The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
THE MIGHTY MUSTANG
Fitted with six .50-caliber machine guns and 2,400 rounds of ammo, and capable of carrying 2,000 pounds of bombs, with a top speed of well over 400 miles per hour, the revised P-51 was a formidable machine, putting the Yanks on a par with Germany's best fighter of the early 1940s, the Fock-Wulf FW-190. (In another twist of irony, the Focke-wulf was a copy of a racing plane designed by Howard Hughes.)
The 1,700–Horsepower Mustang was so powerful, in fact, that banging the throttle wide open during the takeoff roll would cause a violent torque reaction, tipping the aircraft counterclockwise, often burying the port wing in the runway and causing a ground loop. Once aloft, pilots reported the Mustang was a dream to fly.
One simple, how-come-nobody-thought-of-this-before innovation, however, insured the Mustang's success: drop tanks. Extra fuel, carried in two wing-mounted 165-gallon gas tanks (which could be jettisoned on command), increased the Mustang's range from 950 miles on internal tanks to 2,300 miles with the drop tanks—the longest range of the war. Some pilots on "deep penetration" missions stayed aloft for almost nine hours.
Since the Eighth Air Force's Flying Fortresses and Liberators were bombing Germany by day—while the RAF's Lancasters and Stirlings pounded the Reich by night—the drop tanks enabled P-51s to escort the B-17s and B-24s all the way to the target, instead of having to abandon them short of the Rhine. The "Little Friends," as the Mustangs came to be called by the grateful bomber crews, would fly on ahead, sweeping the sky clear of enemy fighters. (Eventually, the fearful British crews would have to face—unescorted—the terror of the Luftwaffe's radar-guided night fighters.)
By war's end, 15,686 Mustangs had been built (cost to the taxpayers: $17,000 for each airframe), of which 2,500 were lost in the European theater. They had flown 213,873 sorties and claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat, and another 4,131 on the ground.
Almost everything but the Mustang's torque reaction, I am pleased to report, is duplicated in Chuck Yeager's Air Combat (even the rate of climb is accurate—rare for a sim). And the P-51 isn't the only aircraft you get to pilot in this sim. In tracking Yeager's career through three eras, you also get to fly the F-86 Sabrejet in Korea and the F-4 Phantom in Vietnam. Plus, you can switch sides and fly the Focke-Wulf FW-190 in World War II, the MiG-15 in Korea, and the MiG-21 in Vietnam.
It's kind of a gimmick, but you can also mix and match aircraft from different eras in this game. With Air Combat's mission builder, you can fly a Mustang against a Phantom (hint: don't), or, for that matter, go up against up to fifteen opponents in any of these planes, or against B-17s, B-24s, B-52s, P-47s (the unsinkable "Jug"), F-105s, Me-109s, Me-110s (watch out for that stinger in the tail!), Me-163s (a rocket-powered interceptor; the fastest—and fastest climbing—plane of the war), Me-262s, and the Spitfire-like Russian Yak 9. You can set the enemy skill level from trembling neophyte to flinty-eyed ace (although, in truth, the best enemy AI is dangerous only to the most timid gamers).