P-47 Thunderbolt

Republic Aviation's P-47 Thunderbolt, also known as the "Jug," was the biggest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single reciprocating engine. It was one of the main United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters of World War II, and served with other Allied air forces. The P-47 was effective in air combat but proved especially adept at ground attack. It had eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded the P-47 could weigh up to eight tons. A modern-day counterpart in that role, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, takes its name from the P-47.

Initial response to the P-47 praised its dive speed and high-altitude performance, while criticizing its turning performance and rate of climb (particularly at low altitudes). Commenting on the P-47's size, British pilots joked that a Thunderbolt pilot could defend himself from a Luftwaffe fighter by running around and hiding in the fuselage. Some British assumed the American P-47 nickname "Jug" was short for "Juggernaut" and began using the longer word as an alternate nickname. Another nickname that was used for the Thunderbolt was "T-bolt".The turbosupercharger in the P-47 gave the powerplant its maximum power at 27,000 ft (8,230 m), and in the thin air above 30,000 ft (9,144 m), the Thunderbolt became comparatively fast and nimble relative to other aircraft.

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 P-47 first saw action with the 4th Fighter Group. The Group’s pilots were mainly drawn from the three British Eagle Squadrons who had previously flown the British Supermarine Spitfire Mark V. They viewed their new fighter with misgivings, at first. It was huge. The British joked that a Thunderbolt pilot could defend himself from a Luftwaffe fighter by running around and hiding in the fuselage. Optimized for high altitude work, the Thunderbolt had 5 feet (1.5 m) more wingspan, a quarter more wing area, about four times the fuselage volume and nearly twice the weight of a Spitfire V. One Thunderbolt pilot compared it to flying a bathtub around the sky. When his unit (4th Fighter Group) was equipped with Thunderbolts, ace Don Blakeslee said, referring to the P-47's vaunted ability to dive on its prey, "It ought to be able to dive. It certainly can't climb." (Blakeslee's early-model P-47C had not been fitted with the new paddle-blade propeller).

The P-47's first combat mission was on 10 March 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 8 April 1943. The P-47 first mixed it up with the Luftwaffe on 15 April, with Major Don Blakeslee of the 4th FG scoring the Thunderbolt's first kill, shooting down an FW-190. On 17 August 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 P-47 was also in service with the 12th Air Force in Italy. It was fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific as well, with the 348th FG flying escort missions out of Brisbane, Australia.The P-47's initial success in combat was primarily due to tactics, using rolls (the P-47 had an excellent roll rate) and energy-saving dive and zoom climbs from high altitude to outmaneuver German fighters. Both the Bf 109 and Fw 190 could, like the Spitfire, out-turn and out-climb the P-47. But whereas both German fighters could break hard downwards, and leave all but the fastest models of the Spitfire trailing,[13] no German piston-engined plane could out-dive the Thunderbolt. In a bounce, with their rapid acceleration downhill coupled with the pulverizing effect of eight .50s, these aircraft were deadly. The Thunderbolt was the fastest-diving American aircraft of the war—it could reach speeds of 550 mph (480 kn, 885 km/h).

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