North American P-51 Mustang during the Korean War

The F-51 Mustang found a new lease of life during the Korean War (by 1950 the P-51 Mustang had been redesignated as the F-51 in line with the new classifications used by the USAF). In the five years between the end of the Second World War and the outbreak of that war in 1950, the majority of American fighter units had converted to new jet fighters. Their F-51Ds had either been left at their bases, or handed to the National Guard. In 1950 they were suddenly needed again. The new jet aircraft were fast, but had low endurance. They did not make good fighter bombers over an active battlefield.

The F-51 was also not an ideal aircraft to use in this role – the liquid cooled Merlin engines were vulnerable to ground fire, but the USAAF had already scrapped its P-47 Thunderbolts, which would have been more suited to the role (the US Navy used the Corsair for the same duties over Korea, where its radial engine made it rather more survivable). The F-51 performed a valuable role in Korea, where the rocket armed aircraft were able to inflict significant damage on North Korean ground forces, despite suffering heavy losses themselves, mostly from ground fire.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 June 2007), North American P-51 Mustang during the Korean War,

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