Aviation Darwinism - The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt had the distinction of being the heaviest single-engine fighter to see service in World War Two. Parked alongside any of its wartime contemporaries, the Thunderbolt dwarfs them with its remarkable bulk. Despite its size, the P-47 proved to be one of the best performing fighters to see combat. Produced in greater numbers than any other U.S. made Fighter, the story of how it came to exist is at least as interesting as its many accomplishments.
The development of the Thunderbolt was a classic instance of design evolution tracing its origin back to Alexander P. de Seversky and his highly innovative aircraft of the early 1930s. Seversky, a Russian national, was a veteran of World War One. Seversky flew with the Czarist Naval Air Service and suffered the loss of a leg as a result of being shot down in 1915. Unfazed, he managed to convince his commanders to allow him to fly again using an artificial leg. Ultimately, Seversky was credited with no less than shooting down thirteen German aircraft before the Czarist government reached an armistice with the Kaiser Wilhelm in 1917. In early 1918 Seversky was appointed by the Czarist Government to study aircraft design and manufacturing in the United States. While he was in the U.S., the Communist revolution made it exceptionally dangerous to return home. Seversky had heard of the mass executions of his fellow officers and promptly applied for American citizenship.
Major Alexander de Seversky standing before his beautiful SEV-3XAR in the fall of 1934.
Even in his early years in America, Seversky was obviously skilled at promoting himself, because he managed to gain a position as a test pilot and consultant with the fledgling United States Army Air Service. Seversky’s brilliance was quickly recognized and he was assigned as an assistant to General Billy Mitchell. Over the span of the next 8 years, Seversky applied for no less than 360 U.S. patents. This included a gyro-stabilized bomb site purchased by the Army Air Corps. He even managed to obtain a commission in the Army Air Corps Reserve. Major Seversky formed a company registered as Seversky Aero Corporation. Unfortunately, the small company did not survive the stock market crash of 1929. Undaunted by this serious financial setback, Seversky attracted enough investors to form a new firm. In February of 1931, he was elected president of the new Seversky Aircraft Corporation. The Major quickly surrounded himself with several expatriate Russian engineers including Michael Gregor and the man who would ultimately head the P-47 design team, Alexander Kartveli.
The record breaking SEV-3 amphibian as it appeared at Wright Field in the summer of 1934.
The Russian connection quickly produced fruit. The first design was manufactured under contract by Edo Aircraft Corporation of College Point, Long Island, NY. Designed as a low wing monoplane design, this first aircraft, designated the SEV-3, was a float plane. Edo, being the leading manufacturer of aircraft floats, was an ideal choice when one considers that Seversky had no manufacturing facilities. Even with Edo’s expertise, construction still took two years, largely due to the lack of capital funds. Finally, in June of 1933, the SEV-3 took off from Long Island waters with Seversky at its controls. Painted in stunning bronze, the SEV-3 was one of the more advanced aircraft in the world. Several months later and fitted with a more powerful engine, the SEV-3 set a new world speed record for amphibians. One major contributor to the plane’s excellent speed was its distinctive thin, but broad semi-elliptical wing. This basic wing design would still be seen on the P-47 a decade later.Save & Close
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Seversky turned out several variations on the SEV-3 theme over the next several months and tried to sell the design to the Air Corps. The company finally gained a contract to manufacture a new Air Corps trainer designated the BT-8. It was very easy to spot the resemblance to the original SEV-3.
Eventually a further development of the SEV-3 would be submitted for an Air Co rps fighter design competition. It was the only two seat aircraft in the competition and this combined with serious engine difficulties would result in a poor showing. Typical of Seversky’s resilience, the Major returned to Farmingdale to design an aircraft that could win the next competition the following year.
Major Alexander de Seversky at the controls of the prototype BT-8 (developed from the SEV-3XAR).
The new fighter incorporated a redesigned fuselage and tail section. Designated the SEV-1XP, it was flown to Wright Field in Ohio for the 1936 fighter competition, from which, it emerged as the winner. Further development resulted in an Air Corps order for the fighter, now given the new designation P-35. The one glaring fault of the P-35 was its retractable landing gear layout. In an era where flush folding landing gear were becoming common-place on new fighter designs, the P-35 used a method that was minimally effective in reducing drag, as compared to a fixed landing arrangement. The Seversky’s gear simply folded back into a pod-like housing that protruded from the underside of the wing. When seen alongside many of the worlds newer fighter designs, such as the Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Curtiss Hawk 75 and Germany’s Messerschmitt 109, the P-35 appeared awkward and decidedly less sleek. Nonetheless, the new P-35 offered performance on par with most of the world’s best fighters.
Seversky's Farmingdale, Long Island facility as it appeared circa 1938. Note the P-35 in the lower left of this Steve Hudek photograph.
As the latter half of the 1930s crept by, the obvious increase in tensions in Europe and Japan’s war with China created a greater demand worldwide for combat aircraft. Seversky, feeling the severe pinch of the depression combined with American isolationism was quickly being overwhelmed by red ink. The Major began marketing his aircraft and design experience to several nations. Soon, orders began arriving from Japan, the Soviet Union, Columbia, and Sweden. These production runs kept the factory running and provided enough cash to make payrolls. Nonetheless, it was becoming obvious that Seversky would not be able to continue selling aircraft that were rapidly becoming obsolescent. All the export aircraft were based upon SEV-3 and SE V-1XP technology. If a new opportunity did not come along soon, Seversky would be forced to closed their doors.
Major Alexander de Seversky at the controls of the SEV-1XP over Manhattan in 1936.
That new opportunity arrived in 1939. That year, the Army Air Corps held yet another Pursuit Competition. Two aircraft were entered by Seversky. The Major entered his AP-4 design and Alexander Kartveli submitted the XP-41. In most respects, these two fighters were very similar. The largest, and ultimately, the deciding difference was the Major’s use of turbo-supercharger as opposed to a single stage engine driven mechanical supercharger on Kartveli’s XP-41. The turbo-charger installation was unusual in that it was mounted in the fuselage behind the cockpit. This required extensive ducting to carry exhaust gases to the rear of the fighter and, return the compressed air to the engine’s induction system. This complexity was offset by the outstanding high altitude performance of the aircraft. The XP-41, even with its flush folding landing gear offered only mediocre performance at low altitude and demonstrated a rapidly degrading level of performance above 15,000 feet.
