Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat

F6F-3-Airfield

“The Hellcat was a terrific airplane and very effective fighter. It was positively a piece of cake to fly; just a dream…. The difference between the F4F [Wildcat] and the F6F was night and day. We had more range, more speed, more power… more everything.”

—George Orner, Navy Ensign, USS Franklin.

 

Strengths:

Guns – The typical US armament of six .50 caliber machine guns gives the Hellcat pilot a good combination of hitting power and fire time.

Maneuverability – The Hellcat can turn with the best of the mid- to late-war aircraft.

Durability – Like all Grumman designs, the Hellcat is capable of sustaining considerable battle damage.

 

Weaknesses:

Speed – While not slow, the Hellcat is at a definite disadvantage when facing the faster mid- to late-war planes.

Ground Attack – Unable to carry bombs or rockets, the F6F-3 cannot contribute to the ground war in any meaningful way, except as a point defense fighter.

The XF6F-1 was originally ordered on June 30, 1941 as a potential successor to the Wildcat, but Grumman engineers went back to the drawing board after Pearl Harbor to look into improvements suggested by actual combat experience in the Pacific. The modifications were extensive enough to warrant changing the designation of the prototype to XF6F-3, the XF6F-2 being a version with a turbo-supercharged R-2800-21 engine.

The new prototype was first flown on June 26, 1942 and the first production version was flown only four days later. By the end of 1942, the Hellcat was being delivered to US Navy combat units. VF-9 of the USS Essex was the first recipient, but the Hellcat was first blooded in combat with VF-5 operating from the USS Yorktown on August 31, 1943.

Equipped with a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10 “Double Wasp”, the Hellcat could reach 315 mph at sea level and 380 mph at altitude. Armed with the standard US fighter armament of six .50 caliber machine guns with 400 rounds per gun, the F6F-3 could knock out the competition with relative ease. As with the Wildcat, the Hellcat could absorb a significant amount of combat damage and keep on flying. These attributes were perhaps best illustrated by David McCampbell on October 23, 1944 when he shot down nine enemy fighters on a single mission, the only damage to his Hellcat being dents in the wings from flying through the debris of his victims.

Possessing a combination of good speed and maneuverability, the F6F-3 was well suited to combat against the highly maneuverable Japanese Zero fighters. While not as fast as contemporary US Army aircraft or the phenomenal Corsair, the Hellcat is a great dogfighter that can be adapted to either turn or energy fighting by an experienced pilot.

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Sullivan, Jim; F6F Hellcat In Action, Aircraft Number 36; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1979.
Spick, Mike; The Ace Factor; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1988.

Chance-Vought F4U-1C Corsair

F4U-1C-Airfield

The Corsair appeared to be a superb fighting machine, but it was overengineered and thus hard to maintain. At the start of a typical day’s ops, only about half of our full complement was safe to fly. By ‘secure,’ half of those could be expected to be ‘down.”

—Tommy Blackburn, Captain, VGF-29, Navy Cross recipient.

 

Strengths:


Speed – With a top speed of nearly 400 mph, the F4U-1C is one of the fastest mid-war planes and can keep pace with most late-war models.

Durability – Like all US Navy fighters, the Corsair could absorb a considerable amount of damage.

Guns – The upgraded firepower of four 20mm cannon gave the F4U-1C an even stronger punch than the standard US machine gun armament.

 

Weaknesses:


Carrier Landings – The long nose of the Corsair makes carrier landings difficult for novice pilots.

In February 1938 the US Navy opened design competition for a new single-seat shipboard fighter. Chance-Vought responded with a design based around the new Pratt & Whitney XR-2800 18-cylinder radial. The plane, dubbed the XF4U-1 Corsair, featured a distinctive “inverted gull” wing shape, necessitated by the diameter of the Hamilton Standard propeller and the need to keep the landing gear sturdy enough to withstand carrier landings.

On October 1, 1940, the prototype Corsair ran a speed course between Stratford and Hartford, Connecticut and attained a top speed of 404 mph, making the Corsair the first plane to exceed 400 mph in level flight. Naturally the Navy was quite impressed and ordered a production version for further testing.

