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F-82 Twin Mustang

The Twin Mustang was manufactured by North American Aviation of Los Angeles, California and originally designated the P-82. It was the last propeller-driven, piston engine aircraft produced for the U.S. military. Although its name implies that it was little more than two P-51 Mustang aircraft welded together, the P-82 Twin Mustang was in fact an all new design. More than 15,000 P/F-51 units were produced by North American Aviation, a division of General Motors, making it one of the most popular and successful aircraft used during World War II. The concept was to combine two of these aircraft to increase range and payload capacity. In the end, however, only 20 percent of the Twin Mustangs parts were interchangeable with the P-51.

Most Twin Mustangs utilized one cockpit for a radar observer, with full radar instrumentation. Early production models furnished each cockpit with identical controls capable of full control of the aircraft. This allowed the crew to switch off pilot duty, thereby enabling the aircraft to be safely operated to the full extent of its long-range capabilities. To this day, an F-82 holds the record for longest nonstop flight by a propeller driven fighter, having flown nonstop from Hawaii to New York in fourteen and a half hours on 1,816 gallons of fuel in 1947.

The Twin Mustang was also an immensely versatile aircraft. North American Design Chief Edgar Schmued designed a system for carrying separate pod mounted on the center wing between the two fuselages which could carry additional guns, bombs, radar, an extra fuel tank, or weather observation equipment.

Toward the end of World War II, the Army Air Force identified the need for a very long-range, all-weather escort fighter to support the planned invasion of Japan. Aircraft design began in 1943 with the first test flight of the XP-82 occurring in June 1945. Two months later, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. Production slowed as the initial threat posed by the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces was neutralized and, by 1947, it became clear that the United State was likely to enter into hostilities with its former ally, the Soviet Union.

Lockheed's magnificent P-38 Lightning was one of the most recognizable fighter planes in World War II. Few twin-engine fighters during that period were agile enough to survive for long in combat, but the Lightning fought successfully in all fronts, and its high speed, long range and heavy firepower proved to be especially lethal against Japanese forces in the Pacific. Its unusual twin-engine, twin-boom configuration continues to make it a favorite today among modelers and airplane buffs worldwide.

The immense distances between islands in the Pacific Theater required a fighter type that could fly for hours between islands, yet have its pilot fresh for combat at any time. The P-38 only had one pilot, so a new plane was needed. North American's solution was its XP-82 Twin Mustang, essentially two modified P-51H fuselages combined in a twin-boom configuration, carrying two pilots to share the tasks of flying and fighting. Although the Twin Mustang arrived too late for World War II, it joined the Air Force as the F-82 escort fighter and night fighter, and went on to a successful combat career in the Korean War.

As a double fuselaged P-51 Mustang, the post World War II P-82 in reality reached back to October 1940, when the P-51 prototype first flew. (The North American P-51 Mustang was developed in record time to satisfy British WWII requirements for a fighter that would take into account the early lessons of aerial combat over Europe. Among the aircraft's most notable features were a laminar flow wing section, aft mounted ventral radiator for minimum drag, and simple lines to ease the production that began in late 1941. A year later, the Army Air Forces adopted the P-51 for its own use. It ordered some 2,000 P-51Bs, a ground attack version of the Royal Air Force P-51 singleseat fighter.)

Since North American used some Curtiss P-40 technical data to quickly develop the YP-51, the P-82's ancestry may even be traced to 1937, when the experimental P-40 Warhawk was ordered. During May 1939, in competition with other pursuit prototypes, the Curtiss Warhawk was evaluated at Wright Field. This plane. was immediately selected for procurement under a first contract of nearly $13 million-largest at the time for a US fighter. The first P-40s (of 12,302 produced) were delivered in May 1940.

