The P-35, in service in 1937, was the USAAC’s first all-metal, single-seat pursuit aircraft, evidence of how far behind the U.S. was in aircraft development in early pre-war years. Fewer than 200 P-35s served the U.S. and nearly all were lost in the Philippines in the war’s first days in late 1941. The P-35 carried just two machine guns and a small bomb load and cruised at just 260 mph. Designed by Russian émigré Alexander de Seversky and his namesake company, the P-35 led to the renamed and reorganized Republic Aviation Corporation’s P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the war’s best fighters.
Introduced in 1941, the P-39 featured several innovations, including tricycle landing gear when most aircraft were tail draggers and a mid-fuselage engine mount that permitted installation of a 37mm cannon that fired through the propeller hub, making it a formidable ground attack platform. Its maximum speed was 375 mph, but the Aircobra had no supercharger, limiting its altitude. The P-39 performed well in the Pacific through 1942 and briefly in the Mediterranean theater in 1944 with the Tuskegee Airmen of the 99th Fighter Squadron. The P-39 also served extensively in the Soviet Air Force.
The fork-tailed, twin-engine Lightning is legendary. Designed by Lockheed genius Kelly Johnson, it was the only American fighter in production from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day (more than 10,000 built) and it flew in foreign service until 1965. It was complex and more expensive than other U.S. fighters, but exceptionally effective, with a top speed of 414 mph and nose-mounted .50-caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon as well as hard points for rockets and bombs. The best Pacific USAAF aces flew Lightnings, and it also saw long service in the European theater. For more information, call 302-478-1583 or visit lockheedmartin.com.
Used by most Allied forces throughout the war, the Warhawk was the third most-produced fighter behind the P-51 and P-47, with about 13,700 built. It gained fame before the U.S. entered the war with the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers, festooned with shark mouths painted on the cowling, in China. With no supercharger for high-altitude combat, it was little used in Europe but saw extensive service in North Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Pacific, performing well in ground attack roles. Its 360-mph maximum speed was adequate, but its rugged airframe could absorb extensive punishment and keep flying. For more information, visit curtisswright.com or call 973-541-3700.
Nicknamed “the jug” because of its bulky fuselage, the P-47 was big and heavy, well suited for air combat, ground attack and bombing missions because it could carry 2,500 pounds—half the load of a B-17. With eight .50-caliber machine guns and a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine that enabled the P-47 Thunderbolt to fly at a maximum airspeed of nearly 450 mph, it was very powerful and formidable, and its combined record of destruction in the air and on the ground led many experts to consider it the best Allied fighter of the war. Republic built approximately 15,500 Thunderbolts.
The P-51 is the archetypal WWII fighter. Introduced in 1942, it retired from foreign military service in 1984. Its rapid development and low cost led to extensive production, more than 15,700, and it served with distinction in all war theaters. A 1,490-hp U.S. version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 60 with a two-stage supercharger, in the P-51D, the definitive model, ensured the Mustang’s superiority. Its advanced laminar-flow airfoil wing—reducing high-speed drag and increasing agility—combined with its 437-mph maximum speed, made the P-51D the dominant dogfighter of the war and the preferred escort for Allied bombers. For more information, visit boeing.com or call 312-544-2000.
The P-61, a purpose-built night fighter, entered service in 1944. Configured with twin tail booms and two engines like the P-38, but much larger and nearly twice as heavy, the Black Widow carried two or three air crewmen, including a radar operator who directed the pilot toward acquired targets. The P-61 suffered from developmental problems, and it had limited success in Europe because late-war German aircraft could outrun its moderate 366-mph maximum speed. It performed better in the Pacific, scoring the war’s final shoot-down one day before Japan surrendered. It remained in USAF service until 1954. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
The stubby F2A actually beat the Grumman F4F Wildcat in a competition to supplant the F3F, the Navy’s biplane carrier fighter, but added equipment weight without a power increase impaired its performance. Several nations flew the Buffalo, but its slow cruise speed, 161 mph, lack of self-sealing fuel tanks and just two machine guns made it far inferior to most adversaries, although it performed well in the Finnish Air Force in the Soviet invasion. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps flew F2As through Midway, when the Buffalos were quickly replaced by resurgent Grumman F4Fs. The Brewster Aeronautical Corporation dissolved in 1946.