Standard armament on the XF4U-1 was intended to be a pair of .30 caliber machine guns in the cowl and a .50 caliber machine gun in each wing. But developments in Europe pointed to the necessity for heavier armament. Because a larger gun wouldn’t fit in the cowl, the cowl guns were eliminated and three .50 caliber machine guns were mounted in each wing.

The space needed for the wing-mounted guns and their ammunition loads meant that the wing fuel tanks had to be removed. In order to retain the same fuel load a large 237-gallon tank was installed in the fuselage. To prevent the need for trim changes as fuel was used, the fuel tank had to be mounted as close to the center of gravity as possible, which resulted in the cockpit being moved about three feet aft of its original position. The repositioned cockpit resulted in severely reduced forward visibility, which made it even more difficult to land on a rolling and pitching aircraft carrier deck.

Corsairs started to come off the production line in the summer of 1942, and the US Marine Corps squadron, VMF-124, was formed on September 7, 1942 to be the first unit equipped with the big fighter. By December 28, 1942 VMF-124 was declared combat ready and was moved to Guadalcanal, where the Corsair flew its first combat mission on February 13, 1943.

Acting on the obvious flaws in the design, Vought replaced the “birdcage” canopy design with a taller, single-frame “clear-view” canopy. This allowed the pilot to sit 7 inches higher than in the previous version, which helped alleviate the visibility problem. Further changes included the use of the new R-2800-8W engine equipped with water-injection and structural changes designed to increase directional stability at low speeds. The new variant was dubbed the F4U-1A with almost 2,000 being built by Vought by the end of 1943.

Based on the F4U-1A production run a modified version of the Corsair, known as the F4U-1C, was delivered on August 30, 1943. This version featured a quartet of 20mm cannons in the wings in place of the six .50 caliber machine guns found on the -1A model. Additionally, a new canopy was introduced, which eliminated the last of the metal frames.

The cannon armed Corsair allowed the plane to knock out heavily armored aircraft and tanks. However, the Japanese had no heavily armored aircraft or tanks and pilots tended to prefer the greater ammunition loads of the machine gun armed Corsairs to the heavier hitting power of the 20mm guns. Only 200 F4U-1Cs were produced.

Performance-wise, the F4U-1C is identical to the machinegun armed F4U-1A.

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Sullivan, Jim; F4U Corsair In Action, Aircraft Number 145; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1994.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat

F4F-3 Airfield

“I don’t know how many Wildcats there were, but they seemed to come out of the sun in an endless stream. We never had a chance….Every time we went out we lost more and more planes. Guadalcanal was completely under the enemy’s control….Of all the men who returned with me, only Captain Aito, [Lt. Cmdr. Tadashi] Nakajima and less than six of the other pilots who were in our original group of 80 men survived.”

—Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Tainan Air Group.

 

Strengths:


Maneuverability – Of all the planes in the game, only the A6M2 Zero and the Spitfire Mk.Ia are markedly superior to the F4F-3 Wildcat in terms of maneuverability
.

 

Weaknesses:


Speed – Although not as slow as the A6M2 Zero or Hurricane IA, the F4F-3 Wildcat is not going to run away from or catch contemporary planes like the Bf-109E, I-16, Yak-1b and P-40C.

In 1936 the US Navy began looking for a successor to Grumman’s F3F carrier-based biplane fighter. They commissioned prototypes of a biplane from Grumman and a monoplane from the Brewster company, playing it safe in case the new monoplane design couldn’t stand up to the rigors of carrier operations. Grumman’s new design was designated the F4F Wildcat and retained much of the F3F’s design features, including the Wright Cyclone 9-cylinder radial engine and the distinctive fuselage-mounted, retractable landing gear. However, after a design review revealed that the new plane would be only marginally superior to the existing F3F, the Navy asked Grumman to build a monoplane instead.

