North American P-51 Mustang

What the Spitfire was for the British, the P-51 Mustang was for the Americans, an iconic fighter from the World War II era, even though the Mustang was originally developed for the British! The Mustang has a liquid cooled piston engine in the nose, of which the liquid  is cooled via an air intake underneath the fuselage, in between the wings. This cooler curves up behind the wings, giving the P-51 its typical shape. In this curve is the exhaust of the cooler. Where the cooler curve meets the underside of the fuselage, the tail wheel retracts. The tail is a trapezium with mostly straight edges, and a dorsal fin in front. That is another key feature of the aircraft. The single wheel main landing gears retract inward in the wings. The canopy differs in shape per sub variant.

Mustangs were built under license by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of Australia as the CA-17 and CA-18.

The P-51 Mustang has a trapezium shaped, non swept vertical fin with straight edges, on some versions with a triangular dorsal fin. The rudder continues to the underside of the fuselage. Note the retractable tail gear.

Another key feature of the Mustang is the cooler that scoops air from under the fuselage, and that curves up to the rear fuselage.

Different versions

To differentiate between the different subtypes of the Mustang you have to look at (amongst others)

  • the number of propeller blades
  • the shape of the canopy
  • the shape of the cooler
  • the shape of the cowling
  • the presence of a dorsal fin

More details will follow later.

Confusion possible with

Scale replicas


Being such a popular warbird, and thus ex­pensive, there are many homebuilt replicas of the Mustang, often not at full size. Exam­ples are the Titan T-51 - pictured above, the Stewart S-51D Mustang, Loehle 5151 Mustang and ScaleWings SW51 Mustang. Except for being clearly smaller, the replicas look a lot like the original, some types more that the other. (photo: James/WikiMedia)

Piper PA-48 Enforcer


The PA-48 is a fully modernised version of the P-51 Mustang. Unlike its predecessor it has a turboprop engine with a large exhaust in the left front fuselage, no cooler underneath the fuselage, tip tanks and lots of pylons under the wings.

CAC CA-15 Kangaroo

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The designers of the CA-15 seem to have been inspired by the P-51 Mustang, but they claim not. Anyway, both aircraft are quite similar. The CA-15 has the retractable tail gear further aft though, and the bubble canopy is rather small. (photo WikiMedia)

Kawasaki Ki-61


Another fighter with a fully retractable gear, liquid cooled piston engine and cooler underneath the fuselage is the Ki-61 Hien. The tail is clearly different though, as is the cooler shape. (photo: US Navy/WikiMedia).