Republic P-47 Thunderbolt (from B onwards)

P-47 Thunderbolt high-altitude fighter Photo by Evert J. van Koningsveld.

The P-47 was a big and very powerful high-altitude fighter. It was designed round the powerful R-2800 engine and its turbocharger, because the USAAF had (entirely justified) misgivings about fitting all its fighters with the Allison V-1710. The R-2800 was powerful, thirsty, costly to operate, but rugged and reliable. By extracting all possible power from it, the P-47 evolved into a fighter that was equal or superior to its adversaries. With drop tanks, the P-47 could fly escort missions deep into Germany, and it did much to defeat the Luftwaffe. The P-47M was the fastest US fighter in WWII service. Because of a shorter range and more rugged structure than the P-51, the P-47 was later used as fighter-bomber, in which role it performed extremely well. Most built US fighter of WWII with 15683 aircraft.

Type: P-47C
Function: fighter
Year: 1943
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 2300 hp P&W R-2800-21
Wing Span: 12.42 m
Length: 10.99 m
Height: 4.32 m
Wing Area: 27.9 m2
Empty Weight: 4858 kg
Max.Weight: 7355 kg
Speed: 697 km/h
Range: 2776 km
Armament: 8 * mg 12.7mm 1 * b227 kg

Type: P-47D-30-RE
Function: fighter
Year: 1943
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 1865kW P&W R-2800-59
Wing Span: 12.42 m
Length: 10.99 m
Height: 4.44 m
Wing Area: 27.9 m2
Empty Weight: 4812 kg
Max.Weight: 7900 kg
Max. Speed: 687 km/h
Ceiling: 12800 m
Max. Range: 2900 km
Armament: 8*mg12.7mm, 1135 kg payload

Type: P-47N-5
Function: fighter
Year: 1945
Crew: 1
Engines: 1 * 2800 hp P&W R-2800-57
Wing Span: 12.97 m
Length: 10.79 m
Wing Area: 29.91 m2
Empty Weight: 5285 kg
Max.Weight: 9380 kg
Speed: 740 km/h
Range: 3781 km
Armament: 8 * mg 12.7mm, 1135 kg payload

Affectionately nicknamed "Jug," the P-47 was one of the most famous AAF fighter planes of WW II. Although originally conceived as a lightweight interceptor, the P-47 developed as a heavyweight fighter and made its first flight on May 6, 1941. The first production model was delivered to the AAF in March 1942, and in April 1943 the Thunderbolt flew its first combat mission--a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness. Its sturdy construction and air-cooled radial engine enabled the Thunderbolt to absorb severe battle damage and keep flying. During WW II, the P-47 served in almost every active war theater and in the forces of several Allied nations. By the end of WW II, more than 15,600 Thunderbolts had been built.

Production P-47B, -C, early -D and -G series aircraft were built with metal-framed "greenhouse" type cockpit canopies. Late -D series (dash 25 and later) aircraft and all -M and -N series production aircraft were given clear "bubble" canopies, which gave the pilot improved rearward


The Thunderbolt was the most famous of all the Republic aircraft in WWII. First flown on 6 May 1941, the P-47 was designed as a (then) large, high-performance fighter/bomber, utilizing the large Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine to give it excellent performance and a large load-carrying capability. The first deliveries of the P-47 took place in June 1942, when the US Army Air Corps began flying it in the European Theater.

Though it was an excellent airplane, several improvements were made as production continued, with each improvement adding power, maneuverability and range. As the war progressed, the Thunderbolt, or "Jug," as it was affectionately called, gained a reputation as a reliable and extremely tough airplane, able to take incredible amounts of damage and still return its pilot home safely. P-47s logged almost 2 million flight hours during the war, during which they were responsible for the destruction of over 7,000 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground in the European Theater alone.

Later in the war, Jugs served as escort fighters for B-29 bombers in the Pacific. Mostly, though, they excelled in the ground-attack role, strafing and bombing their way across the battlefields of Europe. Early versions, up through the P-47C, had "razorback" fuselages, but the popular P-47D featured a bubble canopy which gave the pilot increased rearward visibility.

P-47s were also used during the war by the air forces of Brazil, England, France, Mexico and the Soviet Union. Following the war, the Jug served for nine more years in the US, flown by the Air National Guard. It continued to serve for many additional years with the air forces of over 15 nations around the world.

P-47 as a fighter-bomber

By 1944, the Thunderbolt was in combat with the USAAF in all its operational theaters, except Alaska. With increases in fuel capacity as the type was refined, the range of escort missions over Europe steadily increased until the P-47 was able to accompany bombers in raids all the way into Germany. On the way back from the raids, pilots shot up ground targets of opportunity which led to the realization that the P-47 made an excellent fighter-bomber. Even with its complicated turbosupercharger system it could absorb a lot of damage, and its eight machine guns could inflict heavy damage on lightly armored targets. The P-47 gradually became the USAAF's best fighter-bomber, carrying the 500 pound (227 kg) bombs, the triple-tube M-8 4.5 inch (115 mm) rocket launchers, and eventually HVARs.

Although the P-51 Mustang replaced the P-47 in the escort role, the Thunderbolt still ended the war with 3,752 kills claimed in over 746,000 missions of all types, at the cost of 3,499 P-47s in combat. The 56th FG was the only 8th Air Force unit still flying the P-47 in preference to the P-51 by the end of the war. The unit claimed 647 air victories and 311 ground kills, at the cost of 128 aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski scored 31 victories, including 3 ground kills, Captain Bob Johnson scored 27 (with one unconfirmed probable kill leading to some giving his tally as 28), and 56th FG Commanding Officer Colonel Hubert Zemke scored 17.75 kills. In the Pacific, Col Neel Kearby of the 5th Air Force destroyed 22 Japanese planes and was awarded the Medal of Honor for an action in which he downed six enemy fighters on a single mission. He was shot down and killed over Biak in March 1944.

Flying the Thunderbolt

All P-47 variants suffered from the long take-off runs with ground handling exacerbated by torque of the large propeller. In the air, the P-47 was not particularly maneuverable, though it became more agile at high altitudes. One Thunderbolt pilot compared it to flying a bathtub around the sky. On the positive side, the P-47 was rugged and well armed. The Thunderbolt was also one of the fastest-diving aircraft of the war -- it could reach speeds of 480 knots (550 mph, 885 km/h). Some P-47 pilots claimed to have broken the sound barrier, but later research revealed that due to the pressure buildup inside the Pitot tube at high speeds, airspeed readings became unpredictably exaggerated. Furthermore, the P-47 had good rates of climb and roll. Its success in combat depended on utilizing energy-conserving "dive-and-zoom" tactics.

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