North American P-51D Mustang

Paper Tanks!

World War II was a total investment for all of the major players.  That meant industry and resources deployed beyond 100%.  That also meant innovation and creativity on an epic scale.


This week a look at one such example.

This is a reasonably well known story, and for good reason.  Throughout 1944 bomber missions went deeper into Germany, and that meant the need for long range escort increased too.  The Mustang started as a long range fighter.  Even before it did escort work, the early low altitude Allison engined variants carried 180 gallons of gasoline in wing tanks that gave it a range of 750 miles.  During production of the “B” model another 90 gallons was added with a fuselage tank that upped basic range over 1100 miles.



But that’s only part of the story.  Like many types, the Mustang could be equipped for extra disposable tanks too.  These drop tanks were just carried until empty, or the aircraft needed to shed the extra weight and drag for battle. This first meant two 75 gallon aluminum tanks.  But 8th Air Force in England wanted something bigger.  It would take time to process the need through American suppliers. English suppliers were willing to help, but strategic materials like aluminum were particularly hard to come by in wartime England.



An English company came up with a unique idea; glue impregnated paper tanks.  This could be made light and strong enough to do the job.  The 108 gallon design offered obvious advantage over the 75 gallon tanks. It was further felt to be advantageous not to be dropping any scrap metal to the Germans; and given how hard allied bombers were working to destroy the German fuel industry it was felt the Germans would gain nothing from some gasoline soaked paper.


A good view of the 108 gallon paper tank. Fully loaded the Mustang had over a 2000 mile range.


These paper tanks had some limitations too.  They weren’t as strong as aluminum and a fighter could not land with tanks attached, so aborts had to jettison them before landing.  They also couldn’t be filled for more than 24 hours before the gasoline began to soak through.  So tanks were only filled the morning of a mission.  Apparently Army Air Force experts in the US were not impressed and American fighter units were forbidden from using this product.  So I’m not exactly sure how 8th Air Force managed to pay for  the 13000 paper tanks they used.

Another advantage of the 108 gallon tank, it was easy to handle when empty!

This aircraft is the Tamiya kit of a Mustang attached to the 479th Fighter Group’s 434th Squadron.  The white nose spinner was carried by all 479th Mustangs in the last year of the war and the red rudder indicated the squadron. The decals are by Superscale.


You know this scene has to be entirely too early in the morning; paper tanks weren’t filled until just before start time!

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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7 Responses to North American P-51D Mustang

  1. Theresa says:

    I loved the story about the paper drop tanks.

  2. They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, which could definitely be applied to the ‘paper tank’. Great build and a superb, informative article.

  3. rick says:

    Thank You Kindly. My Father is Lt. E. E. Sears. He flew American Maid.
    He Graduated To Heaven September 2017 at 98.
    Thank You.
    His #1 Son, Rick

    • atcDave says:

      Thank you for commenting Rick! It is always great to hear from family of vets.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      It’s not my site, or place necessarily, but I have to say it is great to see someone who contributed to the victory in the air memorialized so appropriately, and wonderful to know he lived a long and full life afterwards.

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