Speaker Topic

Mustang vs. Corsair – Which is the Better Fighter

The P-51 is considered by many experts to be the best piston-engine fighter of World War II? But was it? Barring the Me-262, which was the first operational jet fighter, were there any other piston engine fighters that offered better all-around performance?

Is the P-51 the king of the hill? Many Navy and Marine Corps aviators will tell you the Corsair was, hands down, the better fighter.

Vought’s gull winged fighter was designed for speed and maneuverability and first flew in May 1940. The Corsair was the first U.S. single engine fighter to exceed 400 miles an hour in level flight. Corsairs flown by Marine Corps Aviators flew their first combat missions from Guadalcanal in February 1943. Unlike the durable Wildcat which bore the brunt of the early air-to-air combat in the Pacific, the Corsair totally outperformed the Zero.

The Mustang, on the other hand, was originally designed to a Royal Air Force requirement for an “army cooperation” airplane, i.e. one to fly close air support missions. In early 1942, as the RAF began flying Mustang Is and IIs in combat. At the time, the U.S. Army Air Force wasn’t interested in the plane and focused on getting the single engine P-47 and the twin engine P-38 into combat in Europe. 

The Mustang Is and IIs bought by the Royal Air Force were good performers below 10,000 feet. Above that altitude, without a supercharged engine, they were easy pickings for German Me109s and FW-190s.

Based on an RAF suggestion, North American Aviation gave the RAF permission to allow Rolls-Royce to install a supercharged Merlin 61 in a Mustang I and a IA. Suddenly, the Mustang was transformed an airplane that could take on German fighters. North American, with the support of the Army Air Force brass, rushed the Rolls-Royce powered P-51B into production. Its first missions in U.S. livery weren’t until December 1943.

One can look at numbers from performance charts all day long and it still doesn’t answer the question of, which airplane – Corsair or Mustang – is better. The numbers from the charts may be directionally correct, but they’re not “good enough!”

In January 1944, the U.S. Navy was loaned a P-51B to test against the F4U. The Mustang was flown by seven Naval and Marine Corps Aviators through a series of test flights to determine its flight characteristics before it was flown in dogfights against an F4U-1 and an F4U-1A. All the Naval Aviators were fighter pilots and each flew both airplanes.

This presentation provides facts and figures on the two different paths to combat of these premier fighters took. It also looks at the remarkable similarities of the tactical situation the pilots of both airplanes faced. In the presentation, you get to see the results of not only that test, but data from separate tests by each of the services. The results may or may not surprise you.

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