Tag Archives: Fighter Bomber

25 May 1953

George S. Welch with North American YF-100A 52-5754. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

25 May 1953: North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch took the YF-100A Super Sabre, U.S. Air Force serial number 52-5754, for its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base. The airplane reached Mach 1.03.

Development of the Super Sabre began with an effort to increase the speed of the F-86D and F-86E Sabre fighters. The wings had more sweep and the airfoil sections were thinner. A much more powerful engine would be needed to achieve supersonic speed in level flight. As design work on the “Sabre 45” proceeded, the airplane evolved to a completely new design. Initially designated XF-100, continued refinements resulted in the first two aircraft being redesignated YF-100A.

North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of the YF-100A, 52-5754, at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch in the cockpit of YF-100A 52-5754 at Los Angeles International Airport. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The two YF-100As, 52-5754 and 52-5755, were 47 feet, 11¼ inches (14.611 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 7 inches (11.151 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). The wings were swept to 45° at 25% chord, and had 0° angle of incidence and 0° dihedral. The ailerons were placed inboard on the wings to eliminate their twisting effects at high speed. The airplane had no flaps. The pre-production prototypes weighed 18,135 pounds (8,226 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 24,789 pounds (11,244 kilograms).

The new air superiority fighter was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-7 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (2 high- and 1 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-7 had a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 8,000 pounds of thrust (35.586 kilonewtons) at 5,875 r.p.m., N1, and 9550 r.p.m., N2. The engine’s Military Power rating was 9,700 pounds thrust (43.148 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m., for 30 minutes; and 14,800 pounds thrust (65.834 kilonewtons) at 6,275 r.p.m./9,900 r.p.m. with afterburner, limited to five minutes. The engine was 20 feet, 9.7 inches (6.342 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.014 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,075 pounds (2,303 kilograms). Later production aircraft used a J57-P-39 engine, which had the same ratings.

Cutaway illustration ofa North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
Cutaway illustration of a North American Aviation F-100A Super Sabre. (Boeing)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754, 19 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
The prototype North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre, 52-5754, with the North American F-100 team. Chief Test Pilot George S. Welch is in the center of the front row, seated. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The YF-100A had a maximum speed of 660 miles per hour (1,062 kilometers per hour) at 43,350 feet (13,213 meters). The service ceiling was 52,600 feet (16,033 meters). Range with internal fuel was 422 miles (679 kilometers).

During testing, 52-5754 reached Mach 1.44 in a dive. On 29 October 1953, Colonel Frank K. Everest set a world speed record of 1,215.298 kilometers per hour (755.151 miles per hour) with 754.¹

In service with the United States Air Force, the Super Sabre’s mission changed from air superiority fighter to fighter bomber. It was used extensively during the Vietnam War. North American Aviation, Inc., built 2,294 single and tandem-seat Super Sabres between 1954 and 1959.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 over Edwards Air Force Base, California, 25 May 1953. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 lands on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

George Welch was born George Lewis Schwartz, in Wilmington, Delaware, 10 May 1918. His parents changed his surname to Welch, his mother’s maiden name, so that he would not be effected by the anti-German prejudice that was widespread in America following World War I. He studied mechanical engineering at Purdue, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939.

North American Aviation YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 banks away from a chase plane during a flight test. (U.S. Air Force)

George S. Welch is best remembered as one of the heroes of Pearl Harbor. He was one of only two fighter pilots to get airborne during the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Flying a Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, he shot down three Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter. For this action, Lieutenant General H.H. “Hap” Arnold recommended the Medal of Honor, but because Lieutenant Welch had taken off without orders, an officer in his chain of command refused to endorse the nomination. He received the Distinguished Service Cross. During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat, and when North American Aviation approached him to test the new P-51H Mustang, General Arnold authorized his resignation. Welch test flew the P-51, FJ-1 Fury, F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. He was killed 12 October 1954 when his F-100A Super Sabre came apart in a 7 G pull up from a Mach 1.5 dive.

North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation pre-production prototype YF-100A Super Sabre 52-5754 with drag chute deployed on landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The extended pitot boom is used to calibrate instruments early in the flight test program. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-100 Super Sabre 52-5754 with external fuel tanks, parked on the dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8868

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 May 1991

22 May 1991: After nearly 30 years in service with West Germany, the F-104 Starfighter made its last flight before retirement. The Luftwaffe was the largest single operator of the Lockheed F-104 with nearly 35% of the total worldwide production in West German service. 915 F-104F two-place trainers and F-104G fighter-bombers were built, with most going to the Luftwaffe, but 151 were assigned to the West German Navy.

Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson as a Mach 2 interceptor, the Starfighter was used as a fighter bomber by Germany. The F-104G was most-produced version of the Lockheed Starfighter. It had a strengthened fuselage and wings, with hardpoints for carrying bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.

The F-104G is a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).

The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).

The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers). The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The Starfighter’s standard armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition, and up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles could be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles two wingtip fuel tanks and another two underwing tanks could be carried.

General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)
General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon in the weapons bay of a Messerschmitt-built F-104G Starfighter. (Michael Wolf/Wikipedia)

On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton and was designed for high-speed, low-altitude, laydown delivery.

German Air Force F-104G Starfighter equipped with rocket booster for Zero Length Launch. A B43 nuclear bomb is on the centerline hardpoint. (MoRsE via Wikipedia)
German Air Force F-104G Starfighter DB+127 at the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, Berlin Gatow. The fighter bomber equipped with four external fuel tanks and a ZELL-Verfaren rocket booster for Zero-Length Launch. A B43 nuclear bomb is on the centerline hardpoint. (MoRsE via Wikipedia)

The Starfighter had an undesirable reputation for high accident rates. 270 German F-104s were lost in accidents, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 pilots. In reality, this was not unusual, and can be attributed the the nature of the mission: high-speed, low-altitude flight, in the poor weather conditions of Europe. The German press, however, gave it the name Witwenmacher (“Widowmaker”).

The last Luftwaffe F-104 to fly was 26+40 from Ingolstadt Manching Airport, 22 May 1991.

Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. (© Peter Doll)
Two F-104G Starfighters in service with the Luftwaffe. The airplane closest to the camera, marked 26+41, was built by Messerschmitt with final assembly by MBB-Manching in February 1971. It is powered bya MAN Turbo J79-MTU-J1K engine rated at 15,950 pounds of thrust. (© Peter Doll)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 May 1941

Republic XP-47B 40-3051 prototype in flight. (Republic Aircraft Corporation)

6 May 1941: Just eight months after a prototype for a new single-engine fighter was ordered by the U.S. Army Air Forces, test pilot Lowery Lawson Brabham took off from the Republic Aviation Corporation factory airfield at Farmingdale, New York, and flew the prototype XP-47B Thunderbolt, serial number 40-3051, to Mitchel Field, New York.

During the flight, oil which had collected in the exhaust duct began burning. There was so much smoke that Brabham considered bailing out. He stayed with the prototype, though, and when he arrived at Mitchel Field, he exclaimed, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot!”

Alexander Kartveli

The prototype was designed by Alexander Kartveli, a Georgian immigrant and former chief engineer for the Seversky Aircraft Corporation, which became the Republic Aviation Corporation in 1939.

Alexander Kartveli (née Kartvelishvili, ალექსანდრე ქართველი) was born in Tbilisi, in the Kutais Governorate of the Russian Empire, (what is now, Georgia). After World War I, during which he was wounded, Kartvelishvili was sent to study at the Paris Aviation Higher College of Engineering in France by the government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. He graduated in 1922. Kartvelishvili did not return to his country, which had fallen to the Red Army in the Soviet-Georgian War. He worked for Blériot Aéronautique S.A. until 1928, when he was employed by the Fokker American Company (also known as Atlantic Aircraft, or Atlantic-Fokker) which was headquartered at Passaic, New Jersey, in the United States. In 1931, he became chief engineer for the Seversky Aircraft Company in Farmingdale.

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt prototype 40-3051 at Farmingdale, New York, 1941. The pilot standing in front of the airplane gives a scale reference. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

The XP-47B was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The production P-47B was 34 feet, 10 inches (10.617 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters), and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters).¹ The wing area was 300 square feet (27.9 square meters). At a gross weight of 12,086 pounds (5,482 kilograms), it was nearly twice as heavy as any of its contemporaries.

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051 at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.(Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives )

The XP-47B was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 (Double Wasp TSB1-G) two-row, 18-cylinder radial with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 had a normal power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The engine drove a 12-foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter, four-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long. The engine weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.

A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge.

Republic XP-47B 40-3051. The pilot enters the cockpit through a hinged canopy segment. (Ray Wagner Collection Catalog, San Diego Air and Space Museum)

During flight testing, the XP-47B Thunderbolt demonstrated speeds of 344.5 miles per hour (554.4 kilometers per hour) at 5,425 feet (1,654 meters), and 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 15,600 feet (4,745 meters). Its maximum speed was 412 miles per hour (663 kilometers per hour) at 25,800 feet (7,864 meters). The test pilot reported that the engine was unable to produce full power during these tests. It was determined that it had a cracked cylinder head, resulting in a loss of 2.5–4% of its maximum rated power. Also, the XP-47B was painted in camouflage, resulting in a slight loss of speed.

