space to add an 85 gallon fuel tank directly behind the pilot Two 110 gallon drop tanks were added under the wing. There were two main tanks in the wing containing 90 gallons each for a total fuel tank capacity of 485 gallons, or 2910 pounds of fuel. Fuel consumption at economical cruise was sixty gallons per hour.
Blakleslee's Fourth Fighter Group got all the new P-51's, and immediately-they said "We can learn to fly it on this mission" and flew fighter escort for B-17's on the next flight which was to Berlin. This was a gigantic air battle, with 800 Mustangs and Thunderbolts in support of 1300 bombers against 1000 Luftwaffe defenders. This was standing toe to toe with no subterfuge - straight battle.
This was the beginning of the end for the Luftwaffe. When the June 6th, 1944, invasion began, there were no German planes flying during the landings, and no significant flights for the rest of the war.
This plane changed the course of history. It could hit 437 MPH at 15000 feet and could do it more than 1000 miles from home. Prior to its arrival, the bombers and fighters had fought to a stalemate. When Goering heard of a P-51 at Kiev, he said "the war is lost."
There was something else the P-51's did- they destroyed planes on the ground getting ready for takeoff. This was hard to work out. The B17's would cross the enemy coast at an altitude of 36000 feet and an indicated air speed of 160 MPH and a true air speed of about 320 MPH. Often we would pick up a jet stream of perhaps of 50 MPH, and this would give us a ground speed of 370 MPH. The P-51's flew at an altitude of 200 feet and an indicated air speed of 270 MPH with a true air and ground speed of 270mph. We were flying 100 MPH faster than the P-51's and the P-51's needed to leave before we left. They would come in to a Luftwaffe air field in France or Germany, and all the fighters would have left to attack the bombers. They did not make this but mistake but once, and later they would come in low and line abreast with all guns blazing and did tremendous damage to the parked and taxiing fighters. They would not make a second attack immediately. However on one flight, a P-51 was crippled , and the pilot landed. A second pilot landed and taxied to the damaged plane. "Get in", the pilot of the good plane shouted, and the other pilot climbed in (right foot on left wheel, left foot on wing, right foot into cockpit). Don't get your head in the big four-blade propeller. All this time the other ten pilots were strafing everything that moved, and the Germans were firing cannons at everything that flew- a real little war going on. Back at Base the two pilots tried to repeat the two in one for the newsreel cameras but this was a complete failure. One pilot said "We didn't have any trouble when the Germans were firing those cannons at us."
The P-51 was different. It had a symmetrical wing; that is, the top and bottom of the wing were equally rounded. All other plane's wings were flat on the bottom and rounded on the top. We were still locked into the Bernoulli Theorem which stated that the air went faster over the rounded top and produced a vacuum which lifted the wings. This was taught in pre - flight school. In flight ground school I asked " If this is true, how can an airplane fly upside down "? I was an SME (Subject Matter Expert) on flying upside down. On my first flight after soloing, I flew stall and spins -stalls to the right, left, straight, power on ,power off, and ended by a power off stall straight ahead followed by a two turn tailspin to the left.As we headed back to the field, the Instructor said " Mr. Goodman (Instructors called all cadets mister and only one way conversation was possible due to the use of the gosport, a simple flexible tube ), I think you are a little nervous. Fly back to the field upside down." I flew the pattern upside down, and turned on final approach still inverted at which the instructor said "for God's sake Mr., Goodman, turn this airplane over !" I flew all over the County inverted, and I was still NERVOUS. The truths are that lift is a function of the amount of air deflected downward and flying upside down does not ease the mind.
The P-51 had the oil and coolant radiators on the bottom of the fuselage, and everyone tried different locations, but none were better. All of the other locations reduced speed. Another item- someone had done a wonderful weight and balance job. The airplane flies with the tail up, and not only does it look good, but it flies faster and is more stable. Another item- the P-51 had combat flaps. This was a detent on the flap control, and in this setting, the flaps opened about three inches when flying about 250 mph, but at 400 MPH, the flaps were down about 1/4 inch. This really improved turning, and it could out- turn, go faster, and with six fifty caliber machine guns out gun any other fighter plane in the world. The P-51 was thin. From behind, the P-51 disappeared very quickly.