The new plane, designated XF4F-2, was first flown on September 2, 1937 and proved inferior to Brewster’s XF2A-1 Buffalo, which won the contract in June 1938 for the new Navy fighter. However, three months later, Grumman received permission to begin work on a second prototype, the XF4F-3, which was redesigned around the new Pratt & Whitney 14-cylinder “Double Wasp” radial engine equipped with a two-speed supercharger. The first flight proved the superiority of the reworked Wildcat fighter over the Buffalo and after extensive evaluation, the Navy finally awarded Grumman a contract for 54 Wildcats.

Prior to delivery of the first batch of Wildcats to the US Navy in December 1940, the British Royal Navy took over a French Navy order for 81 of the new planes. Designated the Martlet, they were put into action over Scapa Flow on Christmas Day 1940, downing a Junkers Ju-88. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack a year later, the US Navy and Marine Corps had a total of 248 F4F-3s in service.

The Wildcat’s main claim to fame was earned on Wake Island, when four VMF-211 F4F-3s repulsed Japanese air attacks for two weeks – and even managed to sink a cruiser and a submarine with 100 lb. bombs. The last two Wildcats were destroyed on December 22, 1941, the day the Japanese finally managed to land on the island and overcome its meager defenses.

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.

Curtiss P-40E-1 Warhawk

“I never felt that I was a second-class citizen in a P-40. In many ways I thought the P-40 was better than the more modern fighters. I had a hell of a lot of time in a P-40, probably close to a thousand hours. I could make it sit up and talk. It was an unforgiving airplane. It had vicious stall characteristics. … If you knew what you were doing, you could fight a Jap on even terms, but you had to make him fight your way.”

— Joel Paris, P-40 pilot, 49th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:

Durability – The P-40E continued the trend of being able to sustain great amounts of battle damage.

Guns – Six .50 caliber machine guns with 280 rpg gives the Warhawk pilot a good combination of hitting power and firing time.

 

Weaknesses:

High Altitude Performance – Despite the newer engine, the P-40E is still rather sluggish and unresponsive at high altitude. In particular the climb rate and ceiling were poor compared to contemporaries such as the Spitfire and Bf-109.

Early in 1940, the new Allison V-1710-39 engine became available, and Curtiss set about redesigning the P-40 to accommodate the new power plant. The new P-40D model was visibly different from the P-40C but in fact bore the new Curtiss development designation “Hawk 87A”.  Backs to the wall and in desperate need of combat aircraft, the British government turned its eye westward in 1940 to the vast manufacturing capacity of the United States. They wanted to buy Curtiss’ latest “Hawk” but the U.S. Army needed every P-40 that Curtiss could produce.

The most visible difference from earlier P-40s was the addition of a deeper radiator “chin” under the engine. This new engine arrangement necessitated the removal of the nose-mounted machine guns in favor of placement in the wings, two .50 caliber machine guns being mounted in each wing with 280 rpg.

After a production run of only 22 P-40Ds an extra .50 caliber machine gun was mounted in each wing, the subsequent model being designated the P-40E by the US Army and the Kittyhawk I by the RAF. In addition to the improved armament, the “E” model incorporated newer hydraulic gun chargers, which replaced the unreliable mechanical charging system that was generally bypassed in the field. Additionally, the P-40E could carry either a 52-gallon drop tank or a 500 lb. bomb under the fuselage.

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; Curtis Army Hawks In Action, Aircraft No. 128; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1992.
McDowell, Ernest R.; Curtiss P-40 In Action, Aircraft No. 26; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1976.

Bell P-39D Airacobra

“It was unique, with its engine behind the cockpit, and the propeller drive shaft running between the pilot’s legs. It had a tricycle landing gear, unlike anything in our arsenal except the P-38. And the cockpit was more like a car’s, with a door instead of a swing-up or sliding canopy, and windows that actually rolled up and down with a crank. You could taxi the thing while resting your elbows on the sill, like cruising the boulevard on a Saturday night.”

— Bud Anderson, P-39 pilot, 328th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:

Guns – While the secondary guns are nothing spectacular, the 37mm cannon vaults the P-39 into the position of being a tank killer.

