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Edgar Schmued; Designer of P-51 Fighter : Former German's Airplane Helped Defeat the Luftwaffe in WWII

June 09, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Edgar Schmued, who fled the economic deprivations of post-World War I Germany and 15 years later designed the Mustang fighter that cleared his native land's Luftwaffe from the skies of Europe during World War II, is dead.

He was 85 and died last Saturday in Oceanside, it was learned. He had been retired there for several years.

Schmued, educated as an aeronautical engineer, left his native Bavaria for Brazil in 1925, seven years after World War I had shattered the German economy. There he worked for General Aviation, the air branch of General Motors, and in 1931 came to the United States. General Motors later sold its air arm and it became a forerunner of North American Aviation.

The P-51 Mustang, the plane for which he was most famous, was developed originally not for the United States but for the British Royal Air Force shortly after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.

The vaunted Nazi Luftwaffe, then the most powerful air arm in the world, had begun the bombing of Britain and the RAF was seeking a high-speed fighter to protect the British Isles. Originally, the British asked North American for its existing P-40.

But Schmued and James H. (Dutch) Kindelberger, then president of North American, convinced the British Purchasing Commission that there was no point in building a plane that would soon be obsolete. The company received permission to design a new one. There was a stipulation, however. It had to be done quickly.

Schmued and his design team, often working through the night, produced the first working drawings for the P-51 on a Sunday morning in April, 1940, and by July of that year a P-51 Mustang was operative.

Outran Messerschmitt

It featured a laminar flow wing that cut through the sky yet did not disturb the parallel flow of air around it. It had a top speed of 387 m.p.h., at a time when Hitler's Messerschmitt's were doing 355 m.p.h.

Armed with .50-caliber machine-guns and .20 millimeter cannons, it and the Spitfire became England's main line of defense. But more important to the United States were the reports of the Mustang's prowess. It had become the first Allied fighting craft to invade Europe's skies after the fall of France.

Gen. H. H. (Hap) Arnold had three of the P-51s sent to Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio, where American pilots tested them. Arnold ordered the plane into production for the U.S. Army Air Corps and, said retired Air Force Gen. James Doolittle from his office in Monterey last week, the Mustang "became a very helpful thing indeed" when the United States found itself at war after Pearl Harbor.

Doolittle, former commander of the 8th Air Force in Europe, said that because of the P-51's speed he decided to change the strategy that found the Mustang originally flying support for American bombers and use it instead as an attack weapon.

Cleared the Skies

Doolittle said he ordered his Mustang pilots to "pursue and destroy the enemy wherever you find him." That tactic virtually cleared the skies of enemy planes by the time of the Normandy invasion in 1944.

Schmued is survived by his wife, Christel, and a son and daughter.

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