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A North American P-51D Mustang named “Danny Boy 2nd” came to an ignominious end at the Eighth Air Force base in Raydon, England, on Dec. 29, 1944. The airplane belonged to the 350th Fighter Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group and its pilot was Capt. John H. Winder of Salem, North Carolina. The mishap happened when the Mustang’s engine quit on takeoff.

“Thinking that I was about to run out of runway I pulled up the wheels realizing that if she still refused to take off at least I would prevent nosing over when I hit the dirt,” Winder reported.

Winder had experienced even more excitement the previous year. On Nov. 13, 1943, he was escorting Eighth Air Force bombers to Bremen when his Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was attacked by German Focke-Wulf Fw-190s. Shell fragments peppered he airplane and hit Winder in the shoulder, wounds for which he received the Purple Heart. Winder was able to make it back to base, but his airplane was damaged beyond repair. Winder ended the war with credit for four Fw-190s.

After being attached to the Eighth Air Force in June 1943, the 350th had started its war flying the P-47 and began transitioning to the P-51 in October 1944. The introduction of the P-51, with its liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and extensive range, marked a turning point in the air war over Europe. Previously, the Allies had lacked a fighter with the range and performance necessary to protect bombers all the way to their targets and back.

“As for actual combat performance, the P-51 was good at everything, matching the German machines in all they could do,” wrote Robin Olds, a pilot (and future general) who flew Mustangs in World War II. “In all, the P-51 was a fighter pilot’s dream. If you don’t think I’m right, just ask any pilot who ever strapped a Mustang to his bottom and set out across the North Sea to do battle with the wily Hun.”

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