It was very easy to fly. Starting is simple-Tank selector to left main, battery on, fuel boost pumps on, throttle cracked, two shots of prime, and hit the starter switch, let four big propeller blades go by, then turn on the magnetos while still cranking. One cylinder hits, and the shudder is enough to believe the engine is going to fall off its mounts, and great belches of blue smoke go by the canopy. Run up is at 40 inches of mercury.
The pre-flight is ordinary- check the propeller by going to high pitch and get a reduction in RPM. Coolant and oil switches are on automatic, mixture on automatic rich, props full forward, friction locks are tight, fuel boost on, canopy locked, harness tight, and controls free.
Takeoff- roll out to the center line of the runway and line up with the center line and check the trim tabs- the rudder trim is full right and the elevator trim is one inch back. Pull back on the yoke to lock the tail wheel, and add power to 61 inches of mercury. In a very short time, the Merlin has pulled the plane level and is departing as you retract the wheels. As you reduce power to 46 inches of mercury and 2700 RPM, you are spinning the altimeter upward like you have never seen before.
At 16000 feet the supercharger shifts from low to high with a wrench that shakes the fillings in your teeth, and you wonder why the engine didn't fall off.
The P-51 was the best airplane of World War II, and with some great flight leaders like Captains Gentily and Godfrey, changed the history of the world.
I really wanted to fly a P-51. I did all the preliminary work which included reading the two books of the Technical Manual. The second preliminary was to memorize the cockpit to where you could touch every handle, gauge, or knob blindfolded. The third preliminary was to make six takeoffs and landings from the back seat of an AT-6. I did this plus starting the engine (by the check list, of course) and slow taxiing. Now I was ready to solo a P-51. However, as I was waiting in line for takeoff in a C-47, five P-51's ahead of me lost it on takeoff by ground looping to the left. Prior to this, David ? lost it to the left and the engine moved back into the cockpit and killed him. I lost my nerve. I wish now I had flown that P-51.
July 31, 1994
We were beginning to get too tired and edgy. We had done a good job of flying; we were dependable; we flew excellent formation; we did not drink; we saw that the airplane and guns were always in good condition; we always supported our mission. We never left the formation prior to dropping the bombs, and we flew a tight formation. David and I had been awarded the Air Medal and two oak leaf clusters. But we were still tired.
The weather was always bad; summer came on July 17th this year and we missed it. There were no precision approaches to runways in bad weather, and we groped our way to the runways. This was bad enough but there were ten or twenty OTHER airplanes groping their way to the end of the runway at the same time, and all were low on gas. A missed approach was always a heart stopper; we saw the runway and were too high or at a forty-five degree angle to it. So we would execute a missed approach- full power, turbo superchargers at maximum, wheels starting up slowly, flaps starting up, fifteen degrees nose up, and watch the airspeed and the change in altitude. You wanted the altitude to increase, and there was always some sink but we were so close to the ground it seemed like a lot of sink. However, the B-17 is a heavy bird, and is not at all nimble and is slow to react. It seemed that we were always flying with four yellow lights on which indicated low fuel. We stuck it out, but this seemed to be a daily event.
Another thing that bothered us a lot was our friends not coming home and intruders coming into our hut and packing up their personal belongings for shipment home of those that did not return. Care was taken in what was sent home in that some flyers had a wife and sweetheart, and letters to sweethearts were carefully removed. Subconsciously, this was impinging on our own mortality. We had reached the stage where we were not very friendly to new flyers because it was so painful to lose a friend, and in our dumbness we found a solution- don't make new friends and stick to your old friends in our crew and in Cecil Clore's crew.
So the Flight Surgeon, in his Flight Surgeon wisdom, gave us his blessing to go on Rest and Recreation for one week in southwest England .
We took a series of trains and went through London to get there. A wooden- bodied station wagon met the train and took us to a red brick mansion. I was amazed- it looked like a high school. On instructions, we left our luggage at the train station, and later our luggage appeared in our rooms as if by magic. Inside, we met the staff- all lined up for our inspection. Then we met a number of Red Cross young ladies, all young, beautiful, and poised. Next we went to our rooms to, as the Director put it "freshen up." I immediately put in a bid for his job.