Alexander de Seversky at the controls of the first production P-35 April 30, 1937.
The AP-4 was clearly the better of the two and certainly the best performing fighter in the competition. No matter, Curtiss won the competition with its XP-40 largely based upon its ability to begin full production immediately. Fortunately, the AP-4 was not ignored. A contract for 13 Service Test examples was issued. However, these would not be manufactured under the watchful eye of Major Seversky. He would be deposed as the head of the company that he had created and molded. The AP-4 would be refined and manufactured by a hastily reorganized company and the new fighter would be known as the Republic YP-43.
Seversky's installation of a turbo-supercharger in the aft fuselage of the AP-4 led to excellent high altitude performance. It resulted in the P-43 Lancer of 1940 and foreshadowed the P-47 Thunderbolt of 1941.
In April of 1939, after losing more than $550,000 dollars the year before, the board members of Seversky Aircraft voted Wallace Kellet in as President of the corporation and Major Seversky lost control of his beloved company. By September, the company had been reorganized and renamed Republic Aviation Corporation. Seversky did not go without a fight. By the time Seversky was finally satisfied with the settlement, it was well into September of 1942.
Meanwhile, the Air Corps made an effort to keep the new company afloat by awarding Republic a contract for 13 aircraft based upon the Seversky’s AP-4. Designated the YP-43, these along with P-35, EP-106 (an export version of the P-35 for Sweden) and 2PA-204A Guardsman kept the production lines open and allowed Republic to retain the core of its skilled workforce.
The YP-43 contract was truly based upon more than keeping Republic operating. The decision was also predicated upon the outstanding performance of the AP-4. Much to the delight of the USAAC, the AP-4 proved to even faster than the Spitfire Mk.I above 22,000 feet. Although the major contract had been awarded to Curtiss for the low altitude P-40, the Air Corps was well aware that much of the aerial combat now underway in Europe was being conducted at higher altitudes than that which the P-40 was capable of operating at with any reasonable level of performance.
In this composite photo of the XP-41 and AP-4, the differences between the two are evident. The AP-4 has a superior landing gear design. You can also see the turbo-supercharger beneath the rear fuselage of the AP-4. The XP-41 uses a different air intake than that in the AP-4's wing root. The XP-41 uses a Curtiss Electric propeller, the AP-4 employs a Hamilton-Standard.
The AP-4 was not the only U.S. fighter to employ a turbo-supercharger for high altitude performance. Curtiss was flying the XP-37 and the YP-37, Bell had built the XP-39 Airacobra and Lockheed had presented the high-performance XP-38. Each of these aircraft used the Allison V-1710 V-12 engine and each was suffering teething troubles. Ultimately, the Curtiss fighter was relegated to the scrap heap. The Air Corps stripped the XP-39 of its turbo-supercharger, reducing the Airacobra to being one of the most ineffective fighters of its day. The XP-38, after years of development, would eventually go on to be one of the finest fighters of the war. However, it would not be combat ready until well into 1942.
A rare and beautiful photo of the new USAAC fighters of 1940. In accending order, a YP-43, an early P-40, a P-39C and a YP-38. Special thanks is in order to author Warren Bodie for his generous permission to use his personal photos in this story.
Once a contract for the 13 YP-43 fighters had been issued, Kartveli's team began refining the AP-4, reducing the amount of glass behind the cockpit and moving the air inlet from the leading edge of the wing root to a location below the engine. This resulted in the classic oval cowling that continued with the P-47. The redesigned cockpit glass would also be carried over to the Thunderbolt.
The contract called for certain performance guarantees. Maximum speed was required to equal or exceed 351 mph. The YP-43 bettered that by 5 mph. The fighter was required to climb to 15,000 feet in 6 minutes or less. The YP-43 was able to exceed this by nearly 400 ft/min. The first YP-43 took to the air for the first time in March of 1940. While it lacked armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, it provided the USAAC with its first fighter that could offer performance on par with the fighters now doing battle over Europe. However, with only 13 currently on contract, the fighter’s performance mattered little when the warring powers were putting up hundreds of high-performance fighters with many more under construction. The realization that the United States was woefully prepared for a modern air war was not lost on the USAAC. The flurries of design activity were about to break out into a full snowstorm as America began to come out of her isolationist muddle.
One of the YP-43 aircraft with the original tail wheel installation.
Soon after receiving the first of the YP-43s, the Air Corps discovered that although the new fighter was considerably longer than the P-35, it was no less prone to ground looping. Eventually, Republic redesigned the tail wheel assembly. The new design raised the tail of the aircraft nearly a foot higher. This reduced the tendency to ground loop and improved vision over the nose. The new tail wheel was no longer fully retractable. Eventually, 272 P-43 Lancers would be manufactured. Of these, 108 would be sent to the Chinese to fight Japan. But, not before many passed through the hands of the AVG Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force commanded by Claire Lee Chennault).
A P-43A in USAAF Training Command service, circa 1942. Note the revised tail wheel assembly.
Claire Chennault utilized some of his AVG pilots to ferry the newly arriving P-43’s to the new owners. In general, the Flying Tigers were much impressed with the P-43. They liked its excellent speed at high altitude. This was something that their Curtiss Tomahawks lacked, having only a single stage supercharger. The little barrel-bellied P-43 made good power right up through 30,000 ft. The Tomahawk, on the other hand, was running out of breath by 20,000 ft. The pilots liked the Lancer’s good handling and rapid rate of roll (although the Tomahawk was a fast roller as well). They were also pleased to see that the Republic fighter carried the same armament as their trusty Tomahawks, twin .50 caliber machine guns above the engine and two .30 caliber Brownings in each wing. The fact that the air-cooled radial engine did not have a Prestone cooling system did not go unappreciated. The Curtiss could be brought down by a single rifle caliber bullet striking any portion of the Allison engine’s cooling system. This was not the case with the P-43. In short, there wasn’t anything not to like about the P-43.
