The Original Thunderbolt
Yes, we call the A-10 the Warthog, but that’s just a pet name. Officially it is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The plane in the photo is its original namesake. The P47 Thunderbolt which was one of the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter planes that ever got off the ground.
How heavy? Well, put it like this. Fully loaded a single P47 could carry almost half of what the bigger B-17 could carry as far as the ordinance. That’s almost 2,500 pounds of explosive goodness. And versatile! She could serve as short to medium range escort for the bombers, was very effective at high altitude air to air and excelled at the ground attack role.
Though a very large part of US military in WWII it was used by France, Russia, Britain, Mexico, and Brazil! It sure did get around. With over 15,000 units manufactured during the war, it is no wonder that it found so many homes.
How effective was the Thunderbolt in WWII? Estimates credit the numerous P47 squadrons with the destruction of 86,000 German railway cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored fighting vehicles, and 68,000 trucks. That does not count the enemy aircraft or infantry that found itself on the business end of its eight Browning .50 cal machine guns, bombs and possibly ten rockets. She was a tank with wings.
The best story about the P47 though has to be its nickname, the “Jug”. Apparently when it first sent to Britain its profile bore a striking resemblance to the milk jugs in use at the time. So the name Jug stuck. What do you think? Better or worse than Warthog?
PBY-5A Catalina The Eye in the Sky
Being a flying boat has some advantages and during WWII the PBY-5A Catalina put them to good use. She was versatile and served a number of roles. This model does a good job of showing her off but they really need to be seen in person to be appreciated.
Around 3,300 were built for the war and they served in almost every theater. She was first introduced in 1936 and remained in service with the US Navy until 1957 but the Brazilian navy kept them in service until 1979. Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and even the Soviet Union all used them during their lifetime. Today some still fly and act as firefighting platforms all over the world.
The Catalina had a crew of ten and had two 1,200 horsepower engines. She could reach 195 miles per hour and had a range of about 2,520 miles. Armed with machine guns and capable of carrying 4,000lbs of bombs she could always manage to hold her own.
Her biggest role was as a submarine hunter in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic theater. They would escort convoys and when called upon would take the fight straight to the enemy subs. As patrol craft, few planes are in her league. They helped the Royal Navy track the Bismark in 1941, leading the sinking of the massive ship. The helped spoil a surprise Japanese landing in Malaya on December 7, 1941, and most notably took part in the Battle of Midway, spotting the location of the Japanese carriers in the early hours of the battle. Scenes like these were repeated many times during the war where the Catalina’s always seemed to be on point.
AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch
Above is a decommissioned version of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. One of the workhorses of the Vietnam War. From 1967 when it first entered service until 1973 over 1,000 of these saw service. Over that time they accumulated over 1 million hours of operational time.
Their main mission was close fire support of the infantry. They also served as escorts for the troop helicopters and as highly mobile rocket artillery platforms. Basically, they did whatever was needed. During the war, almost 300 were lost due to combat and other incidents.
The Cobra comes in a number of variants that served many different roles and as such. They have seen a lot of action. Starting in Vietnam, then the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The 1991 Gulf War saw the AH-1 and its variants in action. In they were on the scene in Somalia and again later in 1994 during the armed intervention in Haiti.
In 1999 the US Army officially pulled the AH-1 from active service. They found a home though with NATO and other allies. Over the years they have served a vital role for the US Forest Service, not as gunships, but as firefighting equipment. The AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper still are used by the US Marine Corps.
The AH-1G HueyCobra, the most common one in Vietnam had a maximum speed of 171mph and an effective range of 357 miles. For armament, it depended on the job but could include: 2 7.62 mm miniguns, 2 M129 grenade launchers, rocket pods, and additional minigun pods. Basically, for a small chopper, it packed a heck of a punch.
The above map is a section of a map of Pearl Harbor that one of the Japanese pilots carried. If you look close it shows where the ships were expected to be. Also the designated targets for each Japanese squadron. It is an interesting look at such a seminal historic event. Albeit through a lens different from what we normally see.
Pearl Harbor will always have a special place in our national psyche. The general public had no idea that relations with Japan had degraded so far. Most eyes were focused towards Europe and the rise of Germany. The government, however, knew that Japan was possibly an issue.
