Due largely to their use in the postwar U.S. Army Air Forces and present proliferation among the air show community, the North American P-51 Mustang is thought of by many as the most important American fighter of World War II. In reality, however, the P-51 was a relative latecomer to the war, and even though it achieved a remarkable record during the last year of the war in Europe, it was not the fighter that first allowed Allied forces to gain air superiority over the Axis. By the time the redesigned Mustang made its appearance in the skies in Europe in the late winter of 1944, the Allied air forces were already clearing the skies in both Europe and the Pacific of German and Japanese aircraft and were in the process of gaining complete air superiority.
The fighters that allowed the U.S. Army to gain control of the skies were the twin-boomed, twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the single-engine Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. And in the Pacific Theater, the P-38 was the preferred fighter right up to the end of the war, even above the soon-to-be-famous Mustang.