The P-51 Mustang is one of the fighters that won the skies over Europe in World War II. The only thing that’s more important than this legendary plane are the brave men who flew it. This is an amazing story of a P-47 and P-51 pilot that flew over 100 missions all over Europe.
New Jersey Boy
Hailing from New Jersey, Edward McNeff joined the US Army Air Corps to become a fighter pilot. In 1943, Ed was sent to flight training. But before he was sent to combat, he had to learn to fly premiere US fighters.
He would eventually master flying the P-40 Warhawk and then be tasked to fly the P-47, the most advanced fighter aircraft the US had to offer. In January 1944, after passing evaluations in the Thunderbolt, he was sent to England to join the 355th Fighter Group in the war against Nazi, Germany.
Ed’s arrival could have not come at a crucial time. The Allies at that time were doing everything they can to win the war against Hitler, trying to take down German defenses and production in the air.
In early 1944, they would be flying the Thunderbolt- the primary fighter plane of the 8th Air Force.
By now, the P-47 has proven itself to be a brilliant fighter. It’s an efficient ground attack aircraft and a formidable dogfighter. Above all else, it became known for its ability to take a beating in combat but still get its pilots home.
The Thunderbolts’ primary role of the 355th Fighter Group was to be a bomber escort. The US Army Air Force realized that the B-24s and B-17s couldn’t get the job done on their own, and would need the aid of the fighters.
The biggest problem of most American fighters like the P-47 was the range- they couldn’t keep up and stay with them for a long period of time.
Eventually, this was solved by the arrival of the P-51 Mustang, assigned to all of the 355th, solving the issue of range. When Ed became a regular at the unit, he earned his own nose art and painted it after his wife back home, Kay.
A Fateful Mission
Unknown to him, it would be the same aircraft that he would use when he would battle the Luftwaffe for the first time. He and the rest of the 355th were serving as fighter escorts for a large raid to Augsburg, Germany.
When they were approaching their target, there were Messerscmitts headed right for them, and as Ed came to realize, were flown by experienced and highly skilled German pilots.
“This one German guy peels off, and I’m going after him and all of a sudden he snaps rolls.” Fortunately, the plane left the engagement when it saw the Mustang plummeting straight down.
However, Ed soon found himself in a predicament- nearly at a vertical dove at the Earth, his plane has locked up on him. Falling well over 500 miles an hour, the plane’s controls were frozen and Ed was unable to exit the dive.
Just before hitting the ground, he pulled the nose back up. After this close call, the experience taught Ed that German pilots were indeed skilled and he had to be on his toes to prevent another situation like this from happening.
This incident became a learning experience for him, giving him valuable insight later on. But for Ed McNeff, it was only the beginning. He would, later on, fly the P-47 and P-51 aircraft on 102 combat missions and was credited for destroying three enemy aircraft in aerial combat.