Weaknesses:

Speed – While fairly fast on the deck, especially when compared to its contemporaries, the Airacobra’s performance above 15,000 feet was dismal at best.

When Bell’s engineers set about the task of designing a fighter plane in 1936, they settled on the unorthodox idea of mounting the engine behind the cockpit. Such an arrangement allowed the cockpit to be further forward than normal, for good over-the-nose visibility, and allowed the use of extremely heavy nose-mounted armament.

The new fighter, designated the XP-39, was powered by the new Allison V-1710-17 engine fitted with a B-5 turbo-supercharger, which gave the initial prototype a top speed of 390 mph at 20,000 feet. At this point the plane was handed to the evaluation team at Langley for wind tunnel testing. The Army thus requested numerous design changes to the airframe, but most puzzling was the decision to replace the 1,150 hp, supercharged V-1710-17 with a 1,090 hp, non-supercharged V-1710-39. This modification made the plane “practically useless” above 17,000 feet, turning a promising heavy interceptor into a low-level ground support plane.

The plane was originally intended to carry a 25mm cannon in the nose, but Bell decided to use the new Oldsmobile 37mm M4 cannon instead. Unfortunately, the cannon had a tendency to jam if fired while maneuvering and it only carried 30 rounds of ammunition.

When war broke out in 1939, Bell submitted their specifications to the British Direct Purchase Commission, which resulted in an immediate order for 675 P-39s. These planes, designated Airacobra I by the RAF, were equipped with a single Hispano 20mm cannon with 60 rounds in place of the 37mm Oldsmobile cannon. Additionally, the pair of .50 caliber machine guns in the cowl and the four .30 caliber machine guns in the wing were replaced with standard British .303 machine guns.

Unfortunately, the Airacobra failed to live up to the specifications submitted by Bell. After only a single strafing mission over France on October 9, 1940, the Airacobra was grounded and was removed from RAF service three months later. Of the 675 Airacobra Is ordered by the RAF, 212 were dispatched to the Soviet Union and 179 were taken over by the USAAF. The USAAF models were designated P-400 and served alongside standard P-39Ds over Port Moresby, New Guinea in April 1942.

The lack of supercharging meant that the P-39, which was rather nimble and responsive at low level, was sluggish and unresponsive at higher altitudes. But while it couldn’t serve the high-level interceptor role originally intended for the design, the P-39 was found to be a good ground-attack plane, particularly with the 37mm cannon.

Sources:

Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
McDowell, Ernie; P-39 Airacobra In Action, Aircraft No. 43; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1980.

Lockheed P-38L Lightning

“Nothing, to these pilots, after the hard winter of 1943-44 could be more beautiful than a P-38L outrolling and tailgating a German fighter straight down, following a spin or split-S or whatever gyration a startled, panicked and doomed German might attempt to initiate. You just couldn’t get away from the P-38L. Whatever the German could do, the American in the P-38L could do better.”

— Capt. Arthur W. Heiden, P-38L pilot, 20th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:


Guns – The armament of one 20mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns is in the same class as that of the standard US six machine gun configuration with the added advantage of no convergence issues because all the guns are in the nose.
Speed – With improved engines, the P-38L was capable of reaching over 420 mph in level flight.
Ordnance – Capable of carrying up to 4,000 lbs. of bombs or torpedoes, plus ten 5″ rockets, the P-38L can inflict more damage than many medium bombers.

 

Weaknesses:


Maneuverability – Despite the addition of powered ailerons, the P-38 is still a handful and the successful pilot will avoid turn fights.

 

Between the “G” and “L” models, the P-38 saw several improvements made to its combat capabilities. In the “H” model, the center wing pylons were further strengthened to allow bombs of up to 2,000 lbs. weight to be carried. Additionally, the Lightning was successfully tested carrying one or two torpedoes but was seldom used in combat as there were more suitable aircraft available for such duty.

