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A-36 Apache file photo [14151]

A-36A Mustang

CountryUnited States
ManufacturerNorth American Aviation
Primary RoleGround Attack Aircraft


ww2dbaseThe North American Aviation A-36A was an attack aircraft variant of the famed P-51 Mustang fighter but actually pre-dated the large production runs for the fighter. North American Aviation's very first production run for fighters in this aircraft type, 152 airplanes, were called P-51 Apaches but by the time of the next production run, the A-36A attack aircraft, all variants of the airframe were officially known as Mustangs, including retro naming the first 152. Once deployed, some people tried to nickname the A-36A attack variant the Invader, but documents from the US Army Air Forces always listed them as Mustangs, like the fighters.

ww2dbaseThe A-36A shared the Mustang's airframe but never had the upgrade to the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that the P-51B fighter had. The Mustang fighters gained their fame only after the Merlin upgrade because their original Allison V-1710 engines were found to underperform at altitude. The A-36A was intended for use in the ground attack and dive-bombing roles and for this, the Allison was more than adequate.

ww2dbaseOutwardly, the A-36A was barely distinguishable from the P-51A Mustang. The A 36A had two more .50 caliber machine guns that were mounted inside the lower engine housing and shot through the propeller arc, the so-called “chin mounts” and hard points for bombs on each wing. The A-36A wings also had rectangular dive brakes top and bottom forward of the junction between the flaps and ailerons. The brakes limited the dive speed to 390 mph which made the plane a deadly accurate dive-bomber. The early Mustangs, including the A 36A, came from the factory with the tail numbers painted on the after fuselage in large numerals instead of across the tails as specified by Army regulations and as was the practice on nearly all other USAAF aircraft.

ww2dbaseA total of 500 A-36A aircraft were produced, all in a single production run. All were designated A-36A's; there were no A-36's or A-36B's. One A-36A was provided to the British for evaluation and all the rest flew with US forces. First delivered to squadrons in French Morocco in April 1943, the aircraft remained in service in that theater until June 1944 when its role was taken over by the P-40 Warhawk and the P-47 Thunderbolt. In those 15 months of service, the A-36A distinguished itself in action in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. The A-36A also saw service in the China-Burma-Indian Theater, flying from bases in Dinjan, India starting in late summer 1943. The A-36As were not withdrawn from that theater until 1945.

ww2dbaseWhile the A-36A's combat career may have been short, it should not be concluded that their contribution was small. A-36As in the Mediterranean theater alone flew a total of 23,373 combat sorties and delivered over 8,000 tons of bombs. Even though the A-36A was primarily a bomber and ground attack aircraft, they also had some air-to-air engagements. A-36As shot down total of 84 enemy aircraft in the air and produced the only ace using the Allison-equipped Mustang, Lt Michael T. Russo from the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group in the Mediterranean.

ww2dbaseAfter they were retired from combat service, nearly all were scavenged for parts or scrapped outright. Very few survived the 1940's and even fewer survive today.

ww2dbaseThe Story Behind the Name

ww2dbaseMany sources continue to list the name of the North American Aviation A-36A attack plane as the Apache (including this page until 2019) but this name is largely apocryphal and inaccurate. The production run of fighters preceding the A-36A were briefly designated as Apaches but by the time A 36A aircraft actually came off the assembly line, all variants were officially known as Mustangs, including the earlier Apaches. There were pilots and crew chiefs in the Mediterranean Theater who wanted to nickname the A-36A attack variant the Invader, but this was never formally adopted and documentation from both North American Aviation and the US Army Air Force always listed them as Mustangs, like the fighters.

Tom Griffith
North American Aviation
United States National Archives
The Boeing Company
USAAF Resource Center
Aviation History Online Museum
SOS Eisberg
Joe Bauer

Last Major Revision: Nov 2019


MachineryOne Allison V-1710-87 liquid-cooled V-12 engine rated at 1,325hp at 3,000ft
Armament6x12.7mm .50 cal machine guns (2 in each wing, 2 in lower nose), up to 454kg of external bombs
Span11.28 m
Length9.83 m
Height3.71 m
Weight, Empty2,998 kg
Weight, Maximum4,536 kg
Speed, Maximum587 km/h
Speed, Cruising402 km/h
Service Ceiling7,620 m
Range, Normal885 km
Range, Maximum3,700 km


A-36 Mustang ground attack aircraft, which was based on the P-51 Mustang fighter, date unknownA-36A Mustang aircraft #42-83663, probably at North American Aviation Inglewood, California plant, United States, 1942; note open dive brakes. Photo 2 of 2.
See all 20 photographs of A-36A Mustang Ground Attack Aircraft

