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How the P-51 Mustang almost became the A-10

The P-51 Mustang had a long combat career – seeing action in the Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras over two decades after the end of World War II. In fact, the Mustang was serving with the Dominican Republic well into the 1980s.


But it nearly made a comeback with the United States Air Force – long after it was retired and sold off after the Korean War. Not for the air superiority role it held in World War II, but as a counter-insurgency plane.

PA-48 Enforcer during Air Force trials in the 1980s. (USAF photo)

But in the years after World War II, the Mustang underwent a metamorphosis of sorts. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that the P-51 line was sold by North American to a company known as Cavalier Aircraft Corporation. That company turned the one-time air-superiority fighter into a fighter-bomber, giving the plane eight hardpoints, with a usual warload of six five-inch rockets and two 1,000-pound bombs.

But the design could be pushed further, and Cavalier soon sold the Mustang to Piper Aviation. That company decided to try putting a turboprop engine in the Mustang airframe. That and other modifications lead to the PA-48 Enforcer. By the time they were done, the Enforcer had some Mustang lineage, but was ready for modern counter-insurgency work. It had GPU-5 gun pods - in essence, the Mustang would have two guns delivering BRRRRRT!

The PA-48 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

The Air Force kicked the tires around the Vietnam War, but didn't buy any. Not that you could blame 'em – there were plenty of A-1 Skyraiders around.

But in 1981, Congress pushed the Air Force into ordering two prototypes. After some testing in 1983, the Air Force decided to pass. One Enforcer found its way to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB. The other is at Edwards Air Force Base.

Check out the video below to see more about the near-return of the Mustang to the Air Force.