Some of the AVG pilots went to Chennault and asked if they could retain some of the Lancers for their use, alongside the Tomahawk. They pointed out that the Lancer could out-climb the Curtiss and get far above Japanese formations, something they could seldom achieve with their P-40’s. However, Chennault turned down their request and believed that he had good reasons to do so. Perhaps the primary reason was that the first P-43’s delivered lacked armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. The risk of his pilots being incinerated was certainly a real concern for Chennault. A few months later the AVG ferried additional Lancers in. These were P-43A’s equipped with both armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. However, the self-sealing tanks steadfastly refused to seal. They leaked so badly that Chennault displayed no interest in these either. The AVG would soldier on with their Tomahawks and a few P-40Es until they disbanded on July 4th, 1942.
Let us digress to earlier events at Farmingdale. In September of 1939 things were really beginning to jump at Republic. The Air Corps issued a circular proposal in that year calling for a lightweight interceptor. Curtiss jumped in with a lightened variation of the P-40 airframe designated the XP-46. Republic submitted a very similar design which the Air Corps designated the XP-47. Both aircraft offered the same basic concept: Build the smallest possible airframe around an Allison V-1710 V-12 engine. This was also the first design from either Seversky or Republic that was to be powered by a liquid cooled engine. The major difference between the Curtiss and Republic effort boiled down to Kartveli electing to use a turbo-supercharger. As it was, Kartveli& #146;s design never moved beyond the mock-up stage and the XP-46 showed no performance improvement over the P-40.
While the XP-47 program was underway, Republic engineers were looking to improve the performance of the P-43. The result was a contract to develop the lightweight XP-44. Based upon the P-43 airframe, Republic planned to install the Pratt & Whitney R-2180 engine in a reworked Lancer. However, this powerplant did not produce the expected horsepower and the design team upgraded to the Wright R-2600. This engine made a reliable 1,600 hp. Yet, it proved to be unsuitable for turbo-supercharging. Finally, good fortune smiled on the XP-44 in the form of the P&W R-2800 Double Wasp. With a contract for 80 examples in hand, Republic set out to modify a P-43 airframe to take the new powerhouse 18 cylinder engine.
To understand how important the R-2800 engine was to become, it is essential to know that many of America’s best fighters and bombers of WWII were powered by this redoubtable engine. These include, but is not limited to, the P-47 Thunderbolt, the F4U Corsair, the F6F Hellcat and the B-26 and A-26 bombers. The R-2800 that was to be fitted to the XP-44 produced 1,850 hp. Later variants used in the P-47M and P-47N produced as much as 2,800 and considerably more (up to 3,600 hp) on dynamometers.
Slowly, but steadily, work progressed on the XP-44 mock-up, now known by some at Farmingdale as the “Rocket” (an earlier design concept by Republic, the AP-10, was also called the Rocket) Performance projections were impressive. A maximum speed of 402 mph was expected at 20,000 feet. Climb rate should approach, or even exceed 4,000 ft/min. Armament was to consist of four.50 caliber Browning machine guns, two mounted above the engine and one installed in each wing. Fuel capacity was no greater than the P-43. With the increased thirst of the far larger R-2800 engine, the range would be limited. There is little doubt, however, that the P-44 would have been an effective interceptor.
Bob Boyd's terrific illustration of the proposed P-44 is based upon photos of the XP-44 mock-up.
Unfortunately, the Air Corps did not need a short-range interceptor. Indeed, as data from the European war was analyzed, it was becoming very clear that a fighter of far greater capability was going to be needed. The need to fly even faster, at greater altitudes, over longer distances was now evident. The Experimental Aircraft Division of the USAAC called in Kartveli and informed him that the XP-44 contract was canceled. So was the XP-47 lightweight fighter contract. They had drawn up a new set of requirements and authorized a new contract to design and develop a new fighter that would be designated the XP-47B. The fighter had to meet these new requirements, some of which were:
- The aircraft must attain at least 400 mph at 25,000 feet.
- It must be equipped with at least six .50 caliber machine guns, with eight being preferred.
- Armor plate must be fitted to protect the pilot.
- Self-sealing fuel tanks must be fitted.
- Fuel capacity was to be a minimum of 315 gallons.
Kartveli realized that the P-43/XP-44 airframe was not capable of being adapted to these new requirements. Therefore, he began sketching a new design on the train returning to New York. He kept the basic cockpit design, stretched the fuselage, reshaped the tail surfaces and increased the wing span. When Kartveli arrived at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, he had the basic outline of the fighter would ultimately break the back of the Luftwaffe in 1944.
When one studies the design philosophy of the P-47, one cannot help but realize that Major Seversky’s vision of a true high-performance fighter had been fulfilled. Since 1939 Seversky had stated that any new fighter designs would need to be bigger, faster and higher flying. The USAAF, already unhappy with Seversky for late deliveries and using Air Corps money to fund racing versions of the P-35, not only ignored the Major, they spared no effort to discredit him. Yet, within a few months, circumstances had evolved, largely as a result of war in Europe. As a result, the lightweight fighter concept, liked very much by Kartveli, was a philosophy now bankrupt. Finally out from Seversky’s shadow, Kartveli had thrown himself and his engineering staff into the XP-47 and XP-47A designs. It must have been a terrible shock to find out that all their work was as good as for nothing. A more sobering realization for Kartveli was that the Major had been correct all along.
The XP-47B on roll out day, May 4th, 1941.
Unlike the XP-44 design, no mock-up of the XP-47B was requested by the USAAC, nor was any money allocated for one. The new fighter could not hope to go efficiently from the drafting table to the factory floor. Therefore, a mock-up was built at company expense. In early production P-47's the vast majority of the cockpit section was taken straight from the P-43. However, for some unknown reason, the mock-up, prototype, and the first three production P-47B aircraft were built with an unusual and difficult to use fixed canopy equipped with a forward opening door not greatly unlike the P-39 and early Hawker Typhoon. Fortunately, whoever selected this oddball canopy design was eventually over-ruled and the P-43 arrangement was implemented after the fourth aircraft.
The unusual cockpit door of the XP-47B is clearly seen in the inset. Note that the vent window is open.
