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Not enough credit is given to Allison-engined variants of one of the world's most famous fighters. We now associate the name "Mustang" with the pretty bubble-canopied fighters which now grace our skies as war birds at Airshows around the world today. There is no doubt that the Merlin engine elevated the Mustang's performance from just being "very good" to "exceptional" and this, in many people's eyes, peaked with the P-51B and P-51C, not the more familiar and most produced version - the P-51D - which comprises the majority seen today. From its inception in early 1940, the development of the fighter, which culminated in the prototype NA-73X launched in October, can only be described as rapid. Before the aircraft had even left the drawing board, the RAF had already placed an order for 320 units, such was the confidence in the design and need for a fighter at the time; from preliminary design to maiden flight had taken just 127 days!By early January 1942, the Mustang was in service with the RAF, flying low-level armed reconnaissance operations over Northern France. This was to be the Mustang's hunting ground all the way up to D-Day and beyond. It had proved to be a highly capable aircraft in this role. While supporting Operation Jubilee over Dieppe, Mustangs were used in a more aggressive capacity for the first time and its first enemy kill was claimed - ironically, the pilot was an American volunteer! The RAF's Allison-engined Mustangs continued to prove their worth from late 1943, flying endless reconnaissance sorties in preparation for the Normandy invasion, and continuing to fly as the Allies slowly pushed eastwards towards Berlin. This was a remarkable service length and, despite later Merlin variants arriving in-theatre, the Mustang I, Ia and II served on the front lines until late 1944. In American hands the Mustang entered service as a dive-bomber designated as the A-36 Apache/Invader. From late 1942 onwards, this type served with distinction in North Africa, both in the ground-attack role and in air-to-air combat, and would do so in the Far East as well. The complete fighter variant was the P-51A which, along with the A-36, served in North Africa and the Far East, excelling in Burma as part of LtCol P. Cochrane's 1st Air Command Group supporting the Chindits. Like their RAF colleagues, the Americans flew the type in the low-level photographic role, designated as the F-6A and F-6B when it continued to serve with the 9th Air Force until the war's end and beyond.
At the outbreak of World War II, only 111 Squadron and a handful of others were equipped with the Hurricane. Thanks to sudden massive orders and a well-organized Hawker sub-contracting production to Gloster and General Aircraft, more squadrons rapidly became operational. Cutting their teeth during the Battle of France, it was during the Battle of Britain that the type excelled and came to form the backbone of Fighter Command. While the Hurricane was steadily overtaken by the Spitfire in the fighter defence role, it remained the fighter of choice in North Africa and the Far East. Despite a large number being shot down in these far-flung conflicts, many received hasty repairs and returned to the fray while more fragile designs were permanently grounded. The Hurricane may not have been the prettiest or, the best-performing aircraft but, as Francis Mason stated: 'The Royal Air Force was glad to get the Spitfire...it had to have the Hurricane!'
One of the most underrated medium bombers of the Second World War, the Martin B-26 Marauder never fully managed to shake off an underserved early reputation as a dangerous aircraft to fly. Admittedly, in inexperienced hands, the B-26 could be tricky to fly, but once mastered, proved to be one of the best in its class. The aircraft incorporated a host of both revolutionary design methods and construction techniques, never before attempted amongst American aircraft manufacturers. Peyton M. Magruder's design had its roots in a USAAC proposal dating back to March 1939 calling for a twin-engined medium bomber capable of reaching 350 mph with a 2,000lb bomb load up to a range of 3,000 miles. Deemed superior to all other designs on the table at the time, almost a 1,000 had been ordered before the aircraft first took to the air November 1940. From late 1941 the first B-26s became operational in the Pacific, followed by the Mediterranean, but it is in the European theatre that the type was most prolific. Initially serving with the 8th Air Force, the type was 'discarded' to the 9th Air Force with whom it served with great distinction for the remainder of the war. It was particularly during the Normandy Landings and later the advance beyond 'the bulge' into Germany, were the B-26s medium level tactical ability shone through.The Marauder also served with the RAF, SAAF and Free French Air Force in the Mediterranean and also as part of the little credited Balkan Air Force in support of Tito's Partisans in Yugoslavia. Sadly the B-26 was unfairly treated at the beginning of its career and even more so at the end as many of the 5,200+ aircraft built were scrapped only days after the end of the war. A great aircraft in many respects the B-26 deserves to be in a better place.
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