Escorting the Bombers


Photo by Paul Bowen

Big Fight, Little Friends

Pre-war bomber designs tended to focus on defensive armament – because their long range meant that they were expected to pass beyond the range of friendly escort fighters. In practice, this did not work – and U.S. bomber formations in Europe suffered staggering losses on their early missions over occupied Europe. Particularly horrific events stand out in history – The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission stands as an example of these early raids – where 60 bombers were lost in a single afternoon and 95 were heavily damaged leaving 557 men missing in action, about half of which had been taken prisoner by the Germans. Something had to change, and quickly – the U.S. was losing Air Superiority over Europe because of their enormous losses. Enter the Little Friends.

Featured Aircraft: North American P-51 Mustang

Originally designed by North American Aviation to fulfill a request made by the British Purchasing Commission, the first P-51 was taken from the drawing board to finished prototype aircraft in just 102 days. It first flew on Oct. 26, 1940. Shortly thereafter the British began to take delivery of the Mustang MK I, however it was the incorporation of the Rolls-Royce Designed Merlin engine which transformed the P-51 into one of the most impressive aircraft of the war. Its excellent performance above 15,000 feet, and long range (supplemented by drop tanks) meant that the Mustang could accompany bombers all the way to their targets and back. This had an immediate impact on Bomber operations and crew morale – with Bomber crews being emboldened by the presence of the “Little Friends” who were watching their back. More than just a morale impact, the Mustang had a measurable one as well – reducing bomber losses by 23% per mission in its first few months of operational service as an escort.

Wes Stowers_P-51 Ain't Misbehaing_David F Brown

North American P-51 Mustang

Aircraft Type: North American P-51D Mustang Ain’t Missbehaving

Organization: Wes Stowers

Photo Credit: David F. Brown

Andrew McKenna's North American P-51D Mustang_Doug Fisher

North American P-51 Mustang

Aircraft Type: North American P-51D Mustang

Organization: Andrew Mckenna

Photo Credit: Doug Fisher

Beasley's P-51_John Lackey

North American P-51 Mustang

Aircraft Type: North American P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle

Organization: Jim Beasley

Photo Credit: John Lackey

Dan Fordice P-51_Trey Carrol

North American P-51 Mustang

Aircraft Type:P-51D Mustang Charlotte’s Chariot II
Photo Credit: Trey Carrol

**The aircraft listed have agreed to participate in the flyover, but due to factors such as weather or mechanical issues,participating aircraft are subject to change without notice.**