Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
|Role||Fighter and fighter-bomber|
|First flight||May 6, 1941|
|Entered service||April 1943|
|Length||36 ft 1 in||11 m|
|Wingspan||42 ft 7 in||12.98 m|
|Height||14 ft 7 in||4.44 m|
|Wing area||322 ft²||29.92 m²|
|Maximum takeoff||17,500 lb||kg|
|Engines||1 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800|
|Maximum speed||467 mph||750 km/h|
|Combat range||800 miles||1,290 km|
|Service ceiling||43,000 ft||13,100 m|
|Rate of climb||ft/min||m/min|
|Guns||6 or 8 x Browning M2 .50 (12.7 mm) machine guns|
|Bombs||2000 lb (907 kg) of bombs|
|Rockets||10 x 5 in (127 mm) rockets|
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, or "Jug" as it was known, was one of the main US Army Air Force (USAAF) fighters of World War II. The P-47 was a big, rugged, overbuilt aircraft that was effective in air combat but proved particularly useful as a fighter-bomber. The Jug also served with a number of other Allied air arms.
Early Seversky Aircraft, P-35 and P-35A
The P-47 Thunderbolt was, in a very indirect sense, a gift from Russia to the United States of America. The aircraft was the product of two Georgian immigrants, Alexander de Seversky and Alexander Kartveli, who had left their homeland to escape the Communists.
De Seversky was an extremely colorful character. He was born in 1894 in Georgia, and became a naval aviator in the Tsar's forces in World War I. He lost a leg early in the conflict, but returned to the air with an artificial leg and claimed 13 "kills" in combat.
After the October Revolution in 1917, De Seversky was sent to the US as part of a military mission in 1918. Having no confidence in the new regime, he decided to stay in America, and became an aeronautical engineer in employ of the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), where he worked closely with air warfare pioneer General Billy Mitchell. De Seversky obtained American citizenship in 1927.
In 1931, De Seversky founded the "Seversky Aircraft Company" at Farmingdale on Long Island, in New York state. The company was very small, with De Seversky acting as president, designer, and chief test pilot, but he also hired a fellow Russian expatriate named Alexander Kartveli as a design engineer. Kartveli was an original designer with many innovative ideas, and would eventually become chief designer when De Seversky became more preoccupied with the business aspects of running a company.
The early Seversky aircraft, such as the Seversky P-35 and its relatives, were important steps on the way to the development of the P-47.
P-43 LANCER / XP-47B
In 1939, the Seversky Aircraft Company changed its name to the "Republic Aviation Company". Based on the turbo-supercharged AP-4 demonstrator, Republic designed a turbo-supercharged fighter, the Republic P-43, which shared many of the features of the later P-47.
While the P-43 had gone into small-scale production, Republic had been working on a new version of the YP-43 with a more powerful engine, to be named the "XP-44 Rocket", as well as on a fighter designated the "AP-10" that was a considerable departure for Republic Aviation. The AP-10 was to be a lightweight fighter, powered by an Allison V-1710 watercooled inline engine and armed with a pair of 12.7 mm guns. The Army backed the project and gave it the designation "XP-47".
However, by the spring of 1940, as the war in Europe moved into high gear, Republic and the USAAC began to realize that the XP-44 and the XP-47 were not good enough to deal with current German fighters. Republic tried tweaking the design of the XP-47, resulting in the "XP-47A", but the USAAC still wasn't happy with it.
Alexander Kartveli went back to the drawing board and came up with what looked like a much bigger and badder version of the YP-43. The new design was offered to the USAAC in June 1940. The Air Corps decided they liked it, ordering a prototype in September, to be designated "XP-47B". The XP-47A, which had almost nothing in common with the new design, was abandoned.
The USAAC must have swallowed hard when they saw the design for the XP-47B for the first time. It was a monster. Kartveli is said to have remarked: "It will be a dinosaur, but it will be dinosaur with good proportions." Empty weight was 4,490 kilograms (9,900 lb), or 65% more than the YP-43.
The new aircraft was to be powered by a P&W R-2800 Double Wasp 18-cylinder two-row radial engine, offering 2,000 horsepower (1500 kW), with a hefty system of ductwork leading back to a turbo-supercharger inside the rear fuselage. Armament was to be eight 12.7 mm machine guns - four in each wing - which was unusually heavy firepower for the time.