Jumping on the bandwagon that we “knew” Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked is sort of silly and actually immaterial. Once Japan invaded China the US took a course of action that made war almost unavoidable. On June 24th, 1941 President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the US. With international cooperation throughout the world, Japan’s access to oil was cut off. Its current reserves were set to last only about three years, half that if it continued to expand its war machine.
The decision was made by their high command to strike out and take the resources they needed from the Dutch East Indies, but they knew the US would not sit idly by and allow it. They decided that the best course of action was to attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbor with the goal of landing such a devastating blow that the US would not have time to recover before the resources were secured, and by then the Japanese hoped to secure a peace treaty without fighting the US. They really underestimated the United States, a mistake that many enemies have made over the years.
Barter Kit, For When Things Go Bad
So, you are a US Navy pilot and you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to bail out over enemy territory. Maybe you were shot down, maybe you had mechanical issues, either way, you are about to be in deep trouble.
Luckily when you were preparing for your mission you put on your flight suit which contained a number of compartments. In those compartments are the survival tools that you may need in exactly this situation. Besides a first aid kit and such you have your handy, dandy Barter Kit.
The Barter kit was a small molded rubber case which measures 5 1/2″ by 4″. When opened there are 5 form fitted compartments. Two gold rings, marked as being 100% gold. A small charm with the image of a fish, several links of gold chain and the real beauty, a Swiss made 21 jewel Milus Instant Date watch with a band.
No, this was not a pilot’s early retirement present. In fact, the purpose was to give the downed pilots something of value to trade to either civilian. Or possibly even enemy soldiers to help them get back to their lines and to safety.
The kit above was a variation that was used in the South East Asia theater during the war. Another version used in the Atlantic had three gold rings and a number of gold coins.
If you were down and found yourself on the wrong side of the line, this little kit could very well be the difference between life and death.
To B-1B or not to B-1B
The above is the B-1B Lancer and for a good chunk of the later Cold War this was to be one of the primary aircraft that would deliver nuclear payloads, should it ever be needed.
Originally conceived in the 50’s and into the 60’s the idea was to create a replacement for the venerable B-52 that would have extended range and supersonic capabilities. The first of the prototypes, the B-1A, flew on December 23, 1974. Originally slated to cost in the area of $40 million, By 1975 the projected cost had ballooned to over $70 million per aircraft.
By the time that Jimmy Carter took over the presidency, this B-1 program, and several others were on the chopping block because of their expense and the feeling that would be no better in payload or penetration of enemy airspace than the B-52. Carter killed the program and decided to focus instead on ICBMs and “modernizing” the current B-52 fleet.
Upon taking office in 1981 President Reagan decided that the B-1 could fulfill a designated role. He ordered 100 of the planes to be constructed. The B-1B officially joined the US armory on October 1st, 1986.
It has a max airspeed of Mach 1.5 at high altitude and Mach 0.92 at low altitude. With a combat radius of almost three thousand miles. The crew of four would be able to deploy over 125,000 pounds of ordinance on a given target. Conventional as well as nuclear. The most amazing thing? With potential upgrades and increased capabilities, the B-1B could potentially be in services until 2038 or later!
Of course, the photo above is a model of the unit.
The F-4 Phantom
The F-4 Phantom is one of the most iconic military airplanes in American history. As much as the Huey is seen as a symbol of the Vietnam War, the Phantom has to run a close second.
During the war, it served a number of roles, from the main air superiority fighter to ground attack and close support. Even later in the war, it became an important reconnaissance tool also. Not bad.
It first flew in May 1958 and was introduced into front-line service in 1960. It was manufactured until 1981 and in total, more than 5,000 found their way into service. Officially retired in 1996 by the US military it saw use in foreign services until 2013 (Germany).
Oddly enough it is not in a military role that it has been the most impressive. During the 1960’s, as NASA was working on the technology to take a man to the moon. They needed an aircraft that could be used to film the test launches and provide data to the designers. The F-4 was the only airplane that could keep up. So armed with cameras under its wings, this warbird was instrumental to the space program.
