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The world’s first operational jet fighter

1 month ago

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Writer:

David Twohig | Engineer

Date:

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.

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