Boys and their toys.

The North American P51 Mustang fighter aircraft was always a thing of beauty. It just needed a few mods to nudge it on its way towards mechanical perfection. When you’re born with a whiff of petrol in your nostrils and some engine oil already ingrained under your fingernails, you can’t help but fall in love with such a piece of beautiful engineering. It just needed a few necessary touches. Out of the box and in its original spec, its high altitude performance was absolutely abysmal. It couldn’t have lived up there against the vicious intentions of the ME-109s. It was so bad, it was thought it’d be better suited to a ground attack role.

What a crying shame that would have been because the airframe was a fully functional piece of pure art.

That altitude performance was cured by a suggestion from the RAF, for whom it was being developed, to rip out the anemic Allison power plant that came with it in the first batch of lend-lease fighters and replace it with the Merlin engine designed courtesy of Mr Rolls and Mr Royce that powered the Spitfire. Someone then added the by now mandatory great all round visibility teardrop canopy that gave you absolutely no protection from bullets and a drop tank that would explode underneath your ass from the impact of a single explosive round from the Oerlikon 20mm cannon that all Luftwaffe aircraft seemed came with as standard, but the drop tanks could get you to Berlin and back in order to keep the bomber boys safe.

As that final P51D variant, it suddenly it became the Caddy of the air, a free ranging shark, arrogantly circling over a city trying to taunt up the FW190 butcher birds everybody feared but it could trounce on any other Tuesday.

All it needed for completeness was a good fighter pilot on the stick and there was no shortage of those young men who wanted a crack at flying such a beautiful craft. Its only American rival, the P47 Thunderbolt had a bigger engine, longer range, more armour plating to protect the pilot, cost several more times to produce than the Mustang, was built to a more exacting standard and could take a hell of a lot of cannon damage without disintegrating in mid-air as a Mustang was prone to doing under sustained fire if you could ever just for once put some rounds into the nimble bugger, but there wasn’t a fighter Jock worth a damn who wouldn’t give his left bollock to be strapped into a 51 and going up against the best that Willy Messerschmitt could fling up into the skies over Germany to kill them.

There’s an apocryphal story about fighter pilots which tells you all you ever need to know about that breed. There’s three hundred of them in a room getting a pre-mission briefing. They’re being told that this one is going to be a very bad day at the office and only one of the three hundred of them was expected to return. Every damn one of them just knows with certainty that he’ll be the one who’ll make it back out of there after blowing the opposition out of the sky. Unless you’ve got that cocky aggressive arrogance, never climb into the cockpit of something like a P51.

It’s commonly thought it was only flown by the USAAF in WWII, but it was also used extensively by the RAF, for whom it was originally developed, on nearly all of the campaigns fought by British forces from North Africa to Northern Europe. Several batches were also supplied to the Chinese air force who were at the time at war with the invading Japanese. After the war, it was supplied to numerous air forces around the globe and was used extensively in a ground support role in the Korean war. It finally ended its military service with any air force in the early ’80s.

To really enjoy beautiful examples of engineering, you have to have an elemental understanding of them and a connection with them as something more than just machines. The con rods, the gudgeon pins, the details of the cylinder head gasket blowouts, the hot and cold clearances of the feeler gauges at the top of the valve stems and the tappets. Right down to the circlips and the third oil control ring around the piston you know you have to offset out of line of the other two ones to get best compression out of the sacred litany of the four-stroke engine; induction, compression, power and finally blow it out the tubes exhaust.

But there’s a lot more to it than those little pieces of mechanical detail. You could just sit and listen to that throaty growl of a great engine all damn day. You hear a motorbike going by, and are appalled by the badly adjusted slipper that’s destroying the cam chain on the overhead cam of the engine. That’s a sin, a grating offense to your ear.

When you know the intimate details of a machine and love them, whether it’s a Mustang, a good reliable car that drives well and that’ll never drop you in the middle of a road in the wilderness, a bitching motorbike that doesn’t need steering but by now only responds to your slight inside knee pressure on the petrol tank as you both enjoy leaning into a corner exactly on the limit of both the edge of the tyre traction or the speed you’re getting high on. In slow, out fast, blipping the throttle to snap her upright again.

