No explanation needed, can a P-51 Mustang outrun a missile?

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    $\begingroup$ Voting to close as too broad - it depends on the missile. A Vietnam-era missile is very different from a modern one, for example. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Cruise missiles counts? and a V-1? $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ How fast is the missile travelling? Missiles don't all travel at the same speed. (Though I agree with Ron ....) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but how come the question attracts down votes while there are two upvoted answers? It can't be that bad then, can it. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ Explanation very much needed $\endgroup$
    – Jihyun
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 21:54

3 Answers 3


The P-51 Mustang is not designed to go supersonic, in fact no propeller airplane is designed to do that...

Can propeller driven aircraft sustain speeds at or above Mach 1?

For example, the Republic XF-84H is the fastest propeller plane ever built, is also the loudest. The propeller tips going supersonic mean that the airplane is incredibly loud, so loud that it causes injuries.

Anyway, the Thunderscreech can hit top speeds of about Mach 0.9. A stock P-51 Mustang can hit about 440mph. Missles, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder can travel at speeds exceeding Mach 2.5. Mach 1 at sea level is around 760mph. Mach 2.5 is 1,918mph. The AIM-9's range is 22 miles, so it can travel 32 miles per minute or about half a mile per second. At the Mustangs top speed of 440mph, the only way the Mustang could "out run" the missile is if the Mustang was about 15 miles ahead traveling at top speed. Even the Thunderscreech would have a tough time outrunning one at full speed without a significant head start.

So the short answer is no, the Mustang is not capable of outrunning an air-to-air missile. Even surface-to-air missiles have a speed between Mach 1.75 and Mach 2 with similar ranges.

Early missles, like the K-13 built in 1960 had a top speed of Mach 2.5, so it wouldn't matter if it happened 50 years ago or today.

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    $\begingroup$ Now I wonder wether the guidance system on the missile will even track the P-51. Its infrared signature is very different from that of modern jets and only if the missile uses radar I see a chance that it will "see" the P-51 as a target. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ Agree. I have always wondered if a sufficiently rich or lean piston engine would attract an IR seeker. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf I'm not sure it's all that different, the EGT of the 2400+hp Merlin engines (400-700°C) isn't all that different than the exhaust turbine temperatures of jet aircraft. Combined with the 12 cylinder direct exhaust the cowling area is probably pretty hot compared to the rest of the airframe (and surrounding sky). Here is the Sidewinder hitting an F6F Hellcat (Piston) Drone $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer: Looks convincing. Thank you for the prompt answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 7:14

In counterpoint to @Ron Bayer's answer:

During the V-1 attacks in 1944 and 1945, modified P-51s (among other aircraft) were used to intercept and destroy the "cruise missiles" before they reached their intended targets.

Both gunfire and "tipping"(putting your wing 6 inches under the V-1 wing and using the airflow to tip the V-1 over) were used. P-51 Mustangs destroyed 232 V-1s.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb

Technically, the P-51s weren't "outrunning"; they were catching...

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    $\begingroup$ They could do that only because they were using "pytogras" technique ! Instead of tailing and trying to catch from behind, they take off and fly half vertically and half horizontally to catch up... P51s werent fast enough to overspeed the V2's $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 18:22

I would just like to add that considering most early missiles were heat-seeking and infrared guided, the P-51's heat signature thanks to its relatively cool running inline wouldn't be a sure detection by the seeker head. However, the all metal, HIGHLY conventional design would be an easy pick for radar-seeking seekers. If that adds anything to your question.


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