SUPERMARINE SPITFIRE MK. IX
Most of the genuine innovation in military aircraft construction between the wars came about as a result of unsolicited work in private companies. The legendary Spitfire, developed independently by the Supermarine company, and only later sold to Britain's Air Ministry, is only one example. With its smooth lines, load-bearing metal skin, and heavy eight-machine gun armament, the Spitfire was revolutionary
The Spitfire was a low-wing monoplane that was first flown in 1936 and was first put into service with the Royal Air Force in 1938. It was modified continuously throughout the war to serve in a variety of roles: fighter (with notable success at high altitudes), fighter-bomber, and photo-reconnaissance plane. The version that entered active service in 1938 had a top speed of about 360 miles (580 km) per hour and an armament of eight .303-inch machine guns.
While better than the Mk. V, the IX still was surpassed in most
cases by the FW 190. The 1,710-1,720 h.p. Rolls Royce Merlins
varied the IXE's maximum speed from 404 m.p.h. at 21,000 feet to
416 m.p.h. at 27,000 feet. The ceiling ranged from 42,500 to a
whopping 45,000 feet! The IX was the first to mount two .50's
with 250 r.p.g. along with two 20mm Hispano cannon carrying 120
On internal fuel range was just 434 miles and with
maximum external still only 980. Climb rate was a healthy 3,500
f.p.m. When needed, the Spit could carry 1,000 lbs of bombs.
The Spit was a fine dogfighter with few vices. When dogfighting
the 32 victory ace, Sailor Malan, stated that one must
continually turn to best the opponent.
The FW 190 was found to be 25-30 mph faster than
the Spitfire Vb at all altitudes up to 25,000 feet. The Air Fighting
Development Unit's main recommendation for Fighter Command's Spitfire
Vb pilots did nothing to boost their offensive spirit. The Spitfire
pilots were instructed to draw the Germans as close to England as
possible, and then circle, until the Focke-Wulfs ran low on fuel and
were forced to break off combat. The Spitfire IX was only now starting
to reach the squadrons.
In July, Hornchurch's No. 64 Squadron was the
first to begin op- erations with the new fighter. The Spitfire IX was
an even match for the FW 190. The climb rates and top speeds of the
two fighters were nearly the same at low and medium altitudes; the
two-stage supercharger of the Merlin 61 gave the advantage to the
Spitfire at altitudes above 25,000 feet. The usual generality
concerning relative maneuverabilities still held--the British fighter
was better in turns on the horizontal plane, while the German excelled
in zoom climbs and dives, and aileron rolls." From Captain Brown's tests.
No fewer than 20,351 Spitfires, in approximately 40 versions were produced, making the Spitfire the most produced British aircraft of the war.
REPUBLIC P-47D THUNDERBOLT
The "Jug," as it was fondly nicknamed, was large for a single-
engined fighter. Sitting behind the imposing 2,300 h.p. Pratt &
Whitney 18 cylinder radial, the pilot functioned from the
But the 14,000 pound plane was quick with a
426 m.p.h. top end at 30,000 ft. The P-47 had a good roll rate
and was maneuverable for its size. Once the paddle blade props
were installed, initial climb rate was on the order of 3,120
The massive firepower of the eight .50's API (armor
piercing incendiary) ammo was savored by those who flew the
'Bolt. Once an enemy aircraft was in the P-47's sights it was
usually all over as the fifties tore the enemy to shreds. Large
drop tanks improved the short internal fuel range of some 600
Thunderbolts were used increasingly as ground support
aircraft as P-51s became available in numbers. 2,000 lbs. of
bombs or ten 5 inch rockets could be carried for this purpose.
203 were sent to Russia on Lend-Lease. The Brazilian Air Force
and the French even flew against the Luftwaffe from Corsica in
1944 Stories of its ability to take heavy damage and out dive
anything in the air are legendary amongst those who knew the Jug.
The leading American ace in Europe, Francis Gabreski with 31
kills, flew it.
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Oswald Boelke was one of Germany's top pilots The War To End All Wars
(aka World War One). He was asked by his superiors to create a
document which could aid in the training of new pilots for combat.
Here are his dicta, translated into English.
- a) Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.
- b) Always carry through an attack when you have started it.
- c) Fire only at close range and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.
- d) Always keep your eye on your opponent.
- e) In any form of attack, it is important to assail your opponent from behind.
- f) If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught but fly to meet it.
- g) When over the enemy's lines, never forget your own line of retreat.
- h) Attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.
From "Air Combat", a volume in "The New Face Of War" series by
Time-Life Books. The editors had added their own comments to each of
these individual dicta which are particularly helpful to understand
their fundamental importance in a combat situation (keep in mind that
Oswald didn't have to worry about all-aspect missiles at short range,
or minimum missile ranges).
MESSERSCHMITT ME 262A-1a SCHWALBE (Swallow)
"It was like angels were pushing," was General Adolph Galland's
remark after his first flight in the 262. Indeed the 540 m.p.h.
twin jet interceptor ushered in a new era of air combat. Though
not powerful by today's standards, the Junkers Jumo 004 turbojets
generated 1,980 lb. thrust enabling the bird to climb at 3,937
But the key element was the four MK 108 30mm cannon in
the nose. One hit could bring down an Allied bomber. If that
wasn't enough, the 24 R4M rockets salvoed like buckshot from
beyond gun range, made it possible to hit multiple targets or
cause enough chaos to instigate mid-air collisions.
by-today's-standards turbines required constant maintenance and
pilots fiddled with the throttles to find a setting where the
often balky jets worked smoothly. Once set they would leave them
alone and fly at that constant velocity, make their runs through
the gauntlet of bomber fire, and hopefully survive.
There were 22
jet aces that flew the 262 with units such as Galland's JV 44 in
the latter days of the war. Heinz B„r led with 16 kills. The
popular myth that if Hitler had not made some of them bombers,
things would have been different. Galland states that, save for
bomb shackles, all 262's were true fighters. It was just too
little too late. Had it debuted a year earlier, in numbers,
perhaps daylight bombing would have suffered.
One may not consider these aircraft the as "Magnificent Seven,"
but their accomplishments did carve out their places in history
as combatants over WWII Europe.
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