Work on the first flyable XP-47B moved along at a brisk pace and the “eggheads” from Wright Field were invited to inspect the new fighter. Generally, they were happy with what they saw. One problem discovered was that measured fuel capacity was somewhat less than the specification had called for. Only 298 gallons could be squeezed into the tanks, 17 gallons less than the requirement. The weight of the plane was greater than the specification requirements as well. Republic’s design team had built immense strength into the design. This pushed the weight up to just over 12,500 lbs, or about 900 lbs over the required limit. The engineers from Wright Field indicated that these issues could be overlooked if the fighter performed to specification.
Tied down and chocked, the prototype XP-47B is readied for a maximum power run-up the day before it s first flight.
Finally, on May 6th, 1941, the big fighter was ready for its first flight. With test pilot Lowery Brabham at the controls, the XP-47B roared off Republic’s wet sod field, getting airborne after a scant 2,500 feet of takeoff roll. Brabham was instantly pleased with the fighters handling and power. Nonetheless, as he climbed and the ambient pressure dropped, smoke began to fill the cockpit. Unable to open the cockpit door in flight, Brabham opened a small vent window. That, however, was a mistake. The velocity of the air rushing past the vent served only to lower the relative pressure across the vent, resulting in even more smoke being drawn into the cockpit. Concerned, but not panicked, Brabham decided to get the ship down quickly. Thoughts of losing the prototype on its maiden flight were all the motivation he needed. Remembering how soft the wet sod had been at Farmingdale, Brabham headed for the paved runways of the nearby Air Corps facility at Mitchel Field.
The XP-47B was photographed in color several times during its early test flights.
The first landing of the XP-47B was uneventful. The flaps, brakes, and landing gear worked as advertised and Brabham taxied in towards the Air Corps hangers. His arrival, however, was indeed an event. Army and Air Corp personnel poured out to greet the big fighter as it rolled to a stop with its huge propeller winding down. Nothing like the XP-47B had ever been seen before. Senior officers quickly cleared the field and the new fighter was quickly rolled into a hanger and the doors shut.
It took but a quick inspection to determine what had caused the smoke in the cockpit. Oil in the turbo-supercharger ducting was the culprit. Prior to taking off, Brabham had performed an extensive run-up on the concrete ramp. He checked, double checked and even triple checked every engine instrument. He performed several mag checks and made sure the engine was at optimal operating temperature. During this time, oil had been accumulating in the ducting leading to the turbo-supercharger installed behind the cockpit. The ducting ran just below the cockpit. The engine is fitted with a pair of wastegates that dump excess boost and thereby regulate manifold pressure. The wastegates are in turn, controlled by a governor. At low altitudes, the governor monitors and is itself controlled by maximum manifold pressure. At altitude, the governor responds to turbine speed. As the XP-47B climbed out, the governor closed the wastegates. The oil in the ducts was rapidly heated and began to give off smoke.
Mitchel Field as it appeared in 1931. The photo has been colorized.
The XP-47B would remain at Mitchel Field for about a month as modifications were made to prevent future smoke in the cockpit. Some additional, but minor changes were implemented and surprisingly, no national insignia was yet applied to the wings and fuselage. The XP-47B was never delivered to Wright Field, as had been the practice for all new designs for many years. It was tested in the skies over Long Island. Having been assigned to Republic in order to expedite any required changes, it would remain in hands of its manufacturer until its inadvertent loss in 1942.
The first P-47B off of the line was flown to Wright Field for testing. The first production aircraft was actually the fifth airframe completed, and the first with a sliding canopy.
In the meantime, The XP-47B reveal ed that it was everything that it was hoped it would be. It attained a corrected true airspeed of 412 mph at 25,800 ft. The big Pratt & Whitney R-2800-17 proved to be reliable and actually produced the horsepower that Pratt & Whitney had claimed it would. The Curtiss Electric propeller worked well at getting all 1,960 hp harnessed for thrust. There were some problems still to be worked out. The turbo-supercharger installation increased the risk of a fire (this is exactly what caused the loss of the prototype nearly a year later). The cockpit canopy needed to be rethought. Indeed, there would be a myriad of minor changes that were to be incorporated into the first production aircraft. But, the die was cast. Alexander de Seversky had been vindicated. His theories had passed the test of reality and the fate of many a German and Japanese airman had been sealed.
While the first P-47B aircraft were being extensively tested, Republic was hard at work at getting production underway in the new plant building just completed at Farmingdale. In addition to this, the first of three new paved runways were completed. Ultimately, the expansion of this Long Island facility would quadruple the size of the factory floor space. Nonetheless, all of this new construction would not be enough to meet the future contract demands for the Thunderbolt. In November of 1942, the War Production Board authorized a new plant to be constructed adjacent to the Evansville, Indiana airport. This would provide the critical production volume that would enable the P-47 to the most produced American fighter of World War Two. Production would ramp up slowly, largely a result of the extensive testing involved. Despite getting off to a slow start, by the middle of 1943, Thunderbolts would be rolling off the factory floor at a rate never envisioned just two years before.
Shortly after the first YP-47B rolled out of the plant in November of 1941, the United States would find itself at war with both Japan and Germany. This only hastened further development of the P-47. An updated and lighter version of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine was installed in the early P-47B aircraft. This provided for even better speed at altitude and a small improvement in climb rate. If there was an area where the P-47B was less than sterling, it was its rather poor rate of climb. Yet, this was not as great a concern as some might think. Ultimately, the P-47 would be used in a role where climb ability was not especially critical to performing its mission.
Republic's Farmingdale facility as it appeared from the air in mid 1943. The total area of manufacturing space had quadrupled since the beginning of 1941.
By early June 1942, the first batch of 37 P-47Bs was issued to the 56th Fighter Group, with the 63rd Fighter Squadron being stationed at Republic’s Farmingdale airfield. One problem faced almost immediately involved the difficulty of changing engines on the B model Thunderbolts. Maintenance crews were finding this operation to be very time-consuming. Republic responded with their first major change to the P-47 airframe. An 8-inch extension of the fuselage, forward of firewall allowed for a new Quick Engine Change (QEC) design that cut the time required to hang a new engine by better than 60%. Not only did the lengthened fuselage aid normal maintenance; it improved the handling and maneuverability. This change was introduced shortly after the C model began production. Virtually every Thunderbolt previously manufactured were retrofitted with this change.