The “J” model added two more fuel tanks, bringing the total internal capacity to over 400 gallons. More powerful Allison engines were introduced and, for the first time, the clean lines of the Lightning were changed with the addition of large “chin” radiators under each engine. While the larger surface area increased drag somewhat, the improved engine cooling gave the plane more power, which more than compensated for the additional drag. The improved Lightning was capable of reaching a top speed of over 420 mph at altitude.

In an effort to improve overall maneuverability, the “J” model featured hydraulically operated ailerons, the first example of power-operated controls on a fighter. Additionally, a small electrically operated dive flap was introduced, which helped offset problems due to compressibility in high-speed dives.

With the P-38L version came even more powerful engines with an output of 1,475 hp for take-off and 1,600 hp war emergency power. This version also saw the introduction of underwing racks enabling the use of ten 5-inch HVAR rockets. Initially mounted flush with the bottom of the wing, the rocket rails eventually were formed as a “tree”, which hung down under the wing. The P-38L began to appear in squadron service in June 1944 and delivery continued until the end of the war. The “L” model was the last day-fighter variant to see service in WWII.

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; P-38 Lightning In Action, Aircraft No. 109; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1990.

P-47D Thunderbolt

“Unless we plunged nose first into the ground, we couldn’t hurt the Thunderbolt.”

— Robert S. Johnson, P-47 pilot, 56th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:


Durability – No other fighter can absorb punishment like the P-47.
Guns – Its eight .50 caliber machine guns gave the Jug one of the heaviest fighter armaments of the war.
Ground Attack – Capable of carrying over 2,000 lbs. of bombs and/or rockets, the P-47 is a deadly “ground pounder”.
Speed – With a top speed of over 425 mph, the P-47D was one of the fastest prop fighters of the war.
Roll Rate – The P-47’s fast rate of roll allows it to compete with more maneuverable fighters.

 

Weaknesses:


Maneuverability – With a gross weight of over 14,000 lbs. the Jug is hardly a nimble dogfighter.
Acceleration – The big fighter takes a while to get up to speed.
Climb Rate – As with acceleration and maneuverability, the Jug’s large size keeps it from climbing as fast as some of its contemporaries.

 

The P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the “Jug” by its pilots, was the evolutionary pinnacle of the aircraft designed by Alexander De Seversky and Alexander Kartveli. De Seversky was a brilliant engineer who had served in the Russian air force in World War I. Despite losing a leg in a bomber crash, he went on to shoot down 13 German planes before he was delegated to serve on the Russian Naval Mission to the United States. Following the Revolution of 1917, he defected to the US and finally earned his citizenship in 1927.

Having already served as an advisor to General Billy Mitchell and consulting engineer for the US War Department, De Seversky formed his own aircraft engineering company, the Seversky Aircraft Corporation, in 1931. Known as “Sasha” to his friends, he served as president, designer, and chief test pilot and was virtually a one-man company until he hired fellow émigré Kartveli.

The first military aircraft produced by Seversky was the BT-8 trainer, but a lack of power led to it be dropped in favor of North American’s BT-9, which evolved into the excellent T-6 Texan. Their next effort was the P-35, which beat out Curtiss’ P-36 Hawk for an Army contract. With the Army looking for an improvement to the P-35, Kartveli combined Boeing’s new turbo-supercharger with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engine to form the YP-43 Lancer, which was capable of reaching a speed of 350 mph and an altitude of 38,000 feet.

The XP-47 was initially designed as a streamlined, small, lightweight fighter built around the Allison V-1710 engine, but the overall performance figures were outdated by European fighter standards. Kartveli then decided to design the plane around a turbo-supercharged P&W R-2800 engine rated for 2,000 hp. The resulting design was given the XP-47B designation by the Army.

With its limited internal fuel capacity, the P-47B was unable to penetrate German airspace for very long, so in the “C” model, a ventral drop tank/bomb mount was added, increasing range by about 50%. The “D” model introduced another pair of hard points under the wings, stressed to carry up to 1,000 lbs. each. Alternatively, ten 5″ HVAR rockets could be mounted on zero-length launchers under the wings in place of bombs or drop tanks.

