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Building the P-47 Thunderbolt


Model Aircraft Extra No. 7: Building the P-47 Thunderbolt
Compiled by Andy Evans.

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The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

Big, powerful, and truly a juggernaut of an aircraft, resulting in its appropriate nickname ‘Jug’, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the really great warplanes of its generation. Alongside the superlative North American P-51 Mustang and the twin-engined Lockheed P-38 Lightning, it was one of the three principal fighter types which the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) successfully operated in the later stages of World War Two. The initial production version was the P-47B, and examples of this type started to reach the USAAF’s 56th Fighter Group in June 1942. The first really combat-ready model was the refined and slightly longer P-47C, which entered service later in 1942. Like all front-line P-47 versions it packed a formidable punch of four 0.5in M2 Browning machine guns in each wing, although early models did not carry the wing pylons that became so important later in the Thunderbolt’s combat career. The first P-47C examples to reach Britain for the US Eighth Army Air Force did so in December 1942, followed by what became the main combat model of the Thunderbolt, the P-47D, in April 1943. Weighing in at some 15,000lb (6,804kg) fully loaded and powered by the R-2800-59 Double Wasp of 2,000hp, the P-47D was a big, powerful beast. Water injection introduced for some versions of the R-2800 would see even greater power on demand when needed in aerial combat. All of these early Thunderbolts had the ‘razorback’ high line rear fuselage pioneered with the P-35 and P-43, with a rearwards-sliding heavily framed cockpit canopy. Although the USAAF at first saw the Thunderbolt as a high altitude interceptor, its main initial role very soon became that of daylight bomber escort with the England- based Eighth Air Force, which was in great need of escort fighters for its B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators that were increasingly facing stiff Luftwaffe fighter opposition. he Thunderbolt helped to turn the tide for the US daylight bombing offensive during 1943 and early 1944, with a number of P-47 pilots gaining impressive scores in air-to-air combat against Luftwaffe fighters. Eventually the appearance of the Merlin-engined P-51B Mustang and later versions of the superb Mustang long-range fighter resulted in the Eighth Air Force almost completely re-equipping its fighter groups with the P-51, but the Eighth’s 56th Fighter Group continued to fly the Thunderbolt right up to the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. The Eighth Air Force also pioneered the P-47 for air-to-ground operations as a part of its policy of taking the fight to the Luftwaffe, and additional to this the Thunderbolt eventually equipped several fighter groups specifically for fighter-bomber operations within the tactical England-based US Ninth Air Force. The P-47 proved to be a formidable fighter-bomber due to its impressive eight-gun armament, bomb load and ability to survive enemy fire. The underwing pylons that proved so useful for long-range fuel tanks were equally at home carrying a 500lb (227kg) bomb (one under each wing), and the Ninth Air Force in particular used this capability to devastating effect against German tactical targets before and after D-Day. ‘Razorback’ Thunderbolts additionally equipped USAAF units in Italy, the Pacific (including exceptional use by the Fifth Air Force), and the China-Burma-India theatre (CBI). Continuing development of the P-47 design led to the adoption later in P-47D manufacture of a cut- down rear fuselage spine and all-round vision ‘bubbletop’ canopy. This resulted in a further series of later Thunderbolt versions with even greater range and capabilities, but many ‘razorback’ P-47s nevertheless continued in service right to the war’s end – some pilots in fact preferring the ‘razorback’ to the later models particularly for their better directional stability. Other important users of the Thunderbolt in World War Two included the Soviet Union, the RAF and the Free French. This seventh book in the highly successful MA Extra Series contains fourteen showcase and step by step model builds and will be a must for any P-47 aficionado!

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