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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 ‚Äúchin mounts‚ÄĚ 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 flight of three A-36A Mustang attack aircraft on a training flight near Savannah, Georgia, United States, 1942; the lead plane was destroyed in a landing accident 8 Jan 1943A-36 Mustang ground attack aircraft, which was based on the P-51 Mustang fighter, date unknown
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, ‚ÄėOperation Husky‚Äô, 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)

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A-36A Mustang Ground Attack Aircraft Photo Gallery
A flight of three A-36A Mustang attack aircraft on a training flight near Savannah, Georgia, United States, 1942; the lead plane was destroyed in a landing accident 8 Jan 1943A-36 Mustang ground attack aircraft, which was based on the P-51 Mustang fighter, date unknown
See all 20 photographs of A-36A Mustang Ground Attack Aircraft

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