It could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just five minutes.

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

 

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051, 4 May 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051, 4 May 1941. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

During a test flight, 4 August 1942, the XP-47B’s tail wheel was left down. The extreme heat of the turbocharger’s exhaust set fire to the tire, which then spread to the airplane’s fabric-covered control surfaces. Unable to control the airplane, test pilot Filmore L. Gilmer bailed out. The prototype Thunderbolt crashed into Long Island Sound and was destroyed.

The third production Republic P-47B Thunderbolt, 41-5897, at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 March 1942. The door-hinged canopy of the XP-47B has been replaced by a rearward-sliding canopy, requiring that the radio antenna mast be moved.(NASA)
A Republic P-47B Thunderbolt in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, 31 July 1942. (NASA LMAL 29051)

A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

¹ Data from Pilot’s Flight Operating Instructions, Technical Order No. 01-65BC-1, 20 January 1943

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 April 1953

Joe Lynch and the North American Aviation YF-86H-1-NA Sabre 52-1975 fighter bomber on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

30 April 1952, the first North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter bomber, YF-86H-1-NA 52-1975, made its first flight with test pilot Joseph A. Lynch, Jr., in the cockpit. It was flown from the Inglewood, California, factory to Edwards Air Force Base for evaluation and testing.

While the F-86A, E and F Sabres were air superiority fighters and the F-86D and L were all-weather interceptors, the F-86H was a fighter bomber, designed to attack targets on the ground with guns bombs and rockets. Larger and with a maximum gross weight nearly 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) heavier than an F-86F, the H model’s J73 engine provided almost 40% more thrust. Though it’s top speed was only marginally faster, the F-86H could take off in a shorter distance and climb faster with a higher service ceiling than the earlier models.

Joseph Lynch
Joseph A. Lynch, Jr.

The two pre-production aircraft were built at Inglewood, California, but all production airplanes were built at Columbus, Ohio. The serial numbers of those F-86H Sabres have the suffix -NH.

The North American Aviation F-86H Sabre was 38 feet, 10 inches (11.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 1 inch (11.913 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 11 inches (4.547 meters). Empty weight was 13,836 pounds (6,276 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,296 pounds (11,021 kilograms).

The F-86H was powered by a General Electric J73-GE-3D or -3E engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, turbojet engine, which used a 12-stage compressor section with variable inlet vanes, 10 combustion chambers and 2-stage turbine section. It produced 8,920 pounds of thrust (39.68 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. The J73 was 16 feet, 8 inches (5.08 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.5 inches (1.03 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,650 pounds (1,656 kilograms).

The F-86H had a maximum speed of 692 miles per hour (1,114 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 617 miles per hour (993 kilometers) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The fighter bomber had an initial rate of climb of 12,900 feet per minute (65.53 meters per second) and it could reach 30,000 feet in 5.7 minutes. The service ceiling was 50,800 feet (15,484 meters). With bombs, the F-86H had a combat radius of 403 miles (649 kilometers) at 552 miles per hour (888 kilometers per hour). The maximum ferry range was 1,810 miles (2,913 kilometers).

The two pre-production YF-86Hs were unarmed. The first ten production airplanes were built with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns, the same as the F-86F Sabre, but the remaining F-86H Sabres were armed with four M-39 20 mm autocannon with 600 rounds of ammunition. In ground attack configuration, they could carry rockets and bombs or “Special Store” that would be delivered by “toss bombing.” 473 F-86H Sabres were built before production ended.

The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954, but by 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard. The last one was retired in 1972.

North American Aviation YF-86H-1-NA Sabre 52-1975 during a test flight. A long pitot boom is used for initial instrument calibration. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation YF-86H-1-NA Sabre 52-1975 during a test flight. A long pitot boom is used for initial instrument calibration. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 April 1945

First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps, (U.S. Air Force)
Aviation Cadet Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

RAYMOND L. KNIGHT

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: In Northern Po Valley, Italy, 24-25 April 1945.

Entered service at: Houston, Texas. Born: Texas.

