Restored P-51D Mustang with Real Browning M2 .50cal Machine Guns

p-51-mustang

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with WWII warbirds, my favorite being the P-51 Mustang. The North American P-51 Mustangs were armed with six .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns, a good amount of firepower for the day. If you’ve been to airshows around the US I’m sure you’ve seen a P-51 at least once, but there’s something different about Ron Fagen’s P-51 Mustang named Twilight Tear. His actually has six functioning M2 Browning machine guns, kind of, read on.

p51-50-cal

Fagen obtained the proper licenses needed from the ATF, built a special range and tested the M2 Brownings out to 75 yards. Unfortunately Fagen can’t actually fly his P-51 with the M2 Brownings in place, the ATF spoiled that fun. He uses aluminum copies when he flies Twilight Tear. Check out the six M2 Browning machine guns in action below.

Via: FoxTrot Alpha



Ray I.

Long time gun enthusiast, archery noob, Mazda fan, Sci-Fi nerd, Whiskey drinker, online marketer and blogger. My daily firearms musings can be found over at my gun blog ArmoryBlog.com and Instagram.

Shoot me an email at ray.i@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Fred Johnson

    Too cool. Thanks for the blog post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anonymoose

    This pleases me.

  • Mike

    I’m suddenly sticky

  • gunslinger

    were they shooting a little high?

    • allannon

      I’d imagine they’re “zeroed” (the term is probably pretty loose with airplane guns) at some rediculously long range. Quick Google search indicates they were often aimed to all hit at more or less the same point several thousand feet out.

      • Tom

        I would think this would depend on the primary mission. Mustangs were escort fighters tasked with taking out enemy fighters so a good “spread” would be useful against fast moving targets. Where as Interceptors like the British Hurricane would want to concentrate their firepower to bring down the much bigger bombers.

        • allannon

          Different weapon fit. Later-war Hurricanes and similar fighters moved to 20-30mm cannon instead of machine guns. I think they started the war with .303s, but given their primary tasking they shifted to Hispano cannon.

          The Mustangs probably had some spread, by nature of the environment and probable crudity of aiming (for instance, I really doubt they did more than boresight the guns), but you’d probably want to try and keep your rounds inside a fighter-sized zone as far out as possible.

          Kinda like sighting a round a few inches high to minimize the need to calculate drop over a given range.

          • Anonymous

            From what I’ve read, standard USAAF procedure was to boresight all six guns to converge at a point 300 yards in front of the aircraft and call it good.

            This is not to say that many fighter pilots didn’t experiment with different settings–this pair at 100, this pair at 150, this pair at 200, etc. But all six boresighted to cross at 300 was what The Book said.

          • Tom

            To display my ignorance on such things, just how much leeway was there on such things, both in terms of pilot preference and actually physically adjusting the guns?

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Sianmink has a pretty good point. Depending on the personal preferences and dogfighting style of the pilots in question, convergence was often adjusted to suit the needs of the individual, regardless of nationality and what the Armorer’s Manual said. There were some, such as Werner Molders, Hans Joachim-Marseille and Saburo Sakai, who advocated precise marksmanship and had their guns set up for longer distances ( which could range out to a few thousand feet ), while others such as Adolf Galland, “Sailor” Malan and Ivan Kozhedub believed in the opposite — get as close to your opponent as possible and let him have the works at point-blank range if possible ( 150 yards or less ), the rules be damned. Having said this, it appears that most fighter pilots, including many aces, were reasonably content to have the zone of convergence set at standardized distances, typically 250-400 yards, since this range span offered the best all-around hit probability although not necessarily the best concentration at any specific distance.

    • sianmink

      There’s a whole art to zeroing and convergence on wing-mounted guns. Ask 20 WW2 aces and you’ll get 50 different answers as to which guns should converge at what range.

  • Jimmy

    Looks like time to go hog hunting in Texas….

  • Pete Sheppard

    Forbidden pleasures…

  • Secundius

    The P-51D Mustang’s, used the AN/M2 .50-caliber (12.7x99mmBMG), Air-Cooled Heavy Machine guns, with a cyclic rate of fire of 750-850rpm. Not the standard M2 Heavy Machine Gun, with a cyclic rate of fire of only 450rpm.