The XP-47B appeared to be what the USAAC wanted, and so the XP-44 Rocket was abandoned along with the XP-47A. The XP-47B first flew on May 6 1941, with Lowry P. Brabham at the controls. Although there were minor problems, such as a slight amount of cockpit smoke that turned out to be due to an oil drip, the aircraft proved impressive in its first trials.
The XP-47B was built around the big Double Wasp and its turbo-supercharger. The loss of the AP-4 put an end to Kartveli's experiments with tight-fitting cowlings, so the engine was placed in a broad cowling that opened at the front in a "horse collar" shaped ellipse. The cowling admitted air for the engine, left and right oil coolers, and the turbo-supercharger intercooler system.
The engine's exhausts were routed into a pair of pipes that ran along each side of the cockpit to drive the turbo-supercharger turbine, which sat in the bottom of the fuselage about halfway between cockpit and tail. At full power, the pipes glowed red at their forward ends.
A "waste gate" shutter either vented the exhaust gas directly to the surrounding atmosphere, or, at higher altitudes, drove it through the turbo-supercharger turbine, spinning it at 60,000 rpm. The turbo-supercharger's intake was fed by ducting at the bottom of the fuselage leading to the front of the aircraft, with the ducting run through an "intercooler" that dumped waste heat into the airflow to increase power.
The complicated turbo-supercharger scheme with its ductwork gave the XP-47B a deep fuselage, and the wings had to be mounted at a relatively high position. This was a problem, since to take advantage of the powerful R-2800 engine, the aircraft was fitted with a huge four-bladed, electrically operated, constant-speed Curtiss propeller with a span of 3.17 meters (12 ft 2 in).
This meant that the XP-47B needed long landing gear to ensure adequate prop clearance on the ground, but long landing gear had to be very rugged and heavy, and also took up excessive space in the wing. As Kartveli wanted to put the aircraft's guns in the wings outboard of the landing gear, that wasn't acceptable, and so the main landing gear featured a remarkable scheme by which they telescoped out 230 millimeters (9 in) when they were extended.
There were four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Browning machine guns in each wing, with the positions of the guns staggered to allow feed from ammunition boxes set side by side in the outer sections of the wings. Each ammunition box had a maximum capacity of 350 pounds (160 kg) of ammunition.
Main and auxiliary self-sealing fuel tanks were placed under the cockpit, offering a total fuel capacity of 1,155 liters (305 US gallons). This was a large fuel capacity for the time, but it would not prove to be enough.
The cockpit was roomy, as might be hoped for such a big machine, and the pilot's seat was comfortable, "like a lounge chair" as one pilot would later put it. The pilot was provided with every convenience, including cabin air conditioning.
The prototype's canopy featured doors that hinged upward, though this scheme would prove troublesome. The aircraft was of all-metal construction, except for fabric-covered tail control surfaces. The fabric-covered control surfaces would prove troublesome as well. The prototype was eventually lost in an accident in August 1942.
P-47B / P-47C
The XP-47B gave the USAAF (the "Air Corps" became the "Air Force" in June 1941) cause for both optimism and apprehension. Aircraft performance and firepower appeared to be everything asked for, but the XP-47B was something very new, and as a result it had it share of teething problems.
Its sheer size and power made it a handful. The XP-47B was also an "Earth lover", demanding a lot of runway to get into the air. This would not only be true for every other P-47 ever built, but also with Kartveli's later jet designs. There were problems with canopies that jammed, with the guns, with the fuel system, with the engine installation. At high altitudes, the ignition system arced, and the loads on the control surfaces became unacceptable, the ailerons locking up. The fabric-covered control surfaces also tended to rupture at high altitudes due to the air stored in them.
Republic addressed the problems, coming up with a sliding canopy that could be discarded in an emergency, a pressurized ignition system, and new all-metal control surfaces. While the engineers worked frantically to get their "dinosaur" to fly right, the USAAF had to think hard and ask themselves if they really wanted the P-47.
The answer was YES, and the Air Force ordered 171 "P-47Bs". A engineering prototype P-47B was delivered in December 1941, with a production prototype following in March 1942, and the first actual production model provided in May. Republic continued to tweak the design as P-47Bs were produced, and although the first P-47Bs had the sliding canopy, which also featured a better view for the pilot, plus a new General Electric (GE) turbo-supercharger regulator for the R-2800-21 engine, features such as all-metal control surfaces were not standard at first.