Tough little Wildcats came to the Navy and Marine Corps’ rescue in 1942. At first F4F wings did not fold, and landing gear were cranked up and down by hand. The rugged plane, despite its 313-mph speed, was slower than the Japanese Zero. But, coupled with superior tactics involving wingman pairs developed by Navy ace and future admiral John S. “Jimmy” Thach, it held its own in the Pacific in carrier engagements, on Guadalcanal and in Operation Torch in North Africa. Grumman and General Motors built about 7,800 Wildcats that enjoyed a nearly seven-to-one kill/loss ratio. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
Grumman focused on F6F production after late 1942, and the Hellcat quickly took over as the Navy’s primary carrier fighter. It was bigger, burlier and far more lethal than its predecessor. It flew more than four times more sorties than Wildcats and shot down more than 5,000 enemy aircraft while losing only 270 in aerial combat, an outstanding 19-to-one ratio that produced 305 American aces. Powered by R-2800 Double Wasp two-row radial engines, Hellcats dominated Pacific air combat from 1943 to VJ Day. Grumman built nearly 12,300 F6Fs, but they retired from service soon after WWII. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
The inverted gull-winged Corsair was the most powerful Navy WWII aircraft, with the biggest two-row radial engine available. Its wing design was needed because landing gear weren’t long enough to keep its enormous propeller from hitting the ground when it landed. Its long nose made pilot visibility poor during carrier landing, so the Navy gave the Corsair to the Marines, and only 15 percent of its 64,000 sorties were from carriers. F4Us claimed 2,140 kills against 189 dogfight losses, an 11-to-one ratio. F4Us also excelled at ground attacks, flying 70 percent of the war’s fighter-bomber missions. The Corsair’s 414-mph top speed and excellent dive performance led the Japanese to nickname the F4U “Whistling Death.” It also served in Korea and retired from foreign service in 1979. For more information, visit triumphgroup.com or call 610-251-1000.
The Bearcat entered service before war’s end but saw no combat, although it fought with the French in Indochina. It was smaller than the Hellcat, making it more maneuverable with a better climb rate than the Corsair, and with its 421-mph maximum airspeed, the Bearcat could perform better than many early jet aircraft. Known as one of the best piston-engine fighters, it was so responsive in maneuvers that it was the first mount of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron in 1946, and it equipped 24 Navy fighter squadrons until improved jets replaced the F8F in the early 1950s. For more information, visit northropgrumman.com or call 703-280-2900.
World War II changed everything. It encompassed less than a decade, lasting from 1939 to 1945, but nearly every aspect of human civilization was revolutionized, abandoning old traditions and adopting new ways of life. The war created new technologies and expanded others. Probably no technological arena was altered more radically than aviation. Before the war, aviation had been a novelty on the periphery of society and military operations. After 1945, aviation was essential, at the center of the world’s new economy and the foundation of future conflict.
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Aviation’s coming of age in just a few years was due to extraordinary technical breakthroughs in design, manufacturing, distribution and management of airframes and power plants. Aviation engines, mostly in-line for the Army Air Force (AAF) and radial for the Navy and Marines to save precious carrier deck space, are still used today. Combatant nations, most especially the United States, produced radically new, sophisticated aircraft that left many of their predecessors in the dust and set the stage for even more remarkable innovations in the Jet Age that started as the war ended. Other countries frequently achieved comparable success by copying U.S. designs and processes.
Furthermore, these new aircraft became realities almost instantly and at remarkably low cost. For example, just 117 days elapsed from the P-51 Mustang’s contract date to the prototype’s first flight. At peak production in 1944, the Mustang’s unit flyaway cost was about $50,000. Seventy years of inflation would raise that price to less than $670,000 today, a ridiculously low cost when compared to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, with a current price tag of about $108 million for the Air Force’s F-35A designed for conventional runways to $134 million for the Marine Corps’ F-35B VTOL version and $125 million for the Navy’s F-35C carrier model. The U.S. built about 15,800 Mustangs for an estimated $10.59 billion in current dollars. The 2010 procurement plan, reduced several times since, called for 2,443 F-35s for an estimated $323 billion. Yes, the F-35 is more capable than the P-51, but should that capability improvement cost more than 197 times as much?
“The simple truth is that WWII required absolute and unyielding commitments to excellence from entrepreneurs,engineers and technicians because the stakes were so high.”
The simple truth is that WWII required absolute and unyielding commitments to excellence from entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians because the stakes were so high. In recent years, new U.S. military aircraft have performed well, but in conflicts with reduced challeges to their dominance. One reason Americans venerate WWII warbirds decades after they served is that they faced challenges, constant and dire, and not only endured, but prevailed, compelling evidence of the effectiveness of their producers and operators.
A survey of American fighter aircraft (the Army’s P-model designation stood for “pursuit”) flown by the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) and Army Air Forces (USAAF) and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in World War II demonstrates several of these characteristics in spades.
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The F-35 has been undergoing climate testing at the 96th Test Wing's McKinley Climatic...
by Tactical-Life / Feb 5, 2015