Why Pilots Loved The Thunderbolt So Much

Why Pilots Loved The Thunderbolt So Much | Frontline Videos

YouTube / Imperial War Museums


The P-47 Thunderbolt was known for its sturdy construction and rugged air-cooled radial engine that enabled it to absorb a lot of damage during the war. 

Nothing Is Perfect

Although the Thunderbolt was quite slow in climbs and was known for its sluggish acceleration, it could still outdive almost anything the enemy had – all while absorbing an incredible amount of battle damage and still keep flying. By the end of the war, the Thunderbolt was responsible for taking down 7,000 enemy airplanes. 

Gunning For Excellence

With a weight of up to 17,500 lbs, the Thunderbolt definitely leaned on the bigger side of warbirds. The fighter plane was armed with eight .50-cal machine guns, four in each wing. For payload, the Thunderbolt could carry 2,500 lbs of bombs under its centerline and wings.

“We were told that at straight level, if all eight guns are fired, it would slow the airplane by 35 miles an hour”

Robust Engines

The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 air-cooled radial engine was very powerful – able to produce up to 2,000 horsepower. One of the better things about air-cooled engines was they didn’t have a radiator for water cooling. There have been multiple reports of Thunderbolts crash landing or landing perfectly well with literally half-cylinder heads from the engine missing.

Many pilots obviously held the Thunderbolt to the highest regard because of this. One group, the 56th Fighter Group, loved their Thunderbolts so much that they refused to switch to the Mustang when the time came. At the end of the war, the 56th was the only Fighter Group still equipped with the P-47.

Working Out Its Problems

It may be a bit underpowered at first, but the attitude around the Thunderbolt shifted when the aircraft was outfitted with a new propeller called the ‘Paddle-blade Propeller” and water injection to the engine.

The new propeller was a better fit than the original, allowing it to get more power from the engine. In addition, the water injected into the engine could increase the P-47’s horsepower by a third every time it was used.

With everything said and done, everyone would remember the Thunderbolt as one of the best fighters America had at the time.


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