Back to Library >
ti icon


The world’s first operational jet fighter

1 month ago

not bookmarked


David Twohig | Engineer


19 April 2024

It’s the late summer of 1944. You are flying a Mustang P-51D at 25,000 feet over Germany, cruising about 5000 feet above the bomber formation below you. The Packard-built Rolls-Royce V12 Merlin engine in front of you is thrumming away at part-throttle so as not to outstrip the B26 Marauders that you’re escorting. Your neck aches as you constantly quarter the sky, looking for the tell-tale glints of German Messerschmitt 109s or Focke-Wulf 190s who might be dumb enough to try their luck.

These young men and their machines were the best of the best – the most thoroughly trained pilots, flying the most advanced machines that brains and total-war industry could produce. The P-51D was (arguably) the greatest fighter of the war. Powered by the greatest engine ever built sitting in a beautifully functional airframe, it was also one of the fastest. Its finely-sculpted wings somehow contained 6 Browning M2 50-calibre machine guns – each capable of firing 850 rounds per minute. It could out-run, out-turn and out-gun anything it encountered. By late summer 1944, the Luftwaffe was a spent force, far from the bombastically confident air force that menaced the UK in the summer of 1940. The likelihood of anything coming up to take on the P-51s was low.

So you were probably scared, but not too scared, as you swivelled your head and automatically scanned your instruments. You were in your 20s – the natural courage of youth emboldened by the knowledge that you and your buddies dominated the skies, and anything that did come up to challenge you was dead meat.

Start your 30-day free trial to continue reading this article.

Begin free trial

Already subscribed? Click here to log in.