WWII American Fighters: P-40, P-38, P-47


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P-40 Warhawk

The P-40 Warhawk, seen here painted with the famous sharks mouth of Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group (AVG) or Flying Tigers.  The P-40 Warhawk couldn’t outturn a Mitsubishi Zero, nor could it dive or climb better, but it was faster, had more firepower and could absorb more battle damage.  This rugged fighter took the fight to the Japanese in China.  Chennault’s Flying Tigers fighting for the Chinese, before America entered the war, learned the basic fighter tactics that American pilots would use throughout the war.  Pilots like Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, officially credited with 22 kills, flew for the AVG .

The Chinese, without a modern air force, desperately needed the assistance the AVG provided.  It is estimated that 50,000,000 Chinese civilians starved to death as a result of Japan’s invasion and the chaos of the Chinese Civil War that followed World War II.

The P-40 didn’t fare as well in the European theater where it was outclassed by more modern German designs, but P-40s  remained active until 1944.




P-38 Lightning

My favorite war plane and I don’t have a good picture of it.  The best way to view the P-38 is from above in front of the nose, that way you can see the twin boom construction and appreciate the beauty of this twin engine fighter.

The P-38 was the first great design to come from Lockheed’s Skunk Works and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson.  The people who brought you such famous planes as the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 and more recently, the F-117 Stealth.

At 420 mph this was one of the fastest airplanes of World War II, and with four fifty caliber machine guns and one 20 mm cannon, all mounted in the nose, it delivered devastating and accurate firepower.  Richard I. Bong of Poplar, Wisconsin would rack up forty kills in P-38s to become America’s ace of aces.  The P-38 was instrumental in driving the Japanese air forces out of the Pacific theater.   Variants included a reconnaissance version with guns replaced with camera gear, and a ground attack version used for bombing and strafing.

P-47 Thunderbolt

P-47 Thunderbolt

Built by Republic, the P-47 did it all.  Fitted with drop tanks it served as long range escort.  Fitted with up to 2500 pounds of bombs, along with its six or eight fifty caliber machine guns, it served as a ground attack aircraft used to destroy locomotives, tanks, and anything else that got in its sights.

Dubbed the Thunderbolt by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC), it was nicknamed the “Jug” by those who flew it because its shape resembled that of a milk jug from that era.  It gets that shape from the eighteen cylinder two-row radial engine.  The P-47 was the only radial engine fighter used by the USAAC during World War II.  Rugged and dependable, very few “Jugs” were lost to enemy action.

These planes can be seen at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. ( http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/ )

2 Responses to “WWII American Fighters: P-40, P-38, P-47”

  1. 1 Laurie Bride
    January 31, 2009 at 2:57 am

    I’m trying to find out more about the crews that flew reconnaissance flights with the P38, P40 and P52. Maybe based in China. The info I have referred to the “Flying Tigers” but that doesn’t seem sufficient to find any records. I have a friend who has memorabilia from a recently deceased pilot. She’s not web literate at this point, and this is all the information I have at this point.

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July 2008

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