Lt. Earl Haywood of the 56th Fighter Group stands before his brand new P-47B. Later, these early fighters were redesignated RP-47B's and were used only for training.
Meanwhile, the 56th was gradually transitioning to the large and powerful fighter. Hub Zemke, promoted from Lieutenant to Major (skipping right past Captain), was named to command the 56th in September of 1942 (he had also commanded the 80th Fighter Group briefly, also at Farmingdale). Zemke was not a man to be trifled with, being a no-nonsense flyer with ideas on fighter tactics that were well ahead of his contemporaries. Shortly after assuming command, he was once again promoted, now to Lt. Colonel. The training process was one filled with hair-raising washouts and several fatal wrecks. It was here that the P-47 established itself as a remarkably tough aircraft. More than a few pilots walked away from training crashes that would likely have been fatal had they been flying a less substantial fighter, such as a P-40 or P-39.
Hub Zemke with his P-47C, circa 1943.
Gradually, the Group learned how to manage the Thunderbolt. Still, there was a new problem beginning to appear. Powerful fighters such as the P-47 and P-38 were encountering something relatively new to aviation; compressibility. This new generation of high-speed aircraft was capable of incredible speeds in a dive. Compressibility is a term used to describe what happens when localized airflow across a wing approaches trans-sonic velocity. The resulting shock wave could lock the elevators as if in a vise. Pilots were running up against compressibility and they were dying. P-47’s and P-38’s were being flown straight into the ground, or even breaking up in flight. The learning curve was far steeper than it had ever been before. Pilots now had to learn how to deal with this new, terrifying phenomena. Testing showed that the Thunderbolt could be flown out of a terminal velocity dive as it descended into the denser air at lower altitudes. This is because as the plane continues down, the relative speed of sound goes up. Eventually, the aircraft’s Mach number will drop (although its actual airspeed does not) and the shock wave will dissipate, allowing the pilot to regain control again. Pilots were instructed to pull off the throttle and avoid using too much up elevator trim. Too much trim or too much back pressure on the stick could over-stress the airframe when the fighter began to respond to control inputs. Pilots who had flown the P-47 into compressibility came away with bruises to verify their adventure. The Thunderbolt’s ailerons would flutter as it exceeded its critical Mach limits, causing the stick to move violently from side to side; pummeling the inside of the pilot’s thighs black and blue.
The 56th Fighter Group was greeted by brand new P-47C fighters upon arrival in Britain. This Thunderbolt, a P-47C-2-RE, sits with its new white banded cowling and tail stripes. The 8th Air Force painted these white markings on all P-47's in an effort to aid in identification.
On Thanksgiving day of 1942, the 56th was notified to prepare for deployment to Britain. Zemke was ready. His squadrons were ready. In fact, Zemke was concerned that the Group was getting to the point of being over-trained. It was time to prove what the P-47 could do in combat. It was also time to see if his training methods and tactics would meet the challenge over German controlled air space. Lt. Col. Zemke had a few pilots that he was worried about. A few fellows were too aggressive. Some others had failed gunnery school. Of these, Zemke doubted that one young man would survive very lo ng in combat. Robert Johnson nearly proved Zemke correct on his early missions. However, Johnson would survive his first brushes with the Luftwaffe and go on to terrorize the Luftwaffe like no one else in the 8th Air Force.
On January 3rd, 1943, the 56th boarded the HMS Queen Elizabeth for the trip across the Atlantic. Zemke believed that the Groups weary P-47B fighters were being sent along as well. They would not be making the trip. A new Fighter Group would be taking charge of the old B models. When the 56th arrived in Britain, they discovered shiny new Thunderbolts waiting for them. These were the latest P-47C’s. Faster and better handling than the old B’s, the new fighters were the best reception committee that Zemke could have asked for.
New P-47's arriving in Britain during early 1943 were assembled by the British Reassembly Division. These Thunderbolts sit in company with a Lockheed Ventura and a Hudson. In the background is a rare Brewster Bermuda.
Almost as soon as they set up shop in their new quarters, they began to hear from RAF pilots that the P-47 just can’t hope to cut it with the “Jerry fighters”. Even members of the Eagle Squadron (soon to be flying the P-47 as well) were quick to tell the pilots of the 56th that; “if our Spitfire Mk.V’s couldn’t deal with the Focke Wulf 190, how can you expect to handle them in that huge P-47?” Little did they know that not only could the Thunderbolt handle the Fw 190, but it would also chase them from the sky over western Europe.
With three Fighter Groups setting up in Britain, the 8th Air Force hoped to have all three operational by mid-February. This would not be possible due to problems with radios and engine troubles encountered during high altitude test flights. Many of the Pratt & Whitney engines were suffering from ignition breakdown and distributor leakage. This resulted in fouled spark plugs and serious loss of power. These problems would plague the P-47 for several months. By the end of the Spring of 1943, most of the teething woes will have been overcome.
Typically, this is how most P-47's arrived in England. The extent of the effort required to get these fighters operational can be appreciated.
Finally, on March 10th, the 4th Fighter Group goes on operational status. They fly an offensive fighter sweep over France. 14 Thunderbolts, accompanied by an even dozen Spitfire Mk.V’s, (still remaining with the 4th FG) head out to gain some combat experience in their new fighter. They are ignored by the Luftwaffe. Several of the 4th’s pilots assigned to the Thunderbolts refuse to fly it. The P-47 is very much disliked by these veterans of the Eagle Squadron, who prefer their Spitfires. This first mission does nothing to reduce their unhappiness. Radio communication was all but impossible due to interference. The attitude of the 4th FG was not just the result of having to fly a fighter they believed to be unsuited for aerial combat with the Luftwaffe. Their experience during workups was not very positive. Some pilots were forced to bail out due to fires. Others suffered landing gear collapse on landing. Still, others suffered engine failures. They flew their first combat sweep with virtually zero confidence in the P-47.
This P-47C-5-RE is piloted by Eugene O'Neill of the 62nd FS, 56th FG. Note the Li'l Abner cartoon nose art. This was the typical P-47 flown by the 4th, 56th and 78th Fighter Groups in the spring and summer of 1943. This aircraft has been updated in the field to include the new bulged keel plumbed for an external drop tank.