    • The M2 receiver is modular. It can be changed to any of its configurations by swapping out parts.

  • Shootist

    six .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns , a good amount of firepower for the day.

    A good amount of fire power for any day.

    • Phil Hsueh

      Decent but not great given that a lot fighters during WW II were equipped with at least one cannon of at least 20mm, of course their secondary weapons were typically only .30 cals. Still can’t compare to the Jug and its 8 .50s, now that’s what I call a good amount of firepower.

      The sad thing is that during Korea we were still sticking to the 6 .50s for our F-86s even the comparable MiGs of the day were armed with all cannons. But I suppose that didn’t matter since we still managed to kill a lot of MiGs despite the difference in firepower.

      • Chicken Chuck

        My fathers recollection of gunnery training in the F-86 was that the it would flip a ton and a quarter munitions carrier when hit broad side, with the the six fifty’s.

      • Trey

        Lest we forget that aircraft cannon often had lower rate of fire and / or lower magazine capacity.

        the .50 mg was for a fighter v fighter a very good weapon probably better than a full cannon suite. A good and possibly best combo was the P-38 with 4x.50mg and 1x20mm all set directly forward of pilot.

        In Korea the F86 was fighting at very high altitude so all rounds had longer range and the .50mg was had the needed punch to down other fighters

        Rate of fire and ammunition qty were far better on the Saber + had a computing gun sight for them

        A good chart can be seen at
        http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_fighters/p86_11.html

        • J.T.

          His ROF isn’t high for the .50s. The F-86 used the AN/M3 which had an electrically boosted feed mechanism to increase the ROF.

          • Trey

            had read AN/m2 specs you are correct that the AN/M3 is a bit faster.

          • Secundius

            @ Troy.

            The cyclic rate of fire for the AN/M2, was between 750-850-rpm. And were mount on all Piston-Powered Aircrafts of WW2. The cyclic rate of fire for the AN/M3, was 1,200-rpm. And were mount on all P/F-80 Shooting Star and all post-WW2 Jet Fighters that mounted the .50-caliber machine guns.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Exactly.

        • DiverEngrSL17K

          The real strength of the P-38’s nose-mounted armament was that the cone of fire that had to be typically adjusted for convergence at a fixed distance ahead of the aircraft, a factor critical to fighters with wing-mounted guns, was almost a moot point. In practice, this meant that the concentration of projectiles in the P-38’s cone of fire was virtually the same, tight group, regardless of distance from the target. This conferred a significant advantage in firepower and terminal effect without the restrictions of having to be within a given range of said target.

        • Blake

          Nice links. See also this exhaustive study: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/WW2guneffect.htm

        • idahoguy101

          After Korea the USAF ordered fighters with the 20mm Vulcan Gatling gun

      • Tom

        I recall hearing a Vet from Korea talk about just this problem. His response was that whilst a .50 cal on its own was not much put 6 together and they did the job. Remember also that Sabres had better gun sights than the MIGs and for the most part the American pilot were much better trained than the N. Korea and Chinese pilots they face. Though the Russian pilots (that of course were never in Korea and just a figment of the Americans imagination) were of a much better class and often able to use the relative strengths of the MIG to their advantage.

      • Cal S.

        Interesting theory, but cannon throughout the war remained more suited for use against bombers and ground targets than fighters. Given the ordinary ROF, nimble fighters could literally dodge through the line of fire of a BF109’s cannon and remain untouched. The US maintained, and with some merit, that while you might dodge the bigger stuff, there was no dodging through a stream of .50s. So, they just added more .50s to their fighters.

        The P-39 with its massive 37mm nose cannon was a brief experiment into heavy armament for the US and while it could tear a fighter apart with one shot, its hit ratio against fighters proved so unsatisfactory (and it lacked high-altitude performance for bomber interception) that most of the examples were sold to the Russians who used it as a ground-attack aircraft with considerable success.

