Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Martin, 27, of Kansas City, Mo., is commanding officer of the new escort fighter group of P51B Mustangs, announced yesterday as operating in the European Theater.
Long-Range P-51B Is an Escort on U.S. Attacks
The P51B, America's newest long-range fighter, is on combat operation from base in Britain, it announced officially yesterday.
The announcement came after the new Mustang had completed more than 12 mission against the Luftwaffe, escorting Eighth Air Force heavy bomber through the war's most bitter dogfight over Germany Tuesday.
The new fighter, second of the basic type built by North American Aviation Co., are the "long-range fighters" referred to in USAAF operations announcements of the last month or so and in that time they have chalked up a score comparable to performance of the P47 Thunderbolts and P38 Lightnings already announced as in operation in the ETO.
The Mustang first outstanding success came exactly a week ago yesterday when the group led by Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Martin, of Kansa City, Mo., flew with the Fortresses and Liberators the 850-mile round trip to Kiel without loss and brought the bombers home again.
Wins Unanimous Praise
Praised by bomber crews they escort and by the fighter pilot themselves the new Mustang are a high-altitude, long-range version of the original P51 Mustang built by North American to RAF specifications for a low-altitude intruder and fighter.
The B version of the P51 is powered with a Packard Merlin, U.S. - built model of the famed British Rolls Royce engine which has become the mainstay of British airpower.
The liquid-cooled Packard-Merlin, supercharged in two stages for the critical altitude above 20,000 feet- where the heavy bomber fly - replaces the Allison V-1710-F3R liquid-cooled engine of 1,150 hp which powered the original P51. No horsepower rating has been released for the Merlin, which take the new Mustang to high altitudes at a record climbing rate. It probably turns up about 1,500 hp.
Chief feature of the new Mustang is its amazing range; its performance in cruising to Kiel and coming home in escort, fighting all the way, is understood to be far short of it optimum capabilities.
Much of the P51B's long-range performance, plus a startling climb rate, lie in the radically new wing which North American put into the original rush order Mustang for the RAF.
The wing is described as "a laminar flow airfoil," designed to provide nearly equal lift across the entire chord of the wing instead of a high peak just behind the peak of the airfoil's curve as in conventional designs. The new wing cross-section apparently cuts down drag while simultaneously providing greater lift. When the 51 is fitted with a jettisonable auxiliary fuel tank its range at least equals the operational limits of any other fighter plane.
Addition of the new Mustang gives the U.S. air forces in the ETO three formidable long-range fighters and provides the answer to the problem which was posed in the experimental stage of high-altitude daylight bombing in this theater: How to escort heavy bombers over the more distant Nazi targets, thus permitting the heavies to concentrate on accurate bombing and relieving them of some of the necessity of fighting their way to the target through swarms of Luftwaffe defenders flying on do-or-die orders.
The P51B was introduced secretly to the ETO, and through hush-hush weeks of trials proved itself as a front-line combat plane capable of taking on the Luftwaffe's best on the basis of the box score of fighter destroyed to U.S. losses.
Looks Like Nazi Plane
When bomber gunner first were briefed that they would be accompanied by the Mustangs, they ran into a prime difficulty in aircraft recognition - with its blunt wing tips, liquid-cooled engine and square-cut tail assembly, the P51 strongly resembles the Messerschmitt 109E, predecessor of the Me109F and G, which are today's first-line liquid-cooled fighters in the Nazi airforce. Germany, however, apparently has a rapidly dwindling stock of obsolescent 109Es, and combat crews report little difficulty in recognition.
Armament of the original P51 was eight .050 cal. machine-gun in the wings and two in the sides of the engine cowling. Detail of the P51B's armament have not been released.
Leading the first of the new Mustangs in their ETO trials - and on the basis of their performance in the "big league" of aerial warfare, the new craft were judged for combat everywhere - were a group of pilots led by Col. Martin and a handful of veteran USAAF combat pursuit fliers.
Maj. James H. Howard, 30 of St. Louis, Mo., a veteran of the famed American Volunteer Group flying in Burma and China against the Japanese led one squadron. Maj. Howard was decorated by Chiang Kai-shek for destroying six Jap plane while an AVG pilot.
2 Pearl Harbor Veterans
Other squadron commander of the experimental group were Capt. Henry Lee Priser, of Tucson, Ariz., and Maj. George Bickell, 27, of Nutley, NJ., both of whom were stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
An earlier squadron commander was Maj. Owen Seaman, 27-year-old San Mateo (Cal.) pilot, who was reported missing after an escort mission to Germany. Seaman' plane crippled by enemy fire, was seen plunging toward the North Sea while over the RT came a muttered, "Hell of a cold day for a swim."
Executive officer of the P51 group is Lt. Col. Wallace P. Mace, of Salt Lake City, who was at Pearl Harbor and Midway before being ordered home to help form the new force for combat in the ETO.
Operations chief of the group is Carl Gies, of Salem, Ore. who was one of the handful of American pilots who defended Bataan and who won one of the war's first DFCs for destroying two Jap planes in the enemy attack on Clark Field, near Manila, three days after Pearl Harbor.