Mid-way through production of the P-47D, a new “bubble” canopy was installed, which gave the pilot much better vision all around, particularly to the rear. Water injection and a newer “paddle-blade” propeller increased overall top speed and climb-rate.

Featuring eight .50 caliber machine guns in the wings, the Jug was the heaviest armed fighter in the US inventory, and could slug it out with the heavy cannon armed fighters the Axis put into the sky. Although it could neither climb nor maneuver with Luftwaffe aircraft, nothing could dive faster than the P-47, a fact that saved many a pilot’s life.

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; P-47 Thunderbolt In Action, Aircraft No. 67; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1984.

Lockheed P-38G Lightning

“It was a good sized airplane. In comparison the P-39 was a midget, almost like a toy. It was very fast and had good firepower. That gave a lot of people false confidence when they first went to P-38s. “

— Robert DeHaven, P-38 pilot, 49th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:

Guns – The armament of one 20mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns is in the same class as that of the standard US six machine gun configuration with the added advantage of no convergence issues because all the guns are in the nose.

Speed – The Lightning, which was all about power and speed, was capable of exceeding 400 mph at altitude.

Ordnance – Capable of carrying up to 2,000 lbs. of bombs, the P-38 is a deadly close support plane.

 

Weaknesses:

Maneuverability – The P-38 is a large plane and thus can’t compete effectively in a turn fight.

 

Known to the Germans as Der Gabelschwanz Teufel (The Fork-Tailed Devil) and to the Japanese as “Whispering Death”, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning was one of the most unique and distinctive aircraft to see service in World War II. The brainchild of Lockheed’s brilliant Chief Engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the Lightning was designed to meet the US Army’s difficult X-608 Interceptor specification. The spec called for a fighter capable of 360 mph at 20,000 feet, the ability to fly at full throttle for over an hour, and the ability to take off and land over a 50-foot obstacle within 2,200 feet.

Johnson realized that with the current state of power plant technology, no single-engine aircraft could meet these specifications. So he set about working on a series of twin-engine designs, finally submitting the Lightning design to the Army on April 13, 1937 as the “Model 22 Pursuit Plane”. Based on this proposal, the Army awarded Lockheed a contract for a single prototype, to be designated the XP-38.

Besides the obviously unique twin-boom configuration, the Lightning featured several design innovations that allowed it to serve as one of the few really successful twin-engine fighters of WWII. The effect of engine torque, doubly problematic than on single engine planes, was eliminated by using engines that allowed the propellers to rotate in opposite directions. P-38 pilots learned that they could turn tighter than normal by decreasing throttle on one side, thereby allowing engine torque to help roll the plane in the desired direction.

Another innovation was the use of “Fowler flaps” that extended out of the wing instead of simply dropping down into the air stream. These effectively increased the wing area, which lowered the stall speed. At the same time, they created a slot between the wing and flap, which allowed the wing to fly at a much greater angle of attack without stalling.

Originally intended to carry a 23mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, the first production Lightnings were armed with a single 37mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns. The 37mm cannon was eventually replaced with a single 20mm Hispano type cannon in the P-38E.

The center wing section of the P-38F was stressed for two ordnance pylons, each capable of carrying either a 165-gallon drop tank or a 1,000 lb. bomb. The P-38G further stressed the center wing pylons to allow them each of them to carry a 300-gallon drop tank, which increased the Lightning’s range to over 2,000 miles.

One problem associated with the Lightning was poor cockpit heating at high altitude, which made combat missions in the Northern European Theater particularly unpleasant. However, the P-38 saw extensive service in the Mediterranean and South Pacific theaters and was the mount in which Major Dick Bong scored 40 aerial victories, more than any other American ace in any war.

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; P-38 Lightning In Action, Aircraft No. 109; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1990.

Curtiss P-40C Warhawk

“I never felt that I was a second-class citizen in a P-40. In many ways I thought the P-40 was better than the more modern fighters. I had a hell of a lot of time in a P-40, probably close to a thousand hours. I could make it sit up and talk. It was an unforgiving airplane. It had vicious stall characteristics. … If you knew what you were doing, you could fight a Jap on even terms, but you had to make him fight your way.”