You’re totally integrated with the bike and stopped using the clutch ages ago. You blip up on the throttle to go upwards in the gears, and apply a light touch of brake to move down through them. It just requires that tiny little considerate pause to let her engine adjust to your intentions. You are both in perfect sync.

For one glorious moment, it all comes together. There is no such thing as the man machine interface – you are both one or you are not. Look carefully at the face of the pilot in the picture above. Grinning from ear to ear like a soppy fool. He’s riding high up in the saddle, living the dream and I envy him so much. I’d totally kill to have ten minutes at the controls of such a beautiful bird of war high over the blue cloudless skies of Germany in April ’45.


Related articles by Pointman:

About correctly placing a single bullet into a certain space at a certain time in the future.

When you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.

Click for a list of other articles.

22 Responses to “Boys and their toys.”
  1. hillbilly33 says:

    You’ve stirred up some memories Pointy. I was in the first intake of National Servicemen in Australia after WW II, when it was re-introduced by PM Robert Menzies. I was lucky enough to be accepted in to the RAAF, one of only 36 from Tasmania and only four from the North West Coast where I was living at the time. I think the fact my brother had served through the war might have helped. The Korean war was in full flight and I remember Australia’s 77 Squadron first served there flying the P51 Mustang. By that time it was only really useful as a ground support aircraft, especially when Russian flown MiG’s entered the war. 77 was re-equipped with the British Gloster Meteors which were hopelessly outclassed and duly slaughtered by the MiG’s. But I remember a Victorian lad in my intake whose brother was a 77 Meteor pilot and had either been very good, or very lucky, or both and had actually downed a MiG in combat.

    I still rate the six months training spent with 240 odd other 18 yr-olds as one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. Some signed on to Permanent and but for illness in my family I had intended to do so myself. As for the rest of us, we were all probably fortunate in not being called to serve during our ensuing years in the Reserves Forces.

    The other memory is more recent and is of the inspiring story of the Tuskegee .Airmen, the first Negro squadron in the US in WW II. They had their trials, tribulations and ultimate successes immortalised in the film “Red Tails”. .The P51-Mustang was one of their combat planes. The film is of course not entirely accurate, but it does contain enough facts to demonstrate they were a very successful group who could hold their heads high in the annals of wartime history.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Uninformed Luddite says:

    I got divorced a year ago, stuck stuff in boxes, put the boxes on shelves and promptly forgot about them. This post reminded me that in one of those boxes I have a new unopened P-51D R/C plane on one of those shelves!
    I will be feeding my inner child this afternoon. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. gallopingcamel says:

    I promise this will be the last time I make an irrelevant comment on this blog. It was my intent to become an RAF fighter pilot. My high school in Cheltenham had an ROTC complete with a Link trainer, so I joined and attended all classes on aircraft recognition, meteorology, navigation, instrument flying and so on.

    Eventually after eleven hours of flying a Chipmunk my instructor pronounced me ready to “solo”. All I needed was medical clearance from the RAF. My universe imploded when I failed that medical and when I appealed the decision, CME (Central Medical Establishment) failed me a second time. At the age of 17 I was a failure.

    Back then I was not planning to attend a university. My academic record was spotty given that I was more interested in boxing, rugby, cricket and athletics rather than academics.

    I decided to take my studies seriously and apply for a place in a university. By some miracle I was awarded a major scholarship at Pembroke College, Cambridge. While this was a huge disappointment, there was good news much later. Two of my six sons have achieved my dream by serving in the Air Force. Not the RAF but the USAF. My son Andrew flew F-15s and recently retired as a Major. My youngest son is now a 2nd Lt. training at Lackland AFB (San Antonio, Texas).

