PC Pilot

The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith


Meanwhile, the most significant fighter aircraft during Yeager's career were designed by Edgar Schmued, who emigrated to this country from Germany and went to work for North American Aviation, where he was the chief designer of the P-51 Mustang, the F-86 Sabrejet, and the F-100 Super Sabre (the first of the acclaimed Century series of USAF fighters).

Arguably, the defining aircraft for both men was the Mustang. It is celebrated as the most famous aircraft of World War II; certainly it was the best American fighter. It was a smidgin too unwieldy for a dogfighter, and despite a supercharger, ran out of breath at high altitudes. But it could manage energy better than any other fighter; its specialty was slashing dive through enemy ranks, then a zoom back up to a commanding altitude. The sleek-looking Mustangs dominated air races for decades after the war, and for many people they still epitomize the romantic image of fighter planes.

A measure of its popularity: the Mustang is featured in more flight simulations than any other aircraft. In addition to Chuck Yeager's Air Combat, it appears in Flight Simulator 4.0 (in Mallard's Sound, Graphics and Aircraft Upgrade), Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (with both the P-51B and P-51D models; see Chapter Nine) Aces over Europe (see Chapter Ten), and others like Electronics Arts' Heroes of the 257th

Yet the Mustang almost didn't happen.

Just prior to Hitler's invasion of Poland—and two years before Pearl Harbor—a delegation from Britain's aviation industry came to the United States on a shopping spree. Desperate for fighter planes (they couldn't turn out Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Splitfires fast enough), they arrived with cash in hand only to discover American aircraft factories were already working overtime to rearm the U.S. Army Air Corps.

The only manufacturer with idle production capacity was North American, which had never built a fighter. The British inquired if North American would be willing to build Curtiss P-40 Warhawks under license. Not wanting to have to pay Curtiss royalties, North American said it had a better fighter, the NA-73, that would be ready in four months. It was a bluff; the NA-73 didn't exist.

So a German—Schumued—went feverishly to work to design a fighter for the British that became the best American fighter of the war. Three days before the deadline, North American rolled out the first Mustang.

The British didn't like it. After some initial promise (it was better than the old Warhawk; no great trick), the RAF decided it was underpowered and relegated it to the reconnaissance role. Then someone had the brilliant idea of replacing the sluggish Allison V-16 with a rip-snortin' Rolls Royce Merlin engine with almost 50 percent more horsepower… and a star was born.

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