There was one minor change that would be unique to the P-47B. The radio mast behind the cockpit was slanted forward to maintain the aerial wire length even with the new sliding canopy.
The aircraft now had a name: "Thunderbolt". Pilots gave it a name of their own that would stick at least as well: "Jug". The derivation is said to be from the unstoppable cart of the Hindu gods, Juggernaut, but other sources indicate that the nickname was bestowed because of the milkjug shape of the fuselage. The plane's ability to take battle damage and still bring its pilot home would become legendary. (There is a story told within the fighter pilot community of one Thunderbolt pilot who, while trying to escape from a pair of experienced ME-109 pilots at low altitude, actually flew his Thunderbolt through a cathedral window in the brick wall of a bombed-out factory. He lost three feet of wingtip on each wing, his canopy was torn away and his propellor blades were bent, but the Jug just kept on flying. His opponents pulled up alongside him, supposedly took pictures of the flying wreck, and chivalrously escorted him back to the coast. The pilot landed at an emergency field in England and his P-47 never flew again, but it DID bring him home.)
Initial deliveries of the Thunderbolt to the USAAF were to the 56th Fighter Group (FG), which was also on Long Island. The 56th served as an operational evaluation unit for the new fighter.
Teething problems continued. A Republic test pilot was killed in an early production P-47B when it went out of control in a dive, and there were many crackups with other early P-47Bs, including crashes that occurred when the tail assembly fell off! The all-metal control surfaces and other changes corrected these problems, but the original XP-47B was lost in August 1942 when it caught in fire in flight, forcing the pilot to bail out.
On the balance, though, with experience the USAAF decided that the P-47 was worthwhile, and quickly followed the initial order for P-47Bs for 602 more examples of a refined type, the "P-47C", with the first of the variant delivered in September 1942.
The initial P-47Cs were very similar to the P-47B, but had strengthened all-metal control surfaces, an upgraded GE turbo-supercharger regulator, and a short vertical radio mast.
After the initial manufacture of a block of 57 P-47Cs, production moved to the "P-47C-1", which had a 20 centimeter (8 inch) fuselage extension forward of the cockpit. This corrected center of gravity problems, and made the engine easier to work on. There were a number of other minor changes, such as revised exhausts for the oil coolers, and fixes to brakes, undercarriage, and electrical system.
55 P-47C-1s were built, to be followed by 128 "P-47C-2s", which were identical except for a belly attachment point for either a 225 kilogram (500 lb) bomb or, more generally, a 758 liter (200 US gallon) drop tank.
The main production P-47C subvariant was the "P-47C-5", featuring a new whip antenna and a new R-2800-59 engine with water-methanol injection and a war emergency power rating of 2,300 horsepower (1700 kW).
The P-47B not only led to the P-47C but to a few other "one off" variants. A single reconnaissance variant designated "RP-47B" was built. The 171st and last P-47B was also used as a test platform under the designation "XP-47E", and was used to evaluate the R-2800-59 engine mentioned above, a pressurized cockpit, and eventually a new Hamilton Standard propeller.
Another P-47B was later fitted with new "laminar flow" wings in a search for higher performance and redesignated "XP-47F", but nothing came of this experiment.
P-47 enters combat
By the end of 1942, most of the troubles with the P-47 had been worked out, the American war machine was coming on line, and P-47Cs were sent to England for combat operations. The 56th FG was sent overseas to join the Eighth Air Force, whose 4th and 78th Fighter Groups were equipped with the Thunderbolt as well.
The 4th FG was built around a core of experienced American pilots who had served with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) before the war in the famous "Eagle Squadron". They were not too pleased to trade their Spitfires for the big Jug.
Indeed, their British counterparts were astounded when they saw the huge fighter, as it hardly seemed such a big aircraft could get off the ground, much less engage in air combat. The British joked that a Thunderbolt pilot could defend himself from a Luftwaffe fighter by running around and hiding in the fuselage.
Few American pilots were neutral about the Thunderbolt; they either hated it or loved it. On the negative side, there was the unpleasantly long take-off run, and 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. An unpowered, or "dead-stick," landing with the Jug was likely an unpleasant exercise.
On the positive side, it was rugged and well armed. Its eight 12.7 mm (.50 cal) guns had a high rate of fire and pilots reported targets unlucky enough to be caught in a Jug's crosshairs as simply exploding or disintegrating.
