"Only after Pearl Harbor did the US
Army finally agree to order the Mustang for its own use. General H. H. "Hap"
Arnold, Chief of Staff of the USAAF, was instrumental in breaking up the
bureaucratic log-jam and getting the Army to relent and order the Mustang for
its own use. On April 16, 1942, the Army finally ordered 500 NA-97s. The NA-97
was a ground attack version and was designated A-36A (in the attack series
rather than the fighter series). Serial numbers were 42-83663/84162.
There is a considerable
amount of confusion and misinformation about the correct name for the A-36.
Names such as Invader and Apache have also been associated with the A-36, but
the correct name is and always has been Mustang. There was a brief effort to
change the name of the A-36 to Invader following the invasion of Sicily in order
to distinguish it from the fighter versions in press coverage. The Army turned
down the request, since they didn't want to reveal to the enemy that they were
facing a dive bomber version of the fighter. In addition, the name Invader had
already been assignated to the Douglas A-26. There is a persistent myth that the
A-36 was initially called Apache, which was the name that the Army had initially
assigned to the very early P-51. However, this story has no basis in fact, and
was in fact a myth that originated in the 1980s.
The A-36A differed from
previous Mustang versions in having a set of hydraulically-operated perforated
door-type dive brakes mounted at approximately mid-chord on both the upper and
lower wing surfaces outboard of the wing guns. The brakes were normally recessed
into the wings, but were opened to 90 degrees by a hydraulic jack to hold diving
speeds down to 250 mph. A rack was fitted under each wing for a 500-pound bombs,
a 75 US gallon drop tank, or smoke-curtain equipment. A built-in armament of six
0.50-inch machine guns (two in lower fuselage nose, four in the wings) was
fitted, however the two nose guns were often omitted in service. The wing guns
were moved closer to the main landing gear strut in order to minimize stress
under taxi and takeoff conditions. The engine was the Allison V-1710-87 (F21R),
rated at 1325 hp at 3000 feet. Normal and maximum loaded weights rose to 8370
pounds and 10,700 pounds, and the maximum speed in clean condition fell to 356
mph at 5000 feet and 310 mph with the two 500-lb bombs fitted. With the bombs,
range and service ceiling were 550 miles and 25,100 feet respectively.
The first A-36A flew on
September 21, 1942. Deliveries of the A-36A were completed by the following
March. The A-36A equipped the 27th and 86th Fighter Bomber Groups based in
Sicily and in Italy. They initially were painted in olive-drab and light-gray
finish and were painted with yellow wing bands and yellow circles around the
national insignia. Both of these Groups arrived in North Africa in April of 1943
just after the end of the Tunisian campaign. They saw their first action during
aerial attacks on the island of Pantelleria, with the first sortie being flown
on June 6, 1943. The A-36A was involved in the taking of Monte Cassino, and
participated in the sinking of the Italian liner Conte di Savoia.
The only other A-36 user
was the 311th Fighter Bomber Group, based in India. It saw extensive use in the
Several sources list the
A-36 as not being particularly effective during combat. It seems that this is
not strictly correct. Although losses during low-level attacks were rather high,
the A-36 was actually a good dive bomber and it was a stable and effective
ground strafer. The engine was very quiet, and it was often possible for an A-36
to get nearly on top of an enemy before he realized that an attack was imminent.
Dive bombing was usually initiated from an altitude of 10,000 feet to 12,000
feet, with bombing speed held to around 300 mph by the dive brakes. The bombs
were dropped at an altitude of 3000 feet, and pullout was at approximately 1500
feet. The A-36 was fairly rugged and easy to maintain in the field. The A-36
could consistently stay within 20 feet of the deck and could easily maneuver
around trees, buildings, and other obstacles while strafing. The A-36A was able
to take a considerable amount of battle damage and still return to base.
Nevertheless, a total of 177 A-36As were lost in action.
The A-36s did not see very
much air-to-air combat, since it was optimized for low-altitude operations and
lost its effectiveness above 10,000 feet altitude. It was generally believed
that the A-36 was no match for the Messerschmitt Bf 109 at high altitudes, and
that it was therefore best for A-36 pilots to avoid such encounters if at all
possible. If air-to-air combat was unavoidable, it was thought best to force the
battle down to altitudes below 8000 feet, where maximum advantage could be taken
of the A-36A's excellent low-altitude performance. Although it was not a
fighter, the A-36 claimed 101 enemy aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat. One
of the pilots of the 27th Fighter Bomber Group, Lt Michael T. Russo, became the
only ace in the Allison-engined Mustang, although several other of his
colleagues did score victories as well.
A sort of urban legend has
sprung up about the A-36A's dive brakes. According to some stories, the dive
brakes of the A-36A were next to useless and were deliberately wired shut at the
manufacturers so that they could not be used. This story is totally incorrect.
On the contrary, the dive brakes proved to be quite effective in combat, and the
aircraft was so stable with the dive brakes extended that bombing while in a
dive was particularly accurate. The origin of this legend seems to have been in
the United States, at a time before the A-36s first went overseas. It seems that
A-36A pilots were told by their officers in the USA that their dive brakes would
be all but useless in combat and it would be best if they simply wired them
shut. This turned out to be incorrect, and the dive brakes were used to great
effect throughout the Sicilian campaign and the Italian invasion.
One A-36A was supplied to
the RAF in March of 1943 for experimental purposes. Its RAF serial number was
There are very few A-36As
still surviving today. A-36A Ser No 42-83665 is on display at the WPAFB Museum
in Dayton, Ohio. 42-83731 is with the Lone Star Flight Museum in Texas. 43-83738
is currently undergoing restoration as a P-51B at the Warhawk Air Museum in
Boise, ID. Another A-36A is with the Collings Foundation, where it is undergoing
Serial numbers of the A-36
were 42-83663/84162. "