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. J.d says:
15 Dec 2011 11:43:22 AM

only one is left in the world and only one man ever became a ace in the A36
2. Municipal Historian says:
20 Apr 2013 04:14:52 PM

Good afternoon. My name is Matt and I am a municipal historian in New York. I am trying to find the flight information for a WWII era plane. A newspaper from 1944 lists it as a P-51 mustang, however a couple of experts have expressed the belief that it is actually a A-36A. The only markings on it are "EarlVillain. The Village of Earlville raised $75,000 for it. We are doing an event in the fall and we are hoping to find the planes history but do not have a serial number. I have a PDF style photo of the newspaper information, if you think you have any information I can email it too you. Any help would be appreciated.
3. Anonymous says:
21 May 2018 08:33:41 PM

This A36A was was Donated By Chuck Doyle Sr. Of Rosemount, Mn.
4. Tom Griffith says:
5 Feb 2019 04:40:11 PM

NAA and USAAF never called this ANYTHING but "Mustang." I've got the historical documents to prove it.
5. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
17 Nov 2019 02:03:05 AM

The first combat sorties of the A36A Mustang took place on 6 June 1943, over Sicily, prior to the Allied invasion of that island, ‘Operation Husky’, with the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group. They also dive bombed the island of Pantelleria in July, just before the main assault on Sicily proper. For both operations the 27th and 86th Groups were employed as dive bombers. Although proving very effective the A36A took some heavy losses from the superior German flak defences, both groups losing twenty aircraft from this cause between them. But they proved the effectiveness of dive bombing against armour by stopping enemy formations at Salerno during German counter-attacks on the Allied beach-head there in September 1943, and later gave invaluable assistance during the drive on Rome itself.

Losses and wear-and-tear steadily reduced the limited numbers of A36As operating towards the end of that year. All such aircraft were therefore concentrated in the 27th Group and after the P-40 equipped 33rd Fighter Group moved to India in 1944, even these were replaced by the P47 Thunderbolt.

Source: Peter C. Smith, Dive Bomber! An Illustrated History (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1982)
6. Mark Lofquist says:
30 Oct 2020 10:58:07 AM

Your data on the name of the A36 is not correct. The aircraft was Named the Invader by North American. I have documents to prove. My father was first combat Tech rep. In North Africa. with first A36sand p51s. Also B25s Your dates are also not correct. Just a FYI. Thanks
7. Commenter identity confirmed David Stubblebine says:
10 Nov 2020 05:28:02 PM

Mark Lofquist (above):
The question of the proper name for the North American dive bomber goes back many years and has advocates on all sides. The naming on this page (“Mustang” and not “Apache”) is based on original documents from both North American Aviation and the USAAF which I believe to be authoritative. Any documentation suggesting something else would be welcomed and reviewed on its merits.
8. Tom Griffith says:
30 Oct 2022 11:47:23 AM

Mr. Lofquist, this is late in reply (I just TODAY saw this), but if you can provide scans or photos of the documents you have, I, for one would be most interested in them.

I have been researching this "name game" for the A-36A for going on 10 yrs. Only in the last 3 or 4 have I finally "struck oil," so to speak.

The Boeing Historical Archivist HIMSELF, because he knew of me and my research, sent me scans of NAA documents to firmly establish that the A-36 could NOT ever - EVER - have been called anything but "Mustang." We are talking OFFICIALLY. I know about the pilots and groundcrewmen in the 27th FBG in the MTO petitioning NAA and the USAAF to change the name to "Invader," but that did NOT get the name changed. One reason was that Douglas Aircraft Company had already given that name to their A-26 Light Bomber/Attack Aircraft and the USAAF had adopted it.

Regardless, one way or the other, please get back to me at the above email.

My research is somewhat outlined in the relatively-new book by Matthews Willis, "Mustang: The Untold Story."

I also am the person who convinced the USAF Museum (even before I had those two documents from Boeing in April, 2019) that their signage that said "Apache" was wrong, and they made the correction in the 2nd half of 2018.

Thank you.

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A-36A Mustang Ground Attack Aircraft Photo Gallery
A-36 Mustang ground attack aircraft, which was based on the P-51 Mustang fighter, date unknownA-36A Mustang aircraft #42-83663, probably at North American Aviation Inglewood, California plant, United States, 1942; note open dive brakes. Photo 2 of 2.
See all 20 photographs of A-36A Mustang Ground Attack Aircraft

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