        • mosinman

          actually the P-39 was used as a fighter. the Russians were not supplied with 37mm AP rounds and the M4 37mm gun had a pretty low MV anyways. most combat over the eastern front was at low altitude where the P-39 was at it’s best. planes like the Yak9T had better AP performance and had better success in the ground attack/ anti shipping role

        • nope

          “Interesting theory, but cannon throughout the war remained more suited for use against bombers and ground targets than fighters. Given the ordinary ROF, nimble fighters could literally dodge through the line of fire of a BF109’s cannon and remain untouched. The US maintained, and with some merit, that while you might dodge the bigger stuff, there was no dodging through a stream of .50s. So, they just added more .50s to their fighters.”

          This is an insult to intelligence, just like some demented old “ace pilot” on Discovery I have seen who told that they had a practice of taking out Tigers by shooting just in front and below it, and have .50 cal bullets ricochet from the ground and kill it from below. Complete and utter nonsense.
          Wiggle your way trough the bigger stuff… MK-106 had 600rpm and Mg151/30 had around 700 if I remember correctly. Now how do you “wiggle around” that and 2000-4000fps? Some people should not say such thing, and other close their ears to prevent such nonsense from taking root in their heads.

          • Cal S.

            Wow. Well, now we know how to be a douche, don’t we? Done punching your strawmen for the day with asinine comparisons, Mr. KnowItAll? I was mislead by veteran testimony, sue me. He probably got lucky with a poor German’s aim…

            You will note, however, that the ROF of these cannons was about half the ROF of the US M2 AN model at 1200rpm. Since you seem to know so much, you’ll undoubtedly recall the fact that the M2 had twice the effective range (2000m) of the MG151 (1000m) and six times the effective range of the “MK-106” (300m). Which, if I recall correctly, was actually the MK-108. Don’t fret, though, we all make mistakes.

        • Secundius

          @ Cal S.

          The problem with P-39 Airacobra and the 37mm auto-cannon only carried 24-rounds in its limited space magazine…

      • worldwideREB

        those WW2 20mm were LOW velocity. they did NOT have the range of the 50 bmg. they were not given FULL power 20mm because of the limited stress load on the airframs of that time. the only planes with FULL powered 20mm rounds were either nose mounted or ground attack airplanes.

      • Secundius

        @ Phil Hsueh.

        The F-86A/B/C Saber’s, used AN/M3 .50-caliber Machine Guns with a cyclic rate of fire of 1,200rpm/gun.

      • guest

        Just to clear some things up:

        1) .50 was not useless in WW2, and neither in Korea. It was however outdated already in WW2 because cannons (of any calibre) could provide much higher weight-per-second (that is weight of projectiles sent downrange) than heavy MGs.
        2) Relating to the first point – cannons used almost exclusively HET/HEIT rounds which increased that same ratio exponentially. A german 30mm cannon could shoot down a fighter with just a few round independent of point of impact. USSR experimented with 37mm and 45mm cannons, the 37mm was later adopted as the gun of choice against everything heavier than a fighter. By the end of WW2 almost all nations switched to auto cannons, and late model F4U of featured 4x20mm cannons. Needless to say a leap from 6×50. After the war in Korea same thing happened with F-86’s.
        4) Late model P-47, P-51, B-24 and several other planes had gyroscopic gunsights which helped newbie pilots align their guns much easily if they knew the size of the aircraft they were shooting at, their speed, and altitude. Deflection shooting became easier, as if it was not (comparatively) easy enough with relatively flat-shooting 50 cals. In Korea this was perfected to almost the level it is today – a ranging radar was added and the pilot was free from adjusting the sight at all – just point and shoot.
        5) That being said, the Soviets flying Mig-15s vs their american counterparts in F-86s in Korea managed to have a 4:1 kill ratio, with their guns which were 2x23mm and 1x37mm cannons with VERY different ballistics, much slower shooting and no automatic gunsight of any kind.
        Myself being an avid “virtual pilot” and having spent way more hours in flight sims than reasonable I can tell this much – the plane you have, and the weapons you have – you ultimately get used to the limitations and adjust your tactics accordingly. 50 cal armed planes are good at only one thing – being easy to shoot. At longer ranges, with much less angles of deflection etc. But you need to saturate targets with bullets to be effective (actual korea report stated 162 .50 bullet holes in a MiG-15 that managed to land, still flying on its own power). With cannons, especially with low Vo cannons you need to get closer, have sometimes ridiculously large angles/target lead, but ultimately you waste less ammo. All aircraft simulator or real life are thin lightweight frames covered with sheet aluminium or some other equally venerable material. And HE filled shells are the kryptonite. That’s he bottom line.