G.O. No.: 81, 24 September 1945.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight on 24 and 25 April 1945 in the northern Po Valley, Italy, piloted a fighter-bomber aircraft in a series of low-level strafing missions, destroying 14 grounded enemy aircraft and leading attacks which wrecked 10 others during a critical period of the Allied drive in northern Italy. On the morning of 24 April, he volunteered to lead two other aircraft against the strongly defended enemy airdrome at Ghedi. Ordering his fellow pilots to remain aloft, he skimmed the ground through a deadly curtain of antiaircraft fire to reconnoiter the field, locating eight German aircraft hidden beneath heavy camouflage. He rejoined his flight, briefed them by radio, and then led them with consummate skill through the hail of enemy fire in a low-level attack, destroying five aircraft, while his flight accounted for two others. Returning to his base, he volunteered to lead three other aircraft in reconnaissance of Bergamo Airfield, an enemy base near Ghedi and one known to be equally well defended. Again ordering his flight to remain out of range of antiaircraft fire, Lieutenant Knight flew through an exceptionally intense barrage, which heavily damaged his Thunderbolt, to observe the field at minimum altitude. He discovered a squadron of enemy aircraft under heavy camouflage and led his flight to the assault. Returning alone after this strafing, he made 10 deliberate passes against the field despite being hit twice more by antiaircraft fire, destroying six fully loaded enemy twin-engine aircraft and two fighters. His skillfully led attack enabled his flight to destroy four other twin-engine aircraft and a fighter airplane. He then returned to his base in his seriously damaged airplane. Early the next morning, when he again attacked Bergamo, he sighted an enemy plane on the runway. Again he led three other American pilots in a blistering low-level sweep through vicious antiaircraft fire that damaged his airplane so severely that it was virtually nonflyable. Three of the few remaining enemy twin-engine aircraft at that base were destroyed. Realizing the critical need for aircraft in his unit, he declined to parachute to safety over friendly territory and unhesitatingly attempted to return his shattered airplane to his home field. With great skill and strength, he flew homeward until caught by treacherous air conditions in the Apennine Mountains, where he crashed and was killed. The gallant action of Lieutenant Knight eliminated the German aircraft which were poised to wreak havoc on Allied forces pressing to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River. His fearless daring and voluntary self-sacrifice averted possible heavy casualties among ground forces and the resultant slowing of the drive which culminated in the collapse of German resistance in Italy.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

Raymond Larry Knight was born 15 June 1922 in Houston, Texas. He was the third child of John Franklin Knight, a clerk, and Sarah Francis Kelly Knight. He attended John H. Reagan Senior High School in Houston, graduating in 1940.

Knight married Miss Johnnie Lee Kinchloe, also a 1940 graduate of Reagan High School, 5 June 1942. They had one son, Raymond Jr.

Knight enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 10 Oct 1942, and trained as a fighter pilot at various airfields in Texas. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, May 1944. After advanced training, Knight was assigned to the 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, at Tarquinia Airfield, Italy, in November 1944. He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1945.

Lieutenant Knight flew 82 combat missions. He is credited with 14 enemy aircraft destroyed.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Mrs. Knight by Major General James Pratt Hodges at a ceremony at John H. Reagan Senior High School, 23 October 1945.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Knight was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards).

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Raymond Larry Knight, United States Army Air Corps, are interred at the Houston National Cemetery, Houston, Texas.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight (at right) and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785, marked 6D5. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. It was named “OH JOHNNIE” after his wife. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47D variant was very similar to the preceding P-47C. The Thunderbolt which Raymond Knight flew on his final mission was a P-47D-27-RE, serial number 42-26785. He had named it OH JOHNNIE after his wife. The Thunderbolt’s bubble canopy had been introduced with the Block 25 series, and Block 27 added a dorsal fillet to improve longitudinal stability which had been diminished with the new aft fuselage configuration.

The P-47D-27-RE was 36 feet, 1¾ inches (11.017 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-3/8 inches (12.430 meters) The overall height was 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 10,700 pounds (4,853 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

The P-47D-27-RE was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-59) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-59 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).¹ A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge. The engine drove a 13 foot, 0 inch (3.962 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric or Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-59 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,290 pounds (1,039 kilograms).

A flight of three Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-47D had a maximum speed in level flight of 444 miles per hour (715 kilometers per hour) at 23,200 feet (7,071 meters) with 70 inches Hg manifold pressure (2.37 Bar), using water injection. The service ceiling was 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). It had a maximum range of 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) with internal fuel, and 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers) with external tanks.

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

¹  A rebuilt R-2800-63 was run at War Emergency Power (2,600 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m.) for 7½ hours on a test stand, and was in running condition when the test was completed.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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