— Joel Paris, P-40 pilot, 49th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:


Durability – The P-40 can absorb considerable battle damage and still bring its pilot back home.

 

Weaknesses:


Guns – Four .30 caliber and two .50 caliber guns are insufficient to deal much damage to enemy planes, particularly bombers.
High Altitude Performance – While it is nimble and agile at low altitudes, the lack of a decent supercharger makes the P-40 a sluggish performer above 10,000 feet.

During production of the Hawk 75 fighter for the US Army in 1937, Curtiss modified the original radial engine design to accommodate the new Allison V-1710 inline, liquid-cooled engine. The new design benefited from both streamlining and increased engine power and was flown for the first time in October 1938 as the XP-40. Performance was so impressive that the Army ordered 524 production machines, which was at that time the largest-ever single production order for a US fighter.

The first production P-40s began to appear in May 1940, and the US Army elected to defer delivery of the new fighter to allow production and delivery of the export version (known as the Hawk 81A) to France. However, the initial production version was hardly combat ready, lacking armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks, which delayed deliveries until September 1940. By then, France had fallen and the RAF had taken over the production order from the French Air Force.

The British replaced the two .30 caliber Browning machine guns in the wings with guns chambered for the .303 round, but retained the two .50 caliber machine guns in the nose. With some armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks, the new machine was designated the “Warhawk IIA” for RAF service and was virtually identical to the USAAF’s P-40B, which began to reach service units in early 1941.

For the next variant, the P-40C model (Warhawk IIB to the RAF), improvements were made to the self-sealing fuel tanks and an additional .30 caliber machine gun was added to each wing, which increased gross weight, reducing the maximum speed. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Army had 62 P-40Bs and 11 P-40Cs, the majority of which were destroyed on the ground. However, several survived the initial attack and were able to score the AAFs first “kills” of the war. Two weeks later, on December 20, 1941, the American Volunteer Group, aka the “Flying Tigers”, took to the skies in their P-40Cs and destroyed six of ten Japanese bombers attacking Kunming.

 

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; Curtis Army Hawks In Action, Aircraft No. 128; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1992.
McDowell, Ernest R.; Curtiss P-40 In Action, Aircraft No. 26; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1976.

 

P-51D Mustang

“The most important thing to a fighter pilot is speed; the faster an aircraft is moving when he spots an enemy aircraft, the sooner he will be able to take the bounce and get to the Hun. If you have any advantage on him, keep it and use it. When attacking, plan to overshoot him if possible, hold fire until within range, then shoot and clobber him down to the last instant before breaking away. It’s like sneaking up behind someone and hitting them with a baseball bat.”

— Duane W. Beeson, P-51 pilot, 4th Fighter Group.

 

Strengths:


Speed – With a top speed of over 435 mph, the P-51D is one of the fastest planes in the game.
Guns – The standard six-gun armament of US Fighters is sufficient to knock down all but heavy bombers.
Ground Attack – The Mustang can carry up to 2000 lbs of ordnance, giving it the hitting power of many “medium” bombers.
Energy Retention – The laminar flow wing gives the Mustang possibly the best “E-retention” of any plane in the game.

Weaknesses:


Low-Speed Handling – The handling at speeds approaching stall was unpredictable, and included violent snap-rolls due to the great power-to-weight ratio.
Directional Stability – The high power-to-weight ratio made the Mustang a difficult plane to keep flying straight and level.

With their backs to the wall and in desperate need of combat aircraft, the British government turned its eye westward in 1940 to the vast manufacturing capacity of the United States. They wanted to buy Curtiss’ latest “Hawk” but the U.S. Army needed every P-40 that Curtiss could produce.

However they did succeed in gaining permission to purchase license-built P-40s, providing they could find someone to build them. With this in mind, they approached North American engineering and asked them if they would build the Curtiss fighter under license. Instead of accepting outright, the company offered to design and produce a new fighter in less time than it would take to tool their factory for P-40 production. Having been impressed with North American’s professionalism from previous contracts, the British agreed and dubbed the new design the Mustang.

