The Twin Mustangs
The last propeller-driven fighter purchased by the Air Force began as a sketch made by North American Aviation chief designer Edgar Schmued on October 21, 1943. His preliminary design group prepared a proposal that became the NA-120 approved on January 7, 1944, by General Arnold on his visit to the factory.
This twin-engine long-range fighter joined twin fuselages based on the P-51F together on a single wing and stabilizer to provide a pilot on the left side and a relief pilot to aid navigation on the other. The last tail-down landing gear on an Air Force fighter had a retractable main wheel and tail wheel underneath each fuselage.
Two XP-82 and two XP-82A prototypes were ordered by a February 8, 1944, letter contract, followed by a production contract on June 30 for 500 P-82Bs capable of bomber escorts or ground attacks. Armament included
six .50-caliber M-2 guns with 400 rpg in the wing center section. Wing racks held two drop tanks, or up to 6,000 pounds of bombs or 25 5-inch rockets, and a center pod containing eight more guns was tested, but not adopted.
Powered by Packard Merlins with opposite inward-rotating propellers, the XP-82 was completed May 25, 1945, but had difficulty lifting off until June 16, when Joseph Barton took off from Mines Field. After prop rotation was reversed, Robert Chilton resumed tests on June 26.
The second XP-82 flew on August 30, but the Allison
V-1710-119 intended for the XP-82A malfunctioned, so those prototypes were canceled.
After V/J Day, the P-82B schedule was cut back to 20, and the first was flown October 19, 1945. Delivered by March 1946, they were similar to the XP-82, except for the 10th and 11th aircraft equipped as night fighters. The P-82C was flown March 27, 1946, with SCR-720 radar in a center pod, and the P-82D flew later with an APS-4 radar. One P-82B with extra tanks flew 4,968 miles nonstop from Hawaii to New York on February 28, 1947, setting a distance record for fighters, and another began tests with a camera pod for reconnaissance on November 15, 1948.
Revision of the wartime contract on December 12, 1945, called for 250 more Twin Mustangs to be powered by Allison V-1710-143/-145 engines, and as approved on October 10, 1946, provided that the last 150 would be night fighters with a radar man in the right cockpit. The first flew February 17, 1947, but engine difficulties soon showed that switching from the Merlins had been unfortunate.
By the yearís end, only four had been accepted as P-82As, while 130 empty airframes awaited satisfactory power plants. Allison finally got engine production underway, so that from January to July 1948, 96 P-82Es were accepted and in May began service with the only SAC fighter escort group. They were redesignated as F-82Es in June, and were armed with six 50-caliber M-3 guns with 400 rpg. Wing racks held two 310-gallon drop tanks, 25 5-inch rockets, or four 1,000-pound bombs.
APG-28 radar had been chosen for the F-82F, but since older SCR-720C radar used on the P-61 was already available, that was installed on the first F-82G version flown on December 8, 1947. As engines and radars appeared, an F-82F flew March 11, 1948, and the USAF accepted 91
F-82Fs and 45 F-82Gs. Weapons included the usual six guns, 20 5-inch rockets, or two 1,000-pound bombs. Four≠teen F-82Hs winterized for Alaskan duty ended Twin Mus≠tang deliveries in March 1949, as the type replaced the P-61.
SACís 27th Fighter-Escort Group used the F-82E until August 1950. Beginning in September 1948, the all-weather versions went to the 52nd Fighter Group at Mitchel Field to protect the northeastern states, the 325th FG at McChord AFB to protect the northwest, and the 347th FG in Japan.
The latter groupís F-82Gs became the first American planes to down North Korean aircraft on June 27, 1950. These Twin Mustangs flew 1,868 sorties in the Korean War, including fighter patrol, close support, and night intrusion missions. The last USAF squadron to use the type was the 449th, whose P-82Hs protected Alaska and flew sorties over the Russian coast. Their last Twin Mustang retired in November 1953.