The Thunderbolt could also drop like a brick, which was an advantage in air battles. Luftwaffe pilots would find out that trying to break off combat and dive away was a suicidal tactic when dealing with the Thunderbolt. The P-47 could easily reach 885 km/h (550 mi/h) in a dive, and some Jug pilots claimed it could even break the sound barrier, but it appears that the airspeed indicator simply became unpredictable at high speeds.
Anyone could see that an aircraft as heavy as a Thunderbolt was likely to be fast in a dive, but more surprisingly a Luftwaffe fighter couldn't escape by going into a climb, either. Even though the P-47 was big and heavy, its big R-2800 engine and huge propeller gave it a remarkable rate of climb. It also had an excellent rate of roll.
The P-47's first combat mission was on March 10 1943, when the 4th FG took their aircraft on a fighter sweep over France, which was a fiasco due to radio malfunctions. The P-47s were all refitted with British radios, and missions resumed on April 8 1943.
The P-47 first mixed it up with the Luftwaffe on April 15, with Major Don Blakeslee of the 4th FG scoring the Thunderbolt's first kill. On August 17 1943, the P-47 performed its first escort mission, when it guarded a B-17 force on the first leg of a raid on Schweinfurt, Germany.
By the summer of 1943, the Jug was also in service with the 12th Air Force in Italy. It was also fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific, with the 348th FG flying escort missions out of Brisbane, Australia.
P-47D / P-47G / XP-47K / XP-47L
Refinements of the Thunderbolt continued, leading to the definitive "P-47D". 12,602 P-47Ds were built, though the "D" model actually consisted of a series of subvariants, the last of which were visibly different from the first.
The first P-47Ds were actually the same as P-47Cs. Republic could not produce Thunderbolts fast enough at its Farmingdale plant on Long Island, and so a new plant was built at Evansville, Indiana. The Evansville plant built a total of 110 P-47Ds, which were completely identical to P-47C-2s. By the way, Farmingdale aircraft were given a "-RE" suffix, while Evansville aircraft were given a "-RA" suffix, but this scheme is not used in this document, except when necessary for clarity.
The P-47D was built in a very large number of subvariants. Some of the subvariants were manufactured only at Farmingdale, some were only manufactured at Evansville, some were manufactured at both plants. The changes in subvariants were often minor and a detailed description of them all is tedious, but it is useful to point out the highlights. Note that there were breaks in the subvariant numbering sequence, and though the last of them was the P-47D-40, forty different subvariants were not produced.
The "P-47D-1" through "P-47D-6", the "P-47D-10", and the "P-47D-11" successively incorporated changes such as the addition of more engine cooling flaps around the back of the cowl, which greatly reduced the engine overheating problems that had been seen in the field; uprated engines and engine subsystems; refinements to fuel, oil, hydraulic systems; and additional armor protection for the pilot.
The "P-47D-15" was a large step forward, produced in response to requests by combat units for more range. The internal fuel capacity was increased to 1,421 liters (375 US gallons), and the wings were "plumbed" to allow a drop tank to be carried under each wing, in addition to the belly tank.
A variety of different drop tanks were fitted to the Thunderbolt during its career. Following the early conformal 758 liter (200 US gallon) ferry tank and the lozenge-shaped flat 758 liter belly tank, teardrop-shaped 284 liter (75 US gallon) and 568 liter (150 US gallon) metal wing drop tanks were developed.
The Jug also used British-designed 409 liter (108 US gallon) and 758 liter tanks made of plastic-impregnated paper. These tanks were cheap and were useless to the enemy if found after being dropped, though they could not store fuel for an extended period of time. With the increased fuel capacity, the P-47 was now able to perform missions deep into enemy territory. The P-47D-15 could carry up to 1,130 kilograms (2,500 lb) of external stores.
The "P-47D-16", "P-47D-20", "P-47D-22", and "P-47D-23" were similar to the P-47D-15 with minor improvements in fuel system, engine subsystems, a jettisonable canopy, bulletproof windshield, and so on. The 3.71 meter (12 foot 2 inch) Curtiss propeller was replaced by new and bigger propellers, the Long Island plant moving to a Hamilton Standard propeller with a diameter of 4.01 meters (13 feet 1-7/8 inches), and the Evansville plant moving to a new Curtiss propeller with a diameter of 3.96 meters (13 feet).
