The Tuskegee Airmen flew P-40 Warhawks, P-39 Aircobras and P-47D Thunderbolts before the faster and more agile P-51 Mustangs became available. The Tuskegee-trained pilots only flew the P-47s for a short time in the field, but it was a memorable airplane for the Airmen and other USAAF pilots for a number of reasons.
Affectionately known as the “Jug” or a “barrel with wings,” the Thunderbolt could accurately be described as a stocky airplane. At 17,000 pounds, it weighed 5,000 pounds more than the Mustang. The “Fatty From Farmingdale” (the site of one of three production plants) had compact wings with rounded tips and a huge 18-cylinder radial engine. Its rugged construction – including self-sealing fuel tanks and armor around the cockpit - meant it could take a lot of punishment, making it a pilot favorite.
Amazingly agile for its weight and design, it could get the job done in a dogfight. What really made it stand out as a fighter was its ability to dive at high speeds. Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer commented on this attribute when he gave his talk at a Minnesota library in February. He said, "If you had to quickly go from a high altitude to a lower one in order to engage with or escape from the enemy, its ability to do a controlled dive was really something to experience.”
Another thing that set the Thunderbolt apart was that it had eight – count ‘em, eight – machine guns, four on each wing. Those guns were put to good use on June 24, 1944 when a group of eight Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group sank a German destroyer in an Italian port, using just their machine guns. This is the only known instance of P-47s sinking an enemy ship using only machine gun fire.
Other armament included rockets and bombs mounted under the wings. All of this destructive power was very effective in strafing runs against trains and troops.
The United States and many other countries in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II used the Thunderbolt to good effect. The USAAF eased away from the Thunderbolt as the military jet age began with the Korean War. This picture of six restored P-47s is from the 1970s. There was no photo attribution but the photographer certainly deserves applause for taking such an impressive shot.
The modern A-10 twin-engine military jet is called the Thunderbolt II, but its nickname is the “Warthog.” It also looks a bit ungainly but, like its predecessor, gets the job done.
We are getting ready to enjoy another Memorial Day weekend. Hang the flag proudly and go to a parade if you’re lucky enough to have one scheduled close by. Tell your kids how this weekend is not about sales and bar-b-ques; it’s about remembering those men and women who put on a U.S. military uniform and went away to war because they wanted to protect the American way of life that was built on individual freedom. Their selflessness and sacrifice must never be forgotten.
Where Are The Mustang and Traveling Exhibit This Weekend?
In Culpeper, Virginia, that’s where. They’re participating in a free CAF “open hangar” weekend at the local airport. If you’re in the area, c’mon out and support this effort – you’ll be glad you did.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.