A special escort plane was needed. The ADO of 1942 responded to the AAF's 1941 air war plans that "urged development of special escort planes [even though] bombers for the moment could rely on current interceptor type models for support, especially the P-47. Since Republic's incoming P-47s also served as fighter bombers, these plans suggested employment of a modified bomber type for the escort role. The 1941 air war plans sounded a discordant note at a time of overwhelming faith in the bomber's supremacy. Moreover through the late summer of 1942, WWII experience tended to confirm that escorts were only necessary to support bombers past enemy fighters along the coasts of France and Belgium. Once the "fighter belt" was crossed, little if any German opposition would be met.

With even longer range than the latest P-51 then in production the new plane was to penetrate deep into enemy territory. This was a requirement learned the hard way. Two 1943 missions (17 August and 14 October) over Schweinfurt, Germany, had resulted in the loss of 120 B-17s (more than 25 percent of those engaged) and death or capture of 1,200 airmen. In the P-51's case, this had prompted the AAF to rush modification of the plane's fuselage to insert an extra tank that would extend range to more than 800 miles.

This P-51D, like the later P-51H and P-51K, closely resembled the P-51B and P-51C, both of which could carry 184 gallons of fuel internally, 150 gallons in external tanks, and remain in the air 4 hours and 45 minutes. In November 1943 (1 month before the first P-51Bs entered service with the British based Eighth Air Force), the AAF chose the P-51B and P-51C for escort duty over the battletested P-47 and Lockheed's slightly older P-38. This step was meant to stop the soaring bomber losses due to escorts being too short ranged even with extra fuel tanks. (The use of extra fuel tanks for longer range dated back to WW I, when it first proved a definite fire hazard. It was also long resisted on the grounds that interceptor type fighters weighted with fuel would be more vulnerable to enemy aircraft.)

The new plane's immediate role would be to escort the B-29 bombers used in the Pacific against Japan.

On 7 January North American presented a bold design based on the successful P-51. North American's idea of joining two standard, well proven, P-51 fuselages (complete with engine) was not unique. It was reminiscent of the Heinkel 111Z transport and glider tug, a "Siamese Twin" arrangement of two Heinkel 111 bombers, built by the Germans earlier in the war. In any case, North American's plane proved to be the sole American example.

This design promised range, reliability, and less pilot fatigue (the two pilots could spell one another). The AAF endorsed it at once. In fact, a February letter contract to construct and test three experimental P-82s gave way in the same month to an order for 500 productions.

While the U.S. perfected the use of then-experimental jet aircraft, the P-82 went into full production to replace the war-weary P-61 Black Widow as an all-weather night fighter to defend the American coastline in the event of nuclear attack by Soviet bombers.

The U.S. Air Force was created in 1947 and assumed responsibility for most aviation missions previously handled by the U.S. Army Air Force. At this time aircraft designations were re-formulated, with the Twin Mustang being classified as an F-82, with F for fighter instead of P for pursuit.

The XP-82 made its first flight on 6 July 1945. The AAF accepted this XP-82 in August and a second one in September. Both were equipped with Packard Merlin V 1650 23 and 25 engines. (British Rolls Royce type engines built in the United States) The third experimental plane, designated XP82A, had two Allison V 1710 119 engines. It was accepted in October.

The Air Force accepted a grand total of 272 F-82s (including 22 prototype, test, and early productions received by the AAF). Specifically, the F-82 program consisted of 2 XF-82s, 1 XF-82A, 19 F-82Bs (known for a while as P-82Zs and all allocated to testing), 4 F-82As, 96 F-82Es, 91 F-82Fs, 45 F-82Gs, and 14-F82Hs.

The Caribbean Air Command was the first to receive F-82s, 15 by year's end. The first operational F-82s were deployed to the Strategic Air Command 27th Fighter Wing at Kearney Air Force Base, Nebraska in March 1948. By late 1948 the newly formed Air Defense Command had acquired a number of F-82, for defense of the East and West Coasts of the United States. Fifth Air Force was next, with one squadron (the 68th) soon flying F-82s out of Itazuke Air Base in Japan. Another squadron (the 4th) was in place at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, before the Korean war. It was part of the Twentieth Air Force, which once had directed the worldwide operations of all B-29 Superfortresses. F-82s were sent to overseas assignments in the Panama Canal Zone, and, as part of Far East Air Forces, were instrumental in defense of Japan and South Korea in the years following World War II.

