Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Aircraft of the day

If you don't have enough votes to govern solo, you can always slap two parties together and hope the resulting coalition flies. If a single-engined aircraft doesn't have the range to do what you need, stick two of 'em together and ditto.

One result of such thinking: the P-82 Twin Mustang*.

During World War 2, long-range P-51 Mustang escort fighters provided the most effective protection for US bombers over Germany. With a range of over 1,500 miles, the Mustang was one of the few aircraft up to the job. In the Far East, however, even the Mustang's impressive range wouldn't take it far enough to escort US bombers on two thousand mile missions from their bases to Japan and back.

The solution - stick two P-51s together. The resulting aeronautical duumvirate looks odd, but it worked. In the end, the Twin Mustangs were never used against Imperial Japan's dwindling fighter squadrons. Before the Twins were ready, the atom bombs had been dropped and the war was over.

The US Air Force used some of their Twin Mustangs as radar-equipped night fighters in the Korean War.

There's a rather ironic British angle to this story. The P-51 Mustang first became an effective long-range escort fighter when it was fitted with a licence-built version of the high-performance British Rolls Royce Merlin engine. After the war, the Americans baulked at the increasing cost of the licence to keep producing the Rolls-Royce engine and fitted their production Twin Mustangs with inferior, US-built, Allison V-1710 engines.

Meanwhile, the British had decided to allow the Soviet Union to build the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine under licence. By the time of the Korean War, the Soviets had reverse-engineered the Nene and built it as the Klimov RD-45, used to power the MiG-15 fighter, used against Western forces in Korea. So Britain's enemy used the best of British engineering against Britain and her allies at the same time as her ally was giving US pilots inferior kit, because British engineering cost too much.

There's probably some sort of moral here about alliances making strange bedfellows, but I'll leave you, the reader, to work out the details.

*later re-designated F-82, following a change in US military nomenclature