The pedigree

The North American P-51 Mustang was one of the very best air superiority fighters in the European Theater during World War 2 and had the range to escort bombers all the way to Germany and back. Many P-51 pilots moved up to general officer billets and they sang the praises of ‘their aircraft’.

However it was a poor ground attack fighter. For that role, the F/A, there was nothing better than the P-47 Thunderbolt (jug). And later versions of the P-47 with its beefed up power plant and four blade prop was a war winner. It had a lot of firepower and it could fill any role including the role occupied by the P-51.

Fast forward to 1956, when Cavalier Aircraft, bought the rights to the Mustang from North American Aviation. The P-51 eventually became the Turbo Mustang III.

In 1968, in response to an Air Force search for a counterinsurgency aircraft to fight in Southeast Asia, the Turbo Mustang III moved to Piper Aircraft, which tinkered with the design. In 1971 the PA-48 Enforcer emerged as Piper’s bid for the COIN contract, but time had moved on. The A-1, an excellent ground attack aircraft (sort of a successor to the P-47) was being phased out and a far more lethal aircraft took its place.

PA-48 Enforcer

The Air Force chose the A-10. Who wouldn’t?

The Air Force awarded Piper an $11.9 million contract in 1981 to build two prototype PA-48s for evaluation (call it a sop if you will). The evaluation team found the PA-48 Enforcer easy to operate and maintain, but they also concluded it was underpowered, lacked maneuverability with a full bomb load and was too fragile, which was why the P-51 wasn’t a good ground attack aircraft in the first place.

And that is the end of the story.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Some years ago I knew a gentleman who flew B17s over Germany. He remained in the air force until around 1970 flying a number of aircraft, including century series jets, along the way. He thought very highly of the P51 due to its range when he was flying bombers, and later as a pilot of them. The P47s at the time couldn’t make the trip to Berlin and the Germans knew when they had to turn back. I once asked him what his favorite of the planes he flew through the years and he responded immediately, the P51.

    • I think that the P-51 Mustang left WW2 as THE favorite fighter of the European Theater. The Russians loved the Lend Lease P-39’s, which were used by the US in the Pacific, and were not bad ground support aircraft, but were not loved. The Pacific was a Navy war, and the Hellcat/Corsair was the fighter of that war with the P-38 being a favorite of the Army Air Force. The P-51 was a remarkably good air superiority fighter. Pilots loved to fly it and it fit. But it wasn’t a great ground attack aircraft, and that is what they were going for with the Enforcer. The A-1 Sky Raider was excellent in that role in SE Asia and the A-10 was/is superb. By 1971, even though pilots and influential people had that nostalgia in their hearts for the P-51, it still didn’t make a great ground attacker. The liquid cooled engine was vulnerable to ground fire, it was not nimble with a full bomb load and so forth.

      • With more range, the F4U might have been useful in the ETO. The Royal Navy used many along with the Hellcat. They saw limited contact with German fighters from what I can find. Side note; most of the F4Us supplied to the Royal Navy were built by Brewster.

        • I didn’t know that Brewster supplied the F4U to the British.

          The Navy war in the Atlantic was so very different than in the Pacific that they could have been on different planets.

  2. There is an old saying–“You can fly a barn door with a big enough engine”.

    The Mustang had the Merlin. The P47 had the Pratt and Whitney R-2800.

    “During durability testing of the C series R-2800 by Republic, it was decided to find out at what manifold pressure and carburetor temperature caused detonation. The technicians at Republic ran the engine at extreme boost pressures that produced 3,600 hp! But wait, it gets even more amazing. They ran it at 3,600 hp for 250 hours, without any failure! This was with common 100 octane avgas. No special fuels were used. Granted, the engines were largely used up but survived without a single component failure. Try this with Rolls Royce Merlin or Allison V-1710 and see what happens.”

    From here–
    https://www.cradleofaviation.org/history/history/aircraft/p-47_thunderbolt_aviation_darwinism.html

    Charles Mohrle, P47 pilot–
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo_irQ9bjzU

    • Yes, but even at that, the P-47 was not the ground attack aircraft that the Sky Raider was. In its day and in it’s role, it was the best all-around (Swiss Army Knife of fighter) of the European Theater and it was effective in the Pacific, but that was a different war.