Achieving ground clearance on take-off for the propeller had been troublesome in the XP-47B. With the bigger propellers, Thunderbolt pilots had to learn to be careful on takeoffs to keep the tail down until they obtained adequate ground clearance. Failure to do so caused the prop to divot the runway.
Even with two Republic plants rolling out the P-47, the USAAF still wasn't getting as many Thunderbolts as they wanted, and so an arrangement was made with Curtiss to build the Jug under license in a plant in Buffalo, New York. Most of the Curtiss Thunderbolts were intended for use in advanced flight training.
The Curtiss aircraft were all designated "P-47G", and a "-CU" suffix was used to distinguish them from other production. The first P-47G was completely identical to the P-47C, the "P-47G-1" was identical to the P-47C-1, while following "P-47G-5", "P-47G-10", and "P-47G-15" subvariants were comparable to the P-47D-1, P-47D-5, and P-47D-10 subvariants respectively. Curtiss built 354 P-47Gs.
Two "P-47G-15s" were built with the cockpit extended forward to the just before the leading edge of the wing to provide twin tandem seating, and designated "TP-47G". The second crew position was accommodated by substituting a much smaller main fuel tank. The "Doublebolt" did not go into production, but similar modifications were made in the field to older P-47s, which were then used as hacks.
All the P-47s produced to this time had the "razorback" canopy configuration, which was a source of complaints as it left pilots with poor visibility in the vital "6:00" position to the rear. The British also had this problem with their fighter aircraft, and had devised the bulged "Malcolm hood" canopy for the Spitfire as an initial solution. This was field-fitted to many North American P-51 Mustangs, and to a handful of P-47Ds.
However, the British then came up with a much better solution, devising an all-round vision "bubble" canopy for the Hawker Tempest. USAAF officials liked the bubble canopy, and quickly adapted it to American fighters, including the P-51 and the Thunderbolt. The initial Jug with a bubble canopy was completed in the summer of 1943. It was modified from the last production P-47D-5, and was designated "XP-47K".
Another older P-47D was modified to provide an internal fuel capacity of 1,402 liters (370 US gallons) and given the designation "XP-47L". The bubble top and increased fuel capacity were then rolled into production together, resulting in the "P-47D-25".
It was followed by similar bubble-top variants, including the "P-47D-26", "P-47D-27", "P-47D-28", and "P-47D-30". Improvements added in this series included engine refinements, more internal fuel capacity, the addition of dive flaps, and other tweaky changes.
|wingspan||12.4 m||40 ft 9 in|
|length||11.0 m||36 ft 1 in|
|height||4.3 m||14 ft 2 in|
|empty weight||4,850 kg||14,600 lb|
|max loaded weight||8,800 kg||19,400 lb|
|maximum speed||690 km/h||428 mi/h / 372 kn|
|service ceiling||12,000 m||40,000 ft|
|range||3,060 km||1,900 mi / 1,725 nmi|
Maximum speed is given for an altitude of 9,000 meters (30,000 ft). Range is with three drop tanks.
The "P-47D-40" was the final P-47D subvariant, and was a more significant update. Cutting down the rear fuselage to accommodate the bubble canopy had led to yaw instability in the aircraft's flight, so the P-47D-40 had a neat dorsal fin extension in the form of a narrow triangle running from the vertical tailplane to the radio aerial. The dorsal fin extension was retrofitted in the field to earlier P-47D bubble-top variants.
The P-47D-40 also featured provisions for ten "zero length" stub launchers for 127 mm (5 in) "High Velocity Air Rockets (HVARs)", as well as the new "K-14" computing gunsight. This was a license-built copy of the British Ferranti GGS Mark IID computing gyro sight, which allowed a pilot to dial in target wingspan and range, and would then tell the pilot when he had a good shot at the target. The K-14 was a great assistance in deflection shooting.
P-47D at war
The P-47D, as the first really satisfactory version of the Thunderbolt and the most heavily produced variant by far, bore the brunt of the Jug's combat service.
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 itself.
On the way back from raids, pilots shot up targets of opportunity, which led to the realization that the Jug made an excellent fighter-bomber. Even with its complicated turbosupercharger system, it could absorb a lot of damage, and its eight machine guns meant it could cause a lot of damage as well.
Gradually, the P-47 became the USAAF's best fighter-bomber, carrying 225 kilogram (500 lb) bombs, the triple-tube M-8 11.5 centimeter (4.5 inch) rocket launcher, and eventually HVARs. In this role, it destroyed thousands of tanks, locomotives, and parked aircraft, and tens of thousands of trucks and other vehicles.