        • idahoguy101

          The cannon armament of the MiG 15 was designed to shoot down the B-29 in a single pass. Daylight B-29 raids over N Korea were stopped by the MiG 15. The B-29 was the aircraft which would have carried the atomic bomb against the USSR if WW3 started

          • AD_Rtr_OS

            Plus, the Soviets had a few TU-4’s (reverse engineered B-29’s) to use as targets in their inventory.

      • idahoguy101

        The volume of six versus eight machine guns can depend on the rate of fire the guns are set to

  • Aside from the “we’re assholes” clause on what grounds did the ATF prohibit him from mounting the guns?

    • sianmink

      I’m guessing there’s a whole other set of expensive hoops to jump through if you want to fly a fully armed aircraft.

    • phuzz

      I’m guessing the FAA would have had something to say about it as well. For starters, you’re not allowed to drop objects from an aircraft, which would definitely include the spent brass, and possibly the rounds themselves, and that’s just for starters.
      Still, it would be difficult to argue that you needed them for self defence ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Brian

        You actually can drop objects from an aircraft. See FAR ยง91.15 which specifies that it’s only disallowed if it “creates a hazard to persons or property.” Dropping brass over a field or open water may be littering, but it’s not prohibited by the FAA.

  • Lind Blythe

    The Spirit of Jersey.

  • waffen ss

    ME262 FTW

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    What Bob Fagen was doing with his P-51 at the range was standard practice for virtually every fighter aircraft of the era — zeroing in on the range butts and adjusting shot dispersion ( cone of fire ) accordingly.

  • Blake

    The Brownings had the range, but unfortunately for Allied bombers the MK 108 had the punch.

    Some versions of the ME262 had six of these 30mm cannons in the wings, firing high-explosive shells. A hit from a single volley was pretty sure to bring down a B-17.

    Speaking of the ME262, check this out: http://stormbirds.com/project/

    • mosinman

      never heard of the six mk108 me262.
      the mk108 had poor ballistics and were not easy to aim (except at slow formation flying bombers).
      if you wanna talk about a real beast of a cannon the Mk103 is king ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Eirich Hartmann

        make the enemy plane fill your entire reticle, that way you can not miss.

        • Icorps1970

          Yeah but if the gunners have 50 cals this will not work out well. Gunner have to be out of action for this to work well.

  • Awesome

  • USMC03Vet

    That’s cool. I was going to change my pants anyway.

  • Mark Hillard

    โ˜†โ˜†โ˜†โ˜†โ˜†

  • ReaperHD

    AWSOMENESS at it’s best, P51 and 6-50s.

  • Icorps1970

    I see a lot of comments on cannon vs the 50 BMG. I suggest you read “Thunderbolt” by Robert S Johnson who shot down 27 German fighters flying a P-47. He did not fear head on passes against German fighters since he could fire before they could. During the battle of Britain most of the German bombers shot down were killed by the Hurricane with with eight 303s in the wings. I never read of one of the men flying the 50 caliber armed fighters of WW-II complaining about lack of effectiveness. The pilots were known to have 4 of the guns on a P47 regulated at 300 yards and the other 4 at 500-600. While the Mig 15 would stand a few rounds of 50 cal. Other than the engine the 50 BMG with API would shoot through most A/C from end to end. Basically if the shooter got “on” with 6 or 8 50s for very long at all, a second perhaps, the A/C he was shooting at, especially a fighter, was not going to be combat effective anymore. Its simply going to have too many holes in it. If its a liquid cooled engine its likely got serious coolant leaks.

  • ghost

    My biggest problem is I can not fly.