Of course, some would argue that the five years that is served as the primary platform for the US Navy’s Blue Angles (1969-1974) ranks up there as its coolest moment.
The plane in the picture is currently undergoing restoration at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI. It is sort of strange to see such a majestic machine with its guts torn out and sort of empty. It helps to know that after so many years of service though it is somewhere they will take care of it.
What Makes a Tomcat Go?
Why these of course.
The Grumman f-14 Tomcat has been one of the most iconic Navy fighters of the modern age. Sure they are long in the tooth and are pretty much passed by now, but thanks to Top Gun they will always have a special place in our collective hearts, and that above is what made them go.
The Pratt & Whitney TF30 was first put into production in 1964 and were being built up until 1986 and while they functioned well in other aircraft, in the F-14 that had some issues with compression stalls at high angles of attack when the throttles were moved aggressively.
In other aircraft these stalls were able to be compensated for, but in the Tomcat, because the two engines were so widely spaced apart it could cause the plane to go into a spin that was VERY difficult to recover from. Just ask Goose. The major issues were finally resolved in a new version of the engine that started seeing service in the F-14A in the late 80’s.
The engine was used in the following aircraft models:
- F-111 (General Dynamics)
- F-111C (General Dynamics)
- EF-111A Raven (General Dynamics/Grumman)
- F-111B (General Dynamics/Grumman)
- F-111K (General Dynamics)
- F-14A Tomcat (General Dynamics)
- LTV A-7A/B/C Corsair II
If you are curious you can find out some more about the engine at the Pratt & Whitney site here.
A Controlled Crash
That above is a glider of the model used by the Allied forces during D-Day. A glider, if you are not familiar, is a plane shaped vehicle that has no engines, is towed by another plane and when released, glides gently to the ground.
That is until you load it with infantrymen, equipment, and everything needed to confront the Nazi’s. At that point it basically becomes a rock that falls quickly and instead of the nice soft landing, generally becomes a controlled crash. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well, it was, but it served a really good purpose.
First of all, gliders once released from their tow plane are basically silent. No noise means they are more difficult to find in the sky and thus more difficult to shoot down. It also makes it harder to determine where the will land.
Second of all, the troops that were parachuted onto a battlefield, they would often scatter and be dispersed. This means that it would take longer to get them into the fight and time would be lost getting them organized. Coming in with a glider meant the troops would land in the place and in theory be ready to get into the fight. (If they survived the landing.)
Lastly, they were cheap. Most of the trips for these were one way, as many did not survive the experience. So they were made of the wood and cheaper materials, which meant the could be mass-produced cheap.
End of an Era
The end of WWII saw pretty much the end of gliders. The advent of helicopters pretty much replaced them for military use. Unlike gliders, helicopters can pick the troops back up after the battle is over. Today some special forces teams will use gliders for their missions, but pretty much the gliders were something that had its one specific moment in time.
During the Vietnam War, that was the most beautiful thing you can see. Helicopters were the lifeline for the troops out in the bush. They brought you reinforcements, food, water, ammunition, clean socks and eventually they would take you somewhere at least marginally safer than where you were.
The helicopter above is a CH-47 Chinook, a very big brother to the classic Huey that was the face of the war. The CH-47 entered service in 1962 and amazingly are still being produced and are in service today. Sixteen countries have these in their arsenal. Including Iran who purchased a large number from us in the 70’s and still have many in service today.
It can reach a top speed of 196 mph, has a range of 450 miles and can lift approximately 28,000 pounds of cargo, if arranged properly.
Originally used in some of the roles mentioned above supply and troop transport. Eventually it became an invaluable tool for the artillery section. Its enormous lifting capability meant that it could take big guns and there crews up into the mountains faster, easier and safer than transporting them overland. Once established the Chinook could keep the fire bases supplied with massive amounts of ammunition. This allowed them to function for extended periods of time. Having these artillery emplacements in strategic locations were vital to war effort. They could provide support to forces in the field at a much greater capacity.
During the war, nearly 750 of these big birds were in service with almost 200 lost to combat or accidents. Pretty high percentage. I can guarantee you that if you were out in the field and saw one of these flying overhead, your heart skipped a beat.