Although the P-51 Mustang eventually replaced the P-47 in the escort role, the Thunderbolt still ended the war with impressive scores in air combat. Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski scored 31 kills, Captain Robert S. "Bob" Johnson scored 28, and Colonel H. "Pop" Zemke scored 20. It is a tribute to the aircraft's ruggedness that all but one of the ten top-scoring Thunderbolt aces survived the war. Even in the Pacific, where the P-47 might have been considered a poor match for the nimble Zero and other first-line Japanese fighters (especially at the lower altitudes at which much of the dogfighting occurred in that theater), the P-47D proved it could more than hold its own in the capable hands of such pilots as Col.Neel Kearby of the 5th Air Force. Before he was shot down and killed over Wiak in March of 1944, Kearby destroyed 24 Japanese planes, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for an action in which he downed six enemy fighters on a single mission.
P-47s were operated by several other Allied air arms during World War II. The RAF began to receive the type during mid-1944, and received 240 razorback P-47Ds, which they designated "Thunderbolt Mark I", and 590 bubbletop P-47Ds, which they designated "Thunderbolt Mark II".
Except for a few evaluation aircraft, these were all operated by the RAF from India for ground-attack operations, known as "cab rank" sorties, against the Japanese in Burma. They were armed with 225 kilogram (500 lb) bombs, or in some cases the British "60 pounder" (27 kg) rocket projectiles. The Thunderbolts remained in RAF service for a short time after the war, the last of them being phased out of service in October 1946.
The Brazilian Expeditionary Force received 88 P-47Ds, and flew them in combat during the Italian campaign. Mexico received 25 for operations against Japan, but the war ended before they could see combat. The Free French received 446 P-47Ds in the last year of the war in Europe, and these aircraft would see action in the 1950s during the insurrection in Algeria.
203 P-47Ds were also provided to the Soviet Union. There was a certain irony in sending aircraft, designed by a Georgian who had fled the Communists, to the Soviets. Reactions of Soviet pilots, who were used to relatively small and nimble fighters, to the oversized Juggernaut are an interesting matter of speculation, but details of the Thunderbolt in Soviet service are unclear.
XP-47H / XP-47J / P-47M / P-47N
Although the P-47D was the high point of the Thunderbolt's career in terms of quantity and use, there were further attempts to refine the Jug.
Two "XP-47Hs" were built. They were major reworkings of existing razorback P-47D to accommodate a Chrysler XI-2220-11 water-cooled inline 16-cylinder inverted vee engine. Really big inline engines didn't prove to be a good idea, and the XP-47H went nowhere. However, the engine, Chrystler's first Hemi, went on to be used later in several cars and proved to be a formidable engine.
The "XP-47J" began as a November 1942 request to Republic for a "hot rod" version of the Thunderbolt, using a lighter airframe and an uprated engine with water injection and fan cooling. Kartveli designed an aircraft fitted a tight-cowled Pratt and Whitney R-2800-57(C) engine with a war emergency rating of 2,800 horsepower (2090 kW), reduced armament of six machine guns, a new and lighter wing, and many other changes.
The first and only XP-47J was first flown in late November 1943, but by this time Republic had moved on to a new concept, the "XP-72", described in the next section, and the XP-47J was used mainly as a test machine. With various refinements, such as a GE CH-5 turbo-supercharger, this aircraft achieved a top speed of 813 km/h (505 mi/h) in level flight in August 1944, making it one of the fastest piston engine fighters ever built. However, the new jet aircraft being designed were clearly capable of much better performance, and the XP-47J was a dead end.
The "P-47M" was a more conservative attempt to come up with a "hot rod" version of the Thunderbolt. Three P-47Ds were modified into prototype YP-47Ms by fitting the P&W R-2800-57(C) engine and the GE CH-5 turbo-supercharger.
The performance of the YP-47M was excellent, with a top speed of 761 km/h (473 mi/h), and the variant was rushed into production to counter the threat of the new German V-1 cruise missiles and German jet fighters. 130 P-47Ms were built, with the first arriving in Europe in early 1945. However, the type suffered serious teething problems in the field, and by the time the bugs were worked out, the war in Europe was over.