There were thirty-seven large bedrooms, each with four beds, and they were spacious. Each two bedrooms shared a large bathroom. Each morning when I awoke, Mike, a ruddy cheeked Scot with a cheerful way and a cheerful smile, who was one of the staff, stuck a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in my hand. After bathing- hot water!- we put on civilian clothes which had been laid out for us, and went to the garden room for a first class British breakfast. This included fresh eggs, bacon, ham, toast, sweet rolls, cream cheese, orange marmalade, ( Jelly was always 0range Marmalaid ) and hot tea. Milk was not available because some cows were tuberculosis carriers. The English could drink it because they had been exposed to TB for years and had either built up an immunity or died.
After breakfast, I took a walk around the grounds. This included a session of trapshooting- shooting at clay pigeons going away with a twelve gauge automatic shotgun. After this I visited the barnyard and saw the Holstein milk cows- beautiful and immaculately groomed ( a Holstein set a new record for milk production in 1993: 72000 pounds of milk in a 300 day year).
I came back in for lunch then spent the afternoon relaxing in the great room with a small group of pilots. Walker Mahurin was there and I thanked him for destroying the four Luftwaffe fighter planes. Surprisingly, the fighter pilots were somewhat deferential to us, and said they had seen the beating we were taking. They had an advantage; they could accept or reject combat, and they got to their range limit in thirty minutes, and must return to their base. The bombers would never turn back but would continue for another ten hours.
The next day an American Red Cross girl took me under her wing, and we spent the day visiting an old castle that was built about the year 1200. It was in excellent condition. Of note, there were no halls - halls had not been discovered yet. The castle contained a complete small church almost completely hidden. The church was added when the Protestants were in power and put a confiscatory tax on anything Catholic. I realized my guide was Catholic; she genuflected when we entered. We also visited the small church where the parish priest translated the Bible into English and read it in church. For this he was burned at the stake, and his ashes were scattered on the river Streit which flows into the river Thames thence into the sea and from there to all the oceans of the world.
This young lady was very nice to me. She was twenty-four and I was nineteen; she was sophisticated, charming, rich, and beautiful, and I think she had a husband and I was a substitute for her husband whom she probably missed very much. Being very nice, she invited me to her apartment for " a real English breakfast ." At breakfast, I left my spoon in my cup of tea. She looked me straight in the eye and with an affectionate and gorgeous smile, reached over, took the spoon out of the cup and put it in the saucer. I was so entranced by her I probably would have put out my eye when I drank the tea. All in all, we had a delightful time. At the end of the week we returned to flying, and I think we all felt better.
We made other trips when not on standby. One day we flew to Glasgow, Scotland, to see the first suspension bridge ever built. The supports were wrought iron links about twenty feet long instead of cable. I made a dumb mistake; I plotted the course to the wrong airfield. Later, I discovered there was an airfield downtown and one way out in the country with both on the same latitude and one was 30 degrees west latitude and the other airfield 30 degrees east longitude. When I plotted the course, I did not pick up the one further out on the pilotage map. When we arrived at the airfield, the runway had a forty- five degree turn at the midpoint of the runway. I told David,"We can't land this big bird on that runway"-but he did. We were right downtown, and had a very nice visit. I think Scotland is twice as clean as England. Departing , we had about six Royal Air Force flyers hitching a ride to London. We put them in the nose which improved the balance and despite my worries, we had a nice takeoff. I did not tell David about my dumb mistake until after the war.
Another bad flying day I got a Jeep and driver and rode to Bury St. Edmund. I think St. Edmund was the last child of William The Conqueror (Also called William Plantagenet for the broomstraw he wore in his hat like a feather) to be a King. Edmund was canonized because he always wore a hair shirt which made his life a torment but supposedly holy. While there, I visited a high school friend , Roy Davidson, a B-17 pilot at his air base. We had a good talk, and I got back to Ridgewell really late. I had forgotten about the requirement for blackout lights.
(this story is and remains the sole property of the author, Bill Goodman. It is presented here with with his gracious permission. All rights are retained by same)
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