The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is one of the most famous fighters to come out of World War II. The American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber saw action during World War II and the Korean War, among other conflicts. The Mustang was designed in April 1940 by a design team headed by James Kindelberger of North American Aviation.
From late 1943 the P-51 was used by the USAAF's Eighth Air Force to escort bombers in raids over Germany, while the RAF's Second Tactical Air Force and the USAAF's Ninth Air Force used the Merlin-powered Mustangs as fighter-bombers, roles in which the Mustang helped ensure Allied air superiority in 1944. The P-51 was also used by Allied air forces in the North African, Mediterranean, Italian, and Pacific theatres. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed to have destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft.
At the start of the Korean War, the Mustang, by then re-designated F-51, was the main fighter of the United States until jet fighters, including North American's F-86, took over this role; the Mustang then became a specialized fighter-bomber. Despite the advent of jet fighters, the Mustang remained in service with some air forces until the early 1980s, a testament to its longevity and prowess. After the Korean War, Mustangs became popular civilian warbirds and air racing aircraft.