What most pilots did not understand was that most of the problems were a result of the hasty assembly work performed in England. Each aircraft would need a great deal of attention to iron out the bugs. Republic technical personnel worked long hours rectifying the problems.
During the first week of April, all three P-47 Groups (4th, 56th, and 78th) are formally declared operational. On April 8th, all three Groups turn out for a joint fighter sweep over France. Once again, the Luftwaffe ignores their presence. Several more sweeps are flown during the following days, all uneventful. Finally, on April 15th, Major Donald Blakeslee, of the 4th FG gets the P-47’s first kill by shooting down an Fw 190 near Dieppe. Two weeks later, the 56th loses two Thunderbolts when bounced by Focke Wulfs. They fail to shoot down any of their attackers. These fighters are replaced with the first P-47D models to arrive in the theater. Externally, the difference between the early D models and the P-47C is virtually undetectable to the untrained eye.
This unknown pilot of the 56th FG managed to nurse this battered P-47 home after taking a flak hit over Dieppe. It must have taken great skill to bring home this Thunderbolt.
With the coming of May, escort operations begin. The 78th claims one German fighter and two probables while escorting heavy bombers to Antwerp. In exchange, three of the 78th’s P-47’s fail to make it home. The 56th is doing even worse. After 31 combat missions, they have yet to claim a single enemy fighter against their several losses. Eventually, they score their first victory during a sweep over Rouen on June 12th. On the very next day, Robert Johnson got his first kill, blasting an Fw 190 to pieces. However, on the 26th, the 56th lost five Thunderbolts with four more shot to pieces. All they can claim is two German fighters.
Several P-47D-2-RE fighters on a British airfield, circa July 1943. Not uncommon at the time, many P-47's operated off of unpaved sod fields.
It was on this mission that Johnson’s P-47 is crippled by enemy fire. Refusing to break formation (after being chewed out for doing just that when he gained his first victory) Johnson repeatedly tried to warn his Group of attacking Fw 190’s. For some reason, no one heard his frantic radio calls. Johnson’s fighter was clobbered by German 20mm cannon shells. The engine was hit, the hydraulic system shot out, spraying Johnson with fluid. His canopy was jammed closed and his oxygen system destroyed. The leaking hydraulic fluid and oxygen came in contact with each other and burst into flame inside the cockpit. Fortunately, it was only a flash fire, but Johnson was properly singed, losing his eyebrows and taking on the appearance of a cooked lobster. Having flown without his goggles (they were being repaired), the mist of hydraulic fluid nearly blinded him and caused swelling that threatened to eliminate what limited vision he retained.
Without oxygen, hypoxia began to cloud Johnson’s reasoning. In a panic, he fought to get out of the wrecked P-47. The canopy would not slide back more than a few inches. Jamming his feet against the shot up instrument panel, he pulled with all his considerable strength. No luck, it would not budge. One of the side plexiglass panels had been blown out of the canopy. Johnson tried to squeeze through it, but his parachute snagged. No sense in climbing out unless he brings his chute with him. What to do?
This well known photo shows the bottom portion of Johnson's rudder having been blasted away by 20 mm cannon shells.
While Johnson was struggling with his situation, the P-47 was rapidly descending. As he lost altitude, the effects of hypoxia were wearing off and the cobwebs began to dissipate. Quite suddenly, it dawned on him that the Thunderbolt was actually flying. Upon this realization, Johnson decided to see how far he could nurse it towards the English channel. He eased off the throttle and the Pratt & Whitney radial stopped its shaking. The big fighter answered its controls with authority. Johnson was elated. Maybe, just maybe, he could make it home.
Then he saw it. Sliding in from his left rear, a fighter closes in. But, whose fighter? Then, he recognized it. A beautiful but deadly Fw-190 with a gleaming yellow nose. Flying just off Johnson's wing, the German pilot scans the shot up P-47. Wondering what is going through the German pilot's mind, Johnson watches as he eases away and swings around in a graceful turn; sliding in behind the Thunderbolt. Knowing full well what’s to come, Johnson grabs the seat adjuster lever and drops the seat full down where he is afforded the full protection of the armor plate behind the seat. Johnson thinks to himself; “let him shoot, this Thunderbolt can’t be hurt any more than it already is.” The Fw 190 opens up on the flying wreck. Like hail on a tin roof, 7.92 mm rounds pour into the Jug. What, no 20 mm? Thankfully, these have all been expended in some other fight. Johnson sits, hunkered down behind the armor as the German pilot ripsaws the battered Thunderbolt with hundreds of rounds.
Finally, his anger building, Johnson decides that he must do something. Kicking hard right and left rudder, the big fighter yaws right, then left. This scrubs off speed and caught off guard, the German cannot avoid over-running the P-47. Johnson sees him go by but is unable to see anything through his oil covered windscreen. Shoving his head out through the shattered canopy, Johnson sees the Fw 190 turn gently to the right. Seeing an opportunity, he kicks hard right rudder, skidding the Thunderbolt, Johnson depresses the gun switch button. A stream of tracers heads towards the German fighter. But, it doesn’t falter.
Instead, it continues around in a perfect turn and slides in alongside the perforated P-47 once again. Johnson makes eye contact with the German pilot. He can see the dismay on the German’s face. There is no way that this American fighter can still be flying. It is impossible that it could absorb such a pounding and keep on flying. The Focke Wulf eases out to the right and slides back into perfect firing position once again. Johnson cowers behind his armor plate as 7.92 mm bullets rain upon the utterly mangled Thunderbolt. Just when Johnson is convinced that it will never stop, he stamps down hard on the rudder pedals again. This time the German expects just such a move and pulls off his throttle. The dappled 190 eases up on Johnson’s wing once again, the German pilot shaking his head in silent amazement. They fly this way for several minutes. Finally, the German waves an informal salute and slides in behind Johnson’s invulnerable fighter for the third time. As before, the Jug is pounded by streams of lead. The Fw 190 swings gently from left to right, spraying the indestructible P-47 with an incessant barrage of machine gun fire. Suddenly, it stops. The Focke Wulf eases alongside again. The German looks over the Thunderbolt. The pilot stares with a look of admiration on his face. Pulling even with Johnson, the 190 wags its wings in salute and peels away in a climbing turn. Having fired his last rounds at the stubborn Jug, the German heads for home, certainly convinced that the mauled fighter will never make it home.