A scant 127 days after the first piece of metal was cut, the Mustang airframe was rolled out of the factory and twenty days later the new Allison V-1710 engine had been installed. After several weeks of ground and engine testing, on October 26, 1940, the Mustang took to the air and flew for the first time.

Less than a year after getting the go-ahead, the first Mustang I rolled off the production line and, after acceptance testing, arrived in England and was assembled by the end of October 1941. Used primarily as a ground attack fighter, the Mustang I didn’t draw its first blood until August 19, 1942, when an American volunteer, Pilot Officer Hollis Hills of Pasadena, California shot down an FW-190 during the failed invasion at Dieppe.

The U.S. Army eventually showed an interest and purchased 55 modified Mustang Is, which they designated the P-51 Apache. The P-51 differed from the Mustang I primarily in having the machine-gun armament replaced with two 20mm cannon in each wing. However, these were shipped to photo recon units in the Mediterranean and the fighter was again lost to the Army.

Impressed with the early success of the Stuka in Europe, the Army flirted with the North American design once again, this time fitted with dive brakes as the A-36 Apache. Armed with six .50 caliber machine guns (two in the nose under the engine and two in each wing) and shackles for a pair of 500 lb. bombs under the wings the A-36 saw action in Sicily and Italy in the summer of 1943 and was used in the defense of the Burma Road that autumn.

During this time, the “dive bomber” had accounted for over 84 enemy planes in the air in addition to its bombing duties, and the potential as a fighter was obvious. Fitted with an improved supercharged Allison V-1710-81, the new P-51A retained the same armament as the A-36, minus the nose guns. Equipped with 150-gallon drop tanks, the new Mustang could now be ferried over 2700 miles in a single leg. The P-51A was used primarily in the China-Burma-India Theater, performing fighter and ground-attack duties against the Japanese.

The one weakness of the Mustang was that it had a service ceiling considerably lower than that of contemporary European fighters, like the Spitfire and Bf-109. This was due entirely to the Allison engine’s poor high-altitude performance without the bulky turbo-superchargers used on the Lightning. Convinced that the sleek airframe of the Mustang would be a winner if only it had more power, Rolls-Royce engineers began modifying a Mustang I to accept a Merlin 65 engine in place of the Allison.

The first flight tests revealed that what had once been a pleasant and easy aircraft to fly was now a spitting, kicking, bucking bronco of a plane that required constant control adjustments to keep trimmed. But the trade-off was a plane that traveled 50 mph faster and had a service ceiling 10,000 feet higher than the Allison-powered variant. Fitted for production with a Packard-built version of the Merlin, the new Mustang was designated P-51B by the U.S. Army and over 2,000 were ordered by the Army and the RAF.

Being unable to meet the production load with only their Los Angeles factory, North American retooled their Dallas, Texas factory from production of the B-24 Liberator and started producing P-51s. Although identical to the P-51B being built in California, the Texas-built planes were designated P-51Cs.

But the best was still yet to come! Looking to improve the visibility out of the cockpit, North American engineers devised a plexiglas “bubble” canopy for use on the “D” model, which gave the pilot an all-around view unobstructed by any canopy “ironwork”. The ammunition feed problem under heavy G-loading, which plagued the P-51B/C, was fixed by changing the mount angle of the guns, and another pair of .50s was added to the wing armament, giving the P-51D a total of six .50 caliber machine guns. Finally, the wings and wing hard-points were strengthened to allow loads of up to 1000 lbs. per wing to be carried.

With additional internal fuel capacity and larger drop tanks, the Mustang could now reach deep into Germany and escort bombers all the way to their targets and back. The addition of zero-length rocket launchers allowed the Mustang to carry six air-to-ground rockets for ground attack duties. Over 9600 P-51Ds were built and over 45 squadrons in the 8th Air Force were equipped to fly Mustangs by the end of the war in Europe.

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co., London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; P-51 Mustang In Action, Aircraft No. 45; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1981.
Freeman, Roger A.; Mustang At War, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New York; 1974.