I'm finally getting around to sending you a picture of "Baby", and her story.
She came into the world sometime in late 1942 or early 1943, no one likely kept track of exactly when. She was in southern California, kept on a huge corporate complex not far from today's Los Angeles International Airport.
Her unofficial "mother" was my own mother, a teenager at the time. She did a lot for Baby, knew her owners well, and was friends with Baby's few, and very skilled handlers. As expected when she first arrived, Baby was unique to this special group of people, as they worked with her nearly every day, fussed and doted and worried over her, and kept her healthy and active. She developed beautiful lines and conformation. And during these war years, even the government kept a particularly keen eye on Baby's growth and development, sometimes offering advice and making requests, and always insisting that Baby be kept away from prying eyes and public scrutiny. Her siblings also came to these same people, and they too led a similar life. Most were larger and stronger, even faster, than Baby, and all were equally beautiful and strong performers. Although few people actually saw Baby up close, her offspring were quickly and widely recognized and appreciated, probably by millions. There were a few, of course, who probably did not like Baby, but even they respected her capabilities.
Exactly how long she led this life no one knows. I like to think that this Mustang was eventually retired, and put out to pasture so to speak. I would guess this may have occurred in the mid to late 50's, her services no longer needed.
I hope this short story of Baby has piques your interest, for she was indeed very special. You already know her real identity.
Baby was a North American P-51. Her original pedigree name, "Mustang", came from the British, but "Baby" herself was named by her small design team at North American Aviation, today known as North American Rockwell, the space people. Baby lived her life mostly at the Inglewood, Calif. plant, and spent most days in her hanger surrounded by designers, often my mother, technicians and photographers. She was the single P-51 that was used exclusively as the prototype, a flying and static test bed for every change, feature or modification destined for the many squadrons of Mustangs serving during WW2. Her "owners" were the design engineers, Baby's "mother', my mom was (at age 17) the team's draftsman who drew many of P-51's original design sheets and diagrams. Baby's small group of skilled handlers were the NAA test pilots, some of whom my mom knew personally. Baby's big brother was the Mitchell B-25 twin-engine bomber; her best known younger siblings are the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and the Lunar Command/Service Module.
The P-51 was designed in just 117 days for the British, who named this fighter the "Mustang". There were a number of "firsts": it was the first fighter by North American; it had an innovative laminar flow wing; it was one of the first long-ranged fighters capable of escorting bombers to and from their targets; it was a first to receive a better powerplant from the customer (Britain) than originally planned and provided for. The British loved the P-51's flying characteristics, but immediately replaced the factory Allison with their own Rolls Royce Merlin V-12. The original airframe and the new Merlin made the Mustang a fierce opponent and much loved by allied pilots. Much US publicity was later made of the Packard V-12 powered Mustang, but this engine was a USA made Merlin under British license.
Baby was used throughout these days of change and trial and error, and served her country well. She was the first to receive the Merlin, the first to sport the famous bubble canopy we now all associate with those classic Mustang lines, the first piston powered aircraft to reach 509 mph (red line) straight and level, and I suppose the list goes on and on.
The Mustang originally entered service in 1942 as the P-51 Mustang for Britain, and a ground support/dive bomber variant called the A-36 Apache for the USAAF. By 1944, the Mustang we know of today was serving in both the Pacific and European theaters, then later in Korea, and in spite of being superseded by jet fighters, continued to serve other nations worldwide until 1980. In1967, some retired Mustangs became 2-place corporate civilian speedsters, the "Cavalier"; Mustangs are now famous as an air racer; price tags are often a nominal $1 Million and more.
I grew up with mom's black and white photos of the Mustang, many of Baby, and have Baby's scrapbook, pictures taken to demonstrate this or that feature or change, or for technical manuals. I have a beautiful watercolor of a P-51, flanked by 2 frames that hold my mom's drafting tools, rulers and templates, and a picture of her with Baby; she was a gifted draftsman, the reason I'm sure she was picked to work directly for the Mustang's design engineers. The picture of her is taken with Baby in front of North American, Inglewood CA; the date inscription is 1943, my mother is 17. Perhaps she too was a Mustang "baby".