I think today is a good day for Eddie Rickenbacker’s statement about the P-51. Ewan did a t-shirt of the P-51 some time ago, and on the back he had the kill record of a P-51 pilot, Major Foy. He could have done Chuck Yeager, or many other famous P-51 pilots, but wanted to honor someone who was not a celebrity either before or after the war. Major Foy was a “citizen soldier” who did his job, very well, then went home to live a quiet life, knowing he had answered the call of duty.
Another plane I saw impressed me even more. It was an English plane, but it was no Spitfire or Hurricane. It had been made in the United States. Through my friendship with E. H. “Dutch” Kindelberger of North American Aviation, with which I had been connected when it was known as the Fokker Aircraft Company, I had heard the story of this mystery plane some time before. North American had been making training planes for the British who were well pleased with their performance. In 1940 the RAF asked Kindelberger to build them a pursuit ship similar to the P-40, and he proceeded to do just that. He told me that it was the best plane in the sky.
In England I saw it and talked with pilots who had flown it. They agreed with its maker. I had never heard such enthusiasm for an airplane. I looked at it, and it was beautiful. Its clean lines promised the performance that men who had flown it told me it was capable of. Even equipped with an Allison 1,450-horsepower engine, compared to the Focke-Wulf’s 1,700 horsepower, it outperformed the German plane.
It was the P-51, the Mustang. Had it gone through the regular channels and been subjected to the standard tests at our experimental station at Wright Field, it never would have gotten through the red tape. After it was in production, thanks to the English orders, the Air Corps bought a few. But we did not know what we had.
But after seeing it and discussing it with men who had flown it, I was positive that it was the best fighter plane in the sky.
And it could be even better. The Rolls-Royce people in England had produced the Merlin engine capable of 1,600 horsepower. What a combination! At that time the ship was being sent over with the 1,450-horsepower engine. I recommended that only the frame be shipped and that the Merlin be installed in England, which was done.
I do not believe that any plane in history has had a more loyal and enthusiastic group of rooters than the Mustang had. On my return to the United States, incidentally, I visited the Allison factory to persuade them to step up their 1,450-horsepower engine. The Allison engineers did step it up to 1,750 horsepower, with no increase in weight, which was a remarkable achievement. It was that combination – P-51 plus the Allison 1,750-horsepower engine – that made the Mustang the ruler of the skies until the jet fighters took over.
- Edward V. Rickenbacker, Rickenbacker: An Autobiography(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1967), 332-333
See, I told you Rickenbacker either witnessed, or made, a large part of aviation history.
Also see this post for an interesting detail about the P-51.