Few of the 40 F-82s available to the Far East Air Forces in mid 1950 were combat ready. The first air missions of the Korean War were flown by F-82s and they succeeded in scoring numerous hits on North Korean aircraft. In July, Fifth Air Forces (The Fifth was the largest air force under FEAF) spared three F-82s of the 68th Fighter All Weather Squadron for operations over Korea, but the planes proved of little value except against known and fixed targets. In addition, FEAF's F-82 operations (like ADC's, ADC resumed major air command status in January 1951) were hampered by parts shortages and maintenance troubles. If Fifth Air Force continued to use F-82s over Korea, only 60 days of extra supply support could be expected. Hence, although a few of SAC surplus F-82Es went to FEAF, all F-82s were withdrawn from combat in February 1952. Despite limited use, the F-82s managed to leave a solid war record. They destroyed 20 enemy planes (4 in air fights, 16 on the ground). They scored the first aerial victory in Korea on 27 June 1950, downing a Soviet built Yakovlev-11.

In December 1948, six F-82s were assigned to the 449th Fighter Squadron at Davis Air Force Base in Adak, Alaska. These aircraft were modifi ed for cold weather operations and were designated F-82H. With the closure of Davis looming in the wake of post-war defense spending cuts, the 449th and their F-82s were transferred to Ladd Air Force Base near Fairbanks, with forward bases located at Marks Air Force Base in Nome and, later, Galena Air Force Base. In spite of the emergence of competent jet fighters by early 1950, the F-82 was still considered the ideal aircraft for conditions in Alaska. As they were replaced by jet-powered aircraft elsewhere in the world, all serviceable F-82s were shipped north for Alaska service.

Once converted to F-82H configuration and retrofitted with radar for use as a night interceptor, their design as an all-weather fighter made them well-suited for operation during the cold, dark Arctic winters. Their long-range capabilities were unmatched at the time by jet aircraft. Aerial refueling was not yet standard practice and this was vital given the long Siberian coastline they reconnoitered and the great distances that they would patrol between airfi elds in the remote Alaska wilderness. They were designed with ground combat capabilities, essential for engaging enemy targets in the untouched Alaska wilderness where it could be very difficult, if not impossible, to quickly deploy large numbers of ground troops to locations off the road system.

F-82s served at what was then Ladd Air Force Base from March 1949 until their final retirement in 1953, with the last F-82H flying its final mission for mothballing at Elmendorf Air Force Base in November of that year. During that time F-82 crews flew countless missions patrolling the skies of Alaska, serving as a simulated invasion force for training exercises, and mitigating flooded springtime rivers.

In the mid 1950s Air Defense units began trading F-82s for F-94s, and in early 1951 the few Twin Mustangs remaining in ADC were towing targets. Production of the Twin Mustang ceased by 1949 and the remaining aircraft were beginning to show their age after hard service in Korea and in the harsh Alaska winters. Logistical support became difficult as parts were in short supply. Cannibalization of less airworthy aircraft was employed to keep a minimal number of units operational. The F-82s coming out of Korean combat in February 1952 lingered a bit longer in the inventory. After June 1953, no F-82s appeared on Air Force, Air National Guard, or Air Reserve Forces rolls. By 1952 the 449th was being equipped with new F-94 Starfires, and the F-82s were phased out as the premier all weather, day/ night interceptor over the next year.

Today, surviving F-82s (and spare parts) are extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors. Five complete aircraft are known to exist of the 272 planes produced. Two are located at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, one is a gate guardian at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and two are in private collections.

While this unique, record-setting aircraft may have had a relatively short operational life, it eff ectively bridged the divide between piston-driven and jet-powered aircraft. It enabled the transition of the U.S. Air Force, then in its infancy, into the jet age while still maintaining American air superiority as a deterrent to Soviet aggression.



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