Quick Facts

 

Republic P-47

Thunderbolt

ERA: WWII

Part of the Air Zoo Collection

Located in the Flight Innovation Center, Main Exhibit Hall

The P-47’s story begins in the mid 1920’s with engineer and designer, Alexander P. de Seversky. Alexander founded the Seversky Aero Corporation and began development of a sport-amphibious airplane, the SEV-3. This was the first plane to fly with the iconic, durable wing shape developed by Seversky and Michael Gregor. Over the years Seversky-Gregor wing would not change greatly in design and would be used on the P-47. 

During the 1930s, the U.S. Army Air Corps held competitions for airplane manufacturers to compete for a pursuit plane contract. AP-4 construction was completed in 1938. It was designed to compete against the Curtiss XP-40 in the 1939 Army Pursuit Competition. The AP-4 was the world’s first air-cooled, single-engine fighter to have a turbosupercharger located in the fuselage behind the pilot. Despite having greater capability of reaching a higher altitude than the XP-40 and meeting the qualifications set by the Army, the Seversky AP-4 lost the competition and the contract to build fighters. Despite losing the pursuit competition in 1939, Republic Aviation did receive funds for 13 AP-4 service test airplanes which the Army designated as YP-43. Although Seversky designed and competed in the 1939 pursuit competition, it was after the company was renamed Republic Aviation that the Army payed for the AP-4 design.  

The AP-4 was the grandfather of the P-47. What came between was the Republic P-43 Lancer, a pursuit plane built essentially off the same production tooling that the AP-4 had been built. Republic Aviation developed the XP-47, XP-47A, and the XP-47B to compete with the successful Curtiss P-40. Through testing and the demands of the encroaching war in Europe, the XP-47B took its maiden flight on May 6, 1941 and would go on to see combat roles in Europe. The XP-47 and XP-47A would be unrecognizable to the later lineage because a liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 engine was designed into the fuselage instead of an air-cooled radial engine. 

In September of 1939, with foreign contracts cancelled due to the start of WWII, the Seversky Aircraft Corporation faced difficult times. The company went through a period of restructuring, despite Alexander de Seversky’s backlash. On October 13, 1939, the company was officially renamed the Republic Aviation Corporation.  

Launchpad to Learning Video & 360° Virtual Open Cockpit

             

  

The Air Zoo's P-47 Thunderbolt

The Air Zoo’s P-47D-40-RA, built under Republic Aviation Contract W535-AC-24579-34, was the 91st plane out of 465 built in 1945. The average cost to build a P-47D in 1945 was $84,897.  

At seven tons, the P-47 was the biggest single-engine fighter of World War II and was a match for all German fighter aircraft except for the FW-190D-9 and Me-262. It served as the premier fighter-bomber operated by the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. The aircraft’s eight machine guns could disable or destroy any motorized vehicle used by the German Army. The “D” model was the most-produced version of the P-47. The “D-40” was the most sophisticated version of the P-47D series.  

Nicknamed “The Jug” short for Juggernaut, the P-47 Thunderbolt offered a new piece of arsenal against the German Luftwaffe. The plane was a fast, high altitude fighter with a massive fuselage. The construction allowed the airplane to withstand an incredible amount of damage and the armored cockpit gave some protection to its pilot.  

Late model P-47s were armed with eight .50 caliber machine guns, four in each wing, and dished out an amazing amount of firepower. It could be equipped with eight, five-inch air-to-ground rockets or 2,500 lbs of bombs. The Thunderbolts are credited for destroying more than 3,000 aircraft, 86,000 railway cars, 9,000 locomotives, 600 armored fighting vehicles and 68,000 trucks. “Even with its complicated turbo supercharger system, its sturdy airframe and tough [liquid-cooled] radial engine could absorb a lot of damage and still return home,” said historian Cornelius Ryan. 

Fun Facts 

How do the pilots see out of the cockpit? While taxing, they couldn’t! Their crew chiefs would ride on the wing down the taxi way, lead the pilots to the runway, then slide off.  
 
Notable P-47 Figure: Francis “Gabby” Gabreski 
Francis “Gabby” Gabreski is often associated with the P-47. Gabby was born and raised in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Gabby developed an interest in aviation at age 13 when he and his father drove to the Cleveland Air Races in 1932 and watched Jimmy Doolittle fly the GeeBee to victory. Gabby dropped out of the University of Notre Dame in his sophomore year and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.  
 
Wings, World War II, and POW  
Gabby earned his wings on March 14, 1941. He was assigned to 45th Fighter Squadron, 15th Fighter Group at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. He flew Boeing P-26s, Curtiss P-36s, and Curtiss P-40s. While Gabby was airborne during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, he was unable to find the enemy.  

By 1942, Gabby was assigned to 315 Squadron (Polish) RAF where he flew Spitfire IXs. On February 7, 1943, Gabby reported for duty with 56th Fighter Group’s 61st Fighter Squadron where he amassed 28 confirmed aerial victories. On July 20, 1944, Gabby became a prisoner of war due to what he later called poor judgment when strafing a German airfield. He found himself confined at Stalag Luft I, North Camp in Barth, Germany until liberation in 1945. 

 
Korea and Grumman Aviation 
While serving in Korea, Gabby scored 6.5 aerial victories flying an F-86 Sabre. On Halloween day, 1967, Gabby retired as Colonel and went on to work for Grumman Aviation. From 1978-1980, while on loan from Grumman, Gabby served as President of Long Island Railroad. After a decorated and outstanding career, Gabby retired from Grumman Aviation as Vice President of Marketing.  


Check out more Launchpad to Learning videos