By: Norm Goyer
I love to write articles where I can express my own personal thoughts, which I am sure are loaded with prejudices, both pro and con. From the day my mom took me, at eight years old, to see Dawn Patrol at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts, I have been fascinated with what we called “dog fighting” and is now called aerial engagements. Dog fighting has never been, “May the Best Man Win”, but more likely “May the best man win, flying the best airplane”. Let’s travel through time and various wars for the past almost 100 years and I will give you my thoughts obtained from years of writing, research, flying and many hours of hangar flying with veterans of many wars.
The Consolidated B-24 could carry more bombs, fly longer distances and fought in all theatres of the war. It was produced in more quantities than any other aircraft.
World War I caught America with its “wheel pants down”, so to speak. We had very few trained pilots and a few obsolete training aircraft. The only significant aircraft coming out of America during World War I was the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”, and a good plane it was. Many have been restored and are still flying. We did produce one fighting machine, but too late to participate, that was the Thomas Morse Scout. Germany won the great airplane award hands down with their Fokker D-VII;it was so advanced they became “spoils of war”. Our Army Air Force used this outstanding aircraft well into the 1920s. Many of our biplanes produced were heavily influenced by this aircraft. Germany also had the efficient wood wing which was on the Fokker D-VIII, the Flying Razor.
This thick airfoil wing was the basis of the Fokker transports which were very popular during the 1920s. England had the Sopwith Camel and France the SPAD, both good airplanes but far short of the D-VII. It was also Germany that pioneered aerial bombing with large multi engine aircraft such as the Gotha and Zeppelin (Yes, Zeppelin also produced huge Russian designed bombers) which plagued London. These were followed by the Zeppelin dirigibles. German aviation designers were on top of the game but supplies and numbers brought the Kaiser down in the end. (see Bird of the Week, Zeppelins in this issue)
The German Fokker D-VII with its Mercedes or BMW engine was by far the most advanced aircraft of World War I.
Between the wars, air racing provided additional aviation advancement. The Thompson, Grieve, Schneider and Bennett races dominated the news. Racing produced retractable landing gears, monocoque all-metal construction, drag reducing streamlining, NACA cowlings and yes, even the Mustang nose design owes its creation to air racer Art Chester.
(Jeep & Goon) The Beech Staggerwing, Howard DGA-15, Monocoupe and Cessna were heavily influenced by participation in the races. Russian fighter aircraft, which participated in the Spanish civil war, looked very much like the Gee Bee racers which obviously influenced their design.
The Boeing B-29 with its huge pay load and long range was the aircraft that dropped the atom bombs on Japan, thus ending the war.
But it was World War II which put aviation over the hump into our modern age. It was during this war we saw fighter aircraft lose their open cockpits, lose the extra wings, lose the tube and fabric construction, except for the training fleet. The bombing war saw early B-17s morph into B-29 Super Fortresses, Consolidated produced the most produced aircraft ever, the B-24 Liberator which was faster, could carry a larger payload but was harder to fly than the B-17. The Liberator was hard to hold in a formation and the fuel system, needed for its long range, was prone to problems. Pilots preferred to fly the B-17. The Boeing B-29 finished it off with its long range nuclear carrying ability. Once again, it was Germany with the progressive ideas and aircraft. They flew more pure jets, Me-262 twin jet fighters than anyone else. England had early versions of the de Havilland Vampire, which did
see limited service. Germany flew the first UAV with its V-1 Buzz bomb,copied by Japan and studied by many other countries, including our own.
It was basically more of a terror object than a damage producing aircraft. The first manned rocket powered fighter was also built by
Messerschmitt. Their Me-163 Komet took off on a track rocketed up and then dove through formations of B-17s and Lancasters in a one shot chance at downing an aircraft. It then glided to a landing, oh yes, it was also a flying wing. America had the best fighters with their Mustang, Thunderbolt, Lightning, Corsair, Hellcat and the Piper L-4 Cub. England’s Spitfire and Hurricane saved the country, Germany had the Bf-109 and FW-190 two outstanding fighters. It was a devastating war, but it did advance aviation very rapidly.
The North American F-86 Sabre was the most dominant jet fighter during
the Korean War.
Korea started out as the first all-jet fighter war, and ended up with a mix of World War II flying hardware and highly revised
jet fighters. The MiGs, with their swept back wings and highly trained Russian pilots, sent out straight wing F-80 Shooting Stars, F-84 Thunder jets and Grumman Panthers heading for home, clearly outclassed. It wasn’t until North American F-86 swept wing fighters and Grumman Cougars arrived that our pilots finally dominated the skies. Once again, we weren’t quite ready and had to play catch-up.
The F-4 Phantom was the main fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam was a helicopter war, more suited to rotary wings than fighters. But our pilots did have some impressive aircraft, the fabulous F-4 Phantom, the Republic F-105 Thud and the venerable B-52 saw its first aerial action, and is still fighting for our country. Some of the few propeller aircraft used successfully during the action were the Douglas AD-1 and North American T-28 Trojan which were used by all forces operating from both land and carriers. It is very disheartening to have wars as the dominating factor in aircraft development, but keeping our country free is certainly worth the tragedies of war.
The Hawker Hurricane, along with the Spitfire, saved England during the Battle of Britain. The Hurricane had a similar engine which also powered the Spitfire and later Mustangs.
The FW-190 was a far better fighter than the Bf-109 but was not available in great quantities during opening years of the air battles.
If any readers have requests for special topics please let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org