/ Published April 25, 2016
When readers think of World War II fighter aircraft, the P-51 Mustang is often the first one that comes to mind. In 2015 the P-51 celebrated the 75th anniversary of its first flight. Cory Graff’s P-51 Mustang: Seventy-Five Years of America’s Most Famous Warbird is a wonderful celebration of this aircraft’s illustrious history.
The iconic P-51 was born from Britain’s desperate need for more platforms to fight the German Luftwaffe. When the British Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation about manufacturing the P-40 under license, that company’s leader, “Dutch” Kindelberger, responded that North American could make a better aircraft faster than it could begin production of the P-40. Equipped with an Allison engine, the initial P-51 proved a bit anemic in performance, but when mated with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, it became one of the Allies’ most capable—if not the most capable—and versatile aircraft: the lead horse in the American fighter stable.
As the long-range escort for American bombers on missions across the European continent, the P-51 played an essential part in winning the air war there. The Mustang proved its versatility by serving not only as an escort but also as a reconnaissance and ground-attack aircraft. Further, it performed admirably in the Pacific theater, continued to serve as a dedicated ground-attack platform in the Korean War, and, after retiring from military service, became a prized icon among civilian warbird owners as well as air racers.
To tell the story of the P-51, Cory Graff has pulled out all the stops, combining detailed yet easy-to-read text with a multitude of photographs and period advertisements to bring the tale to life. The book is a 60-40 split between images (photographs, drawings, and period advertisements) and text, respectively. Throughout, the author includes two-page vignettes of the Mustang and the men who flew her, such as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Although most readers interested in the P-51 have probably seen countless numbers of photos of the plane, Graff seems to have uncovered a heretofore unknown treasure trove of seldom-seen, well-captioned images. Particularly interesting are all of the many period P-51 advertisements. Rather than confine himself to historical photographs, Graff also includes images (mostly air-to-air) of today’s surviving P-51s.
Although researchers would find a list of his sources useful, Graff’s purpose is to tell the story of the P-51 in an enjoyable fashion, utilizing broad history, focused vignettes, and a wonderfully robust collection of photographs and images. Printed on thick, high-quality paper, P-51 Mustang: Seventy-Five Years of America’s Most Famous Warbird is best described as “meaty” coffee-table book for fans of both this aircraft and other World War II warbirds. This book will easily earn a prime spot on readers’ shelves or coffee tables.
Lt Col Dan Simonsen, USAF, Retired
Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."