During the early days of the Cold War the need for very long range fighters was identified. The bombers of the day, like the B-36 Peacemaker, were being capable of flights of several thousand miles and protection was needed. During the Second World War the premier long range fighter escort was the P-51 Mustang. Naturally someone thought the best solution for the post war would be to marry two of these together.
During the preparation for Operation Olympus, the invasion of the Japanese home islands, the call was put out to North American to create a fighter escort that would be able to follow the B-29′s for the 2,000 miles during the mission. They were designed to use the same Packard Merlins that the P-51 had during the war. As well to keep the same armament of six 50 caliber machine guns. In the P-82 the guns would be clustered together in the new middle wing area. Allowing a much tighter firing group.
Although the prototypes were ready before the end of the war they would sit at the factory until 1946. Their future would be in two very different places Alaska and Korea. After the war the first thing to happen was that all US fighters changed from their pursuit P designations to the new fighter F designations. This would happen in 1947 with the separation of the US Air Force from the US Army.
Also of note was the change from the Packard Merlin back to the a newer version of the Allison V-1720 that had powered the first P-51 Mustangs. This was to avoid licensing fees to post war Britain. The change over happened with the P-82C model with the A’s and B’s becoming trainers. Since the Allison was a lower powered engine then the Merlin this was a rare occurrence of the trainer being faster then the production fighter.
The F-82′s Twin Mustangs were deployed to Alaska with the Strategic Air Command to defend the northern border from marauding Russian bombers. Their long range would benefit them greatly in this role. At the same the Korean conflict was heating up and the Twin Mustangs were deployed as fighter escorts. This would be short lived with the appearance of the Mig 15 shutting down any chances of a piston engined fighter being able to protect it’s bombers.
Thus we would see the start of the F-82′s second life. The US Air Force identified a need for a radar equipped fighter that would able to located and dispatch enemy bombers at high altitude. Note the change here from one of escort to one of bomber destroyer. To accomplish this the second pilot’s cockpit was changed to a radar operator and more importantly the radar was installed as you see below.
Even with this their useful life was still short lived and they only were in service until 1952 when the first of the radar equipped jet fighters entered service.
Although it had a short service life the F-82 is notable for being the only twin fuselage aircraft to go into service after World War II. It should be noted that in this short time they served many roles admirably while the new aircraft were designed. Mostly it would be remembered as the last piston engined fighter ordered by the US. The roles it provided needed several aircraft to be designed to fulfill them.
The following decades would show a preference by the US Air Force for multirole aircraft. Aircraft with a single purpose being ignored in the face of a true multirole aircraft. For this we can see the F-82 as the predecessor to all that would follow her.
[images - wikipedia.org]