Another well known photo showing the damage to Johnson's canopy that caused it to jam. The large holes are from 20 mm cannon hits. The smaller holes are mostly from 7.92 mm bullets.
Finally free of the Focke Wulf, Johnson suddenly realizes that during the entire attack, he had depressed his mike button. Releasing the button, the accented voice of an Englishman fills his headphones. “Hello, hello, climb if you can, you’re getting very faint”. It was Air-Sea Rescue. They had heard the entire fight, including Johnson cursing his tormentor. Johnson’s spirit soars, and he responds, “I’ll try, but I’m down to less than 1,000 feet”. Shouting with joy, he eases back on the stick. Not onl y will the Thunderbolt fly, hot damn, She’ll climb! Slowly, Johnson nurses the P-47 up to 8,000 feet. The big fighter hauls herself up, instilling greater confidence in a man who was ready to bail out but a few minutes before. “Blue four, blue four, I have you loud and clear. Steer three-four–five degrees.
“I can’t do that mayday control, my compass is shot out” answers Johnson.
The calm British voice issues instructions to “turn slightly right”, and continues to provide course corrections until, after 40 minutes Johnson spots the coast of Dover through broken clouds. Directed to an emergency airfield, Johnson circles but cannot spot the sod runway. After checking his fuel, he pushes the mike button;
“Mayday control, this is blue four, I’m ok now. I’m going to fly onto Manston. I’d like to land back at my outfit.”
Johnson continues on to Manston. Contacting the tower, he describes his situation. The last test comes as he moves the landing gear lever to the “down” position. Not only does the gear drop and lock, but by some miracle, the tires have not been hit. Easing onto the grass, Johnson has no flaps and no brakes. The big fighter does not slow and is heading towards a row of RAF Spitfires and Typhoons parked at the end of the runway. In desperation, he stomps on the left rudder pedal. The Thunderbolt ground loops and slides backward in between two of the British fighters just like it had been parked there.
Robert Johnson and his crew chief, Pappy Gould, pose in front his new P-47D-5-RE. This fighter was the replacement for his battered and scrapped P-47C. Johnson would name the new fighter "Lucky".
Slowly, Johnson gathers his wits and removing his parachute, squeezes out of the shattered canopy. Once on the ground he realizes the extent of the damage. Not only to the plane, but to himself. A bullet had nicked his nose. His hands were bleeding from the shrapnel of 20 mm shells that exploded in the cockpit. Two 7.92 mm rounds had hit him in his leg. 21 holes from 20 mm shells are counted in the airframe. He quits counting bullet holes when he reaches 100. It seems as if every square foot of the fighter has a hole in it. Somehow, the P-47 had shrugged off the damage and refused to die. Johnson will recover quickly. The Thunderbolt will not. It was scrapped on the spot, very little could be salvaged that was not damaged
Robert Johnson would go on to shoot down 28 (revised down to 27 after the war) German fighters, with 6 probables and 4 more damaged. After the war, Luftwaffe records indicated that Johnson might have shot down as many as 32 German fighters. Johnson flew 91 combat missions. On those missions, he encountered German fighters 43 times. In 36 of the 43 encounters, Johnson fired his guns at the enemy. A result of those 36 instances where he fired on German aircraft, 37 of those aircraft were hit; with as few as 27 or as many as 32 going down. Rather impressive for a pilot who flunked gunnery school.
Events were really beginning to speed up in the ETO. Yet, on the other side of the world, the P-47 was about to enter service against the Japanese. How successful would the massive Thunderbolt be against the lightweight and agile fighters of the Japanese Army Air Force and the much vaunted Zero of the Imperial Japanese Navy?
There were stark differences between the air war in Europe and that being fought over the enormous expanse of the Pacific. Recall that the limited range of the P-47 had presented some serious problems with bomber escort in the ETO. Now consider the situation in the vastness of the South Pacific.
General Kenney's 5th Air Force was deeply involved with the struggle of pushing the Japanese out of the Southwest Pacific area. The only Army Air Force fighter capable of bringing the war to the Japanese was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Round trip missions frequently exceeded 800 miles for the Lightning. On occasion, the P-38 was required to venture more than 600 miles to find and attack Japanese air assets. For shorter range missions, various models of the Curtiss P-40 were most commonly used. Incredibly, some squadrons were still soldiering on with the P-39 Airacobra to very near the end of 1943.
General Kenney certainly preferred the P-38 over the P-47 because of the Lightning's remarkable combat radius. This is a P-38F-1-LO, a later sub-model of the P-38F type was used by the 5th Air Force.
Gen. Kenney had found that the P-38 was the answer to his dreams of taking the fight to the Japanese. With its very long range capabilities, 400+ mph speed and the inherent advantage of two engines, the Lightning introduced the Japanese to the next generation of high-performance American fighters. For all of the P-38's attributes, one problem became evident. There would not be enough of them to go around. Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa) had gobbled up all the P-38 fighters in Europe. Even the 8th Air Force was stripped of its Lightnings for Operation Torch. Kenney was finding it increasingly difficult to obtain additional numbers of the big, long-ranging twin. Another dilemma facing Kenney was that many of his existing P-38's were older P-38F and G models with considerable combat hours in their logbooks. It would not be long before many of these would be officially classified as "war-weary"
Kenney was offered a choice of several other fighters in its stead. However, the 5th was already well populated with the P-40 Warhawk. The performance of the P-40 was only adequate at best. Its range was limited, which largely meant that it was not suitable for many of the 5th's mission requirements. There was but one other option, the new P-47 Thunderbolt. The word had filtered down to the 5th that these were hot fighters. However, that would be of little value because the Jug had shorter legs than the Curtiss P-40. Without external drop tanks and a remarkable thirst for avgas, the P-47 could not even match the Warhawk's combat radius. Kenney was handed the hot potato when Gen. Hap Arnold offered him a newly trained P-47 Group. Kenney, who was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, promptly accepted.
The 348th Fighter Group arrived in Australia on June 30th, 1943 with their P-47D-2-RE J ugs. Just as in Britain, the Thunderbolt made an immediate impression upon the RAAF personnel. Reportedly, as a P-47 pilot climbed down from the cockpit, one Aussie ground crewman inquired; "Where is the rest of the crew?"