The "P-47N" was the last Thunderbolt variant to be produced, and was intended for operations in the Pacific theater. A fighter was needed to escort Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers in raids on the Japanese home islands, flown over long stretches of the Pacific.
Increased internal fuel capacity and drop tanks had done much to extend the Thunderbolt's range during its evolution, but the only way to cram more fuel into the aircraft was to put fuel tanks into the wings. This required a completely new wing, with each wing accommodating two 190 liter (50 US gallon) fuel tanks.
The second YP-47M was fitted with the new wing and flew in September 1944. The redesign proved successful in extending range to about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles), and the fact that the new wing, though longer than the old, had squared-off rather than elliptical wingtips improved the aircraft's roll rate.
The P-47N entered mass production with the uprated P&W R-2800-77(C) engine, beginning with the "P-47N-1", then the "P-47N-5", the "P-47N-15", the "P-47N-20", and the "P-47N-25", with a variety of small changes, such as a distinctive raised dorsal fin extension.
A total of 1,816 P-47Ns were built. The very last Thunderbolt to be built, a P-47N-25, rolled off the production line in October 1945. Thousands more had been on order, but production was essentially cut off with the end of the war in August. At the end of production, cost of a Thunderbolt was $83,000 USD in 1945 dollars.
Although the P-47N had been designed for the Pacific theatre, early production of the variant was sent to England, though the war ended before they could see much action. P-47Ns arrived on Saipan in the spring of 1945 and conducted their intended escort missions, though they were more generally used in the fighter-bomber role.
XP-72 / end of the road
One of the interesting dead-end variants of the P-47 was the XP-72, which was designed as a "Super Thunderbolt" that pushed the top limits of piston fighter development. It was powered by the 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major air-cooled radial engine, offering 3,450 horsepower (2570 kW) at altitude.
The XP-72 looked like a Thunderbolt, except for the fuselage ahead of the cockpit. The big Wasp Major engine was in a close-fitting cowl and capped with a big prop spinner, and the airscoop was moved back to just under the leading edge of the wings. The XP-72 was armed with six 12.7 mm machine guns, and could carry a 450 kg (1,000 lb) bomb under each wing.
|wingspan||12.5 m||40 ft 11 in|
|length||11.2 m||36 ft 7 in|
|height||4.42 m||14 ft 6 in|
|empty weight||4,970 kg||10,965 lb|
|loaded weight||6,690 kg||14,750 lb|
|max speed at altitude||790 km/h||490 mi/h / 425 kn|
|service ceiling||12,800 m||42,000 ft|
|range||1,930 km||1,200 mi / 1,045 nmi|
The USAAF signed a contract for two XP-72 prototypes in June 1943, and the first prototype flew on 2 February 1944. The first prototype had a big four-blade propeller. The second prototype first flew in July 1944, and was generally similar but used a contra-rotating six-blade propeller to deal with the tremendous torque.
The second prototype was lost early in its flight test program, but the XP-72 was a very impressive aircraft, with excellent performance and a tremendous rate of climb. In fact, the USAAF ordered 100 production P-72s, apparently to be armed with four 37 mm cannon, but even as the XP-72 was proving its merits, the Air Force was realizing that the new jet aircraft offered far better performance. The contract was cancelled, and the first prototype was scrapped at the end of the war.
The P-47 soldiered on after the war, serving with USAF (the Army Air Force became the Air Force in 1947) until 1949, and then with the United States Air National Guard until 1953, with the designation "F-47" from 1948. The type was provided to many Latin American air arms and was operated by them through the 1950s, and some used it well into the 1960s. Small numbers of Jugs were also provided to China, Iran, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.
A total of 15,660 Thunderbolts of all types were built, making it one of the most heavily produced fighter aircraft in history. A number of P-47s have survived to the present day, and a few are still flying.
- P-47 Thunderbolt in Action, by Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications (#67), 1984. Typical nice, detailed, somewhat untidy Squadron/Signal book, very good value for the price, and was the primary source for this document.
- American Warplanes of the Second World War, edited by David Donald, Airtime Publications, 1995.
- Fighters of World War II, by Charles W. Cain and Mike Gerram, Profile Publications, 1979.
- The Concise Guide to American Aircraft of World War II, by David Mondey, Chartwell Books, Inc., 1994.
P-44 - XP-45 - XP-46 - P-47 - XP-48 - XP-49 - XP-50
|Related lists||List of military aircraft of the United States - List of fighter aircraft|
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