  3. Good bird, but folks that flew both the P-51 and the F4U, IF they would admit it, thought the F4U was the better of the two. Merle Guftason owned both and sold the P-51, keeping the F4U, which had actually seen combat in Okinawa in WWII.

    • The only frame of reference I have on the comparisons is the Reno Air Show, where they fly head-to-head. And even they they’re “better than original” in most cases. I really like the Bearcats.

  4. Instead of screwing around with a super-Stang, the friggin Air Force could have had the OV-10X, the Super Bronco. Proven design, excellent in ground attack, two engines, internal cargo, lots of room to mount bombs, either single or 2-crew, STOL to the max, capable of flying off of even baby carriers or grass strips or even packed dirt, excellent visibility, excellent maneuverability, excellent range and loiter ability, yada yada yada.

    But… noooooo… the stupid Chair Force had to futz with the Super Tucano for 20 years because, well, stupid Chair Force.

    Seriously, this stupid procurement system that is broken to Hell pisses me off, and I’ve never served. Can’t even begin to understand you all who had to deal with it directly feel.

      • I agree with you both, the OV-10 is one of my favorites. I have a neighbor who flew it in combat in Vietnam. Then he transitioned to Phantoms and ended up in F-15’s before he retired from USAF. He is a big fan of the Bronco as well, but there is also a nostalgia factor as well.

        • Probably the best COIN aircraft ever, perfect for rescue, medevac, specforce, attack, artillery spotting, liason, logistics.

          So, of course the USAF shat on it.

          Sometimes you just get the feeling to start shooting everything with more than one star in the Pentagon.

          • You see them a lot fighting fires these days. I looked into buying one but they are simply too rich for my blood. The USAF has interesting priorities and most of them are either self serving for generals or for former generals employed as beltway bandits.

          • Border Control loved the ones they got their hands on. And reactivated ones performed excellently in Afghanistan.

            As you said, great little tanker planes and Forward Observer aircraft. Almost like they were designed for that, right?

      • I used to watch them fly out of Patrick Air Force Base. Watching them skim the waves of the Atlantic, do all sorts of fun stuff, even saw one with the rear door flopping open and closed on the way to landing.

        Beautiful birds. Looked like some sort of raptor or wasp. Deadly-looking just sitting on the tarmac. And the pilots loved them.

  5. Back when MCAS El Toro still existed, they had a fabulous air show every year, with the Blue Angels, and scads of aircraft on display. I’d never seen an OV-10 up close until then, and was immediately enamored of it.

    As I looked it over, I was struck by they fact I could probably learn to fly it, having been a Cessna pilot a few years earlier.

    IIRC, couldn’t they fly it without the tail cone so parachute jumpers could exit the back?

    • Yes, they could fly with the tail cone missing. Or they could open the tail cone.

      As I said above, used to see them out at Patrick. Neatest thing about CAP at Patrick was the hanger the CAP offices were in was a maintenance hanger. Got to see and talk to the crew of one that was getting something fixed on it (can’t remember) and they told lots of good stories about playing in the trees at Avon Park (bomb range,) I mean, literally flying as low around trees as possible.

      They were easy to fly, supposedly. And easy to maintain. The only negative thing I ever heard about them was that if they ditched, the observer could get out but the pilot was most likely dead as the plane would sink rather rapidly.

      • Beans, what I have read on that subject said that neither position was considered survivable in a ditching.
        They had two other problems. One was the weight of the landing gear. It was way over designed. Could handle surfaces that the crew couldn’t deal with. This attribute was never addressed, but desperately needed to lighten the airframe.
        Two, was the aircraft was underpowered. It was not uncommon for the aircraft to end up flying into rising ground, when dealing with a hostile AA environment in the hills. Needed at least a 50% increase in engine power.

        Really neat plane, but not what the designers had originally envisioned.

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