    Liked by 4 people

  4. PaleoSapiens says:

    Another use of WWII fighter aircraft. Haven’t seen much “Typhoon” gun camera footage:


  5. Martin A says:

    “…designed courtesy of Mr Rolls and Mr Royce…”

    Er, Charles Rolls died in a flying accident in 1910,


  6. donaitkin says:

    Ah yes, the Mustang. It was purchased by the RAAF, too, and as an air cadet I sat in the cockpit of one in 1951 at Williamtown airbase, near Newcastle NSW. I loved the sound of that engine, too. There was some based where i lived at the end of the war.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gwaigau says:

    We used to own a little farm in Norfolk next to an old 93BG airfield. One of our more distant neighbours owned a P51 and I just loved the noise of that engine as he took off. When he landed you could hear when he switched the engine from fine to coarse and it idled down to taxiing speed. Great memories. Thank you Mr Hammond for the joy you gave me.


  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    The reason for the poor initial performance of the Mustang (as named by the British) was the refusal of the USA to allow the planes to fit the standard turbo-charger. With the switch to the higher power of the later marks of the RR Merlin that became irrelevant at higher altitudes.
    I have often mused on the appalling stupidity of the British Air Ministry from 1932 to 1940. There seems to have been an ingrained tendency, not unknown these days, for the bureaucratic ‘bible’ to be adhered to regardless of reality. Thus the 0.303″ 8 gun myth(and the 12 gun Hurricane) when every other country was looking to 20mm cannon (the French from 1927). At least the USAAF were better with the 6 gun 0.5″ but check the P38 and P39.
    The Spitfire has been elevated to saintly status despite its deficiencies. That elliptical wing was difficult and expensive to manufacture unlike the straight lines preferred by Germany and the USA designers, yet Sir Sydney Camm gave the Typhoon and Tempest elliptical wings because he knew that the planes wouldn’t be accepted without them. There were in fact 3 Spitfires as it was redesigned over the years but it never became the equal of the P51. Indeed I might add a fourth in the Spiteful – basically a Spitfire with (modified) laminar flow wings as used on the P51- which proved useless and disappeared as the war ended.


  9. ingvare says:

    I agree. I have 2 dreams that will not be fullfilled, Ride with a Mustang or a Pitt Special. I will have to do with my Pontiac Phoenix from 1978, A couple of years ago I built a 383 V8 (6 litres) for my Pontiac Transam. 1984. Just handling all the new parts, like pistons, camshaft has a sensual touch to it. And the satisfacton of hearing the growl when starting it, And driving the car with all the sensory input makes you one with the car. There is a piece on youtube featuring a old chevy that got a Merlin engine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pointman says:

      If you’ve got any pics of your cars, please post them.

      Here’s a virtual ride on a jet. It looks like it’s a present for a lady who’s sitting in the back seat and enjoying the ride. Half way through, there’s a surprise and then the adrenaline really starts to flow. Go full screen and amp 11 up the Trentemoller.



  10. ingvare says:

    I have problems putting the “toys” here
    On my web site “Bilar” “Galleri” there is collection of cars I have owned and also som other fun cars and pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. catweazle666 says:

    “That elliptical wing was difficult and expensive to manufacture unlike the straight lines preferred by Germany and the USA designers”

    The P-47 designer clearly thought otherwise!


  12. richard clenney, USA says:

    Your photo of the P51 shows the true size. When I saw my first one up close, I was
    surprised how BIG it was. Especially the prop.I asked the pilot about fuel consumption
    and he laughed ” 5 gallons to do the run-up! The design makes it look smaller than it is.
    That ain’t a midget at the controls.(40 yrs pvt pilot)


  13. Anti Warmist says:

    Pointmans blog is always a pleasure to read. Check out : P51 Meredith effect. Very interesting.


    • richard clenney, USA says:

      Yes, I would like to shake his hand. Cuts to the chase,and is always
      interesting, makes me feel more sane in this insane time.


    • David Walker says:

      “Check out : P51 Meredith effect”

      Invented by a British engineer and also used on the Spitfire and Hurricane too.


      • Another Ian says:

        Also the Mosquito. Probably better there as the radiators were in the leading edge of the wing, so no extra drag from a separate nacelle.


  14. Blackswan says:

    Today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, is the 99th anniversary of the Armistice of the Great War (to end all wars). If only ….


  15. The Old Man says:

    Well put. Love your writing maybe more than mine..


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