FLYING HISTORY

Mustang Here in the English Midlands, near Nottingham are the shops and corporate offices of Rolls-Royce, the great British manufacturer of all things with motors. This is RAF Hucknall, the flight testing and development center for Rolls-Royce. Today the runways are not in use, and the flying is done elsewhere. In the 1940s this was the center of aerial propulsion innovation and invention for England and the allies including the USA. This place is where the challenge of the airwar was met and overcome. Here is where the true value of the allies was realized. The combination of an American airframe and a British engine created the pivotal air fighter, which had much to do with the eventual victory. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was combined with North American Aviation’s Mustang airframe. The American built fighter, the Mustang, which is a design which breathed speed, was originally fitted with the Allison engine, also American built. This proved to be a seriously inferior engine, as it lost power above 5,000 feet and the realities of the air war were at 25,000 feet and above. The Royal Air Force relegated the Mustang I to low level operations. Rolls-Royce Chief Test Pilot, Ronnie Harker was given the opportunity to test fly a Mustang in early 1942 and when he returned, wrote a report and a short letter, which said that what he flew had the potential to be the best air fighter of the war, which would provide air superiority. That the performance even with the inferior engine surpassed the top line RAF fighter at the time the Spitfire Mark V. The RAF dispatched 5 Mustangs to Hucknall. The letter also made its way to Lt. Col. Thomas Hitchcock, US Air Attache, who made this a personal project, as men were dying, hundreds of bombers were being shot down with 10 men each. The butchers bill was staggering. The first conversion was crude and saddled with problems, but the performance figures were off the charts. This was the essential fighter. The following modifications solved the problems and the new fighter was ready for production at North American Aviation. At the same time, the Rolls-Royce Merlin was being built in huge numbers by Packard in Detroit and ready for the combination. Col. Hitchcock brought the performance data to the USA and convinced Army Air Force Chief of Staff General Hap Arnold that this was essential. The West Point trained engineer saw the results and ordered North American to build an initial order of 2,200 Mustangs with the Packard built Merlin. Before the end of the war more than 13,000 were built. This is where that story began.