Thunderbolts from the 348th FG head out from Eagle Farm. Note that they are carrying two 165 gallon drop tanks designed for the P-38.
As the 348th settled into temporary quarters, Kenney went to work on increasing the range of the potent new fighter. He set his engineering staff to work designing a suitable external drop tank. Once the design was finalized, Kenney contracted with Ford of Australia to manufacture the tanks. By middle August, the first tanks arrived and were fitted to the Thunderbolts. The tanks were big and ugly, but they held 200 gallons of fuel, which nearly doubled the P-47's combat radius. Now able to range out further than the P-40E, the Jug could now reach out to the Japanese where previously no single engine fighter could go.
After some time for orientation, the 348th went operational. Lt.Col. Neel Kearby commanded the Group and led them into combat. Kearby understood the tactical advantages of the P-47. He knew that the Japanese had no aircraft that could counter the Thunderbolt's combination of speed, high altitude performance, firepower, and ruggedness. Using these attributes to their best advantage, the 348th tore a swath through the Japanese while suffering minimal losses to the enemy fighters. Kearby was able to gain his first victory against the Japanese on September 4th and added a second on the 15th. On October 11th, 1943, Kearby would fly a mission that would eventually earn him the Medal of Honor.
Leading three other P-47's on a reconnaissance mission near Wewak, Kearby spotted a formation of Japanese aircraft far below his own cruising altitude of 26,000 feet. Kearby and his flight counted at least 12 bombers and an estimated 36 fighters as escort. Ignoring the lopsided odds, Kearby led the Thunderbolts down at high speed. Tearing into the Japanese formation, Kearby quickly splashed three of the escort while Captains Dunham and Moore each blasted a Ki-61 Tony into oblivion. Using his speed to zoom back up to 20,000 feet, Kearby planned on gathering his flight for another high-speed pass. However, he spotted one of his flight with a pair of Tonys nipping at his tail. Rolling into a dive, Kearby came roaring down well in excess of 400 mph. In one pass, both Japanese fighters were fatally hit. Continuing right on by, Kearby ripped into yet another gaggle of Tonys. One of these went down on fire. A second was likely shot down as well. Unfortunately for Kearby, his gun camera had run out of film and he could only claim the last Tony as a probable.
Kearby then assembled his flight and diverted to an emergency airfield. After landing, it was discovered that the four Thunderbolts had less than 300 gallons of fuel remaining between them.
With six confirmed kills and a probable, Kearby had set an Army Air Force record for the most victories during a single sortie. General Kenney quickly recommended Kearby for the Medal of Honor. General MacArthur signed the recommendation and forwarded it through channels. During the first week of January 1944, MacArthur personally presented Kearby with the nation's highest
In this well circulated publicity photo, John Wayne, an actor who played a fighter pilot in the movies, meets the real McCoy in the person of Neel Kearby.
Having taken up the goal of being the highest scoring ace in the Pacific, by March 5th, Kearby and Dick Bong were tied with 21 victories each. That day Kearby would lead his flight in a diving attack on a large formation of Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Oscar) fighters. Smacking down one of the Oscars on his first pass, Kearby's aggressiveness would lead him to violate a cardinal rule of aerial fighting in the Pacific: Never engage in a low-speed turning fight with the agile Japanese fighters. Kearby hauled around in a punishing turn, trying to work his way onto the tail of another Hayabusa. That was a mistake. Virtually nothing could turn with the Ki-43 at speeds below 200 mph. Quickly three of the Japanese fighters had slipped in behind the slow-moving P-47. Seeing Kearby's immediate peril, two members of his flight bounded into the Oscars. Maj. Blair and Captain Dunham each shot an Oscar off of Kearby's tail. The third Oscar managed to get a burst into the cockpit of Kearby's Thunderbolt. The P-47 went straight into the jungle below. There was no parachute seen. Kearby's killer had little time to celebrate his victory. Dunham exploded his Hayabusa seconds later. Dunham would finish the war with 16 confirmed kills. Kearby's own aggressive nature was directly responsible for his untimely death and ended his challenge to Bong. Kearby's total ended at 22. Bong would go on to be the leading American ace with 40 confirmed victories while flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning with the much feared 49th Fighter Group, which would also fly the P-47 for several months.
As Kenney had expected, the Thunderbolt was proving to be a remarkably effective fighter against the Japanese. Unable to get any P-38's due to the demand in the ETO, Kenney was able to acquire additional Thunderbolts to replace the worn out P-38's being flown by the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group.
The 49th flew a composite of fighters. The 7th and 8th squadrons flew a mixture of Curtiss P-40E's and P-40K's, with some newer P-40N aircraft arriving in October of 1943. The 9th transitioned from the overachieving P-40 to the P-38 in October of 1942. General Kenney handed the Lightnings to the 9th after practically stealing them from the 17th Fighter Squadron. By the fall of 1943, the 9th had pretty much used up the remaining Lockheeds. They needed to be replaced with new aircraft. However, since the P-38 was not available, Kenney decided to transition the "Flying Knights" of the 9th FS into the P-47D-5-RE.
The war weary P-38s of the 9th FS sit lined up. Note the odd looking pipe installed on the turbocharger on the fighter in the foreground. This field modification provided additional "ram air".
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets. ✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Empty Wgt5,624 lb
Wgt Diff+2,039 lb
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Curtiss XP-46 production variant)
Installed: 1 x Allison V-1710-39 liquid-cooled inline piston engine developing 1,150 horsepower.
Max Speed355 mph
(571 kph | 308 kts)
(8,534 m | 5 mi)
(523 km | 969 nm)
♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic:
(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base Curtiss XP-46 production variant. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database. View aircraft by powerplant type)
8 x 7.62mm machine guns in wings
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in nose
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
XP-46A - S/N 40-3054; second prototype (flyable); no armament fitted.
"PA-46" redirects here. PA-46 may also refer to Pennsylvania Route 46.
Single engine general aviation aircraft family
|PA-46-500TP Malibu Meridian|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||30 November 1979|
The Piper PA-46 Malibu and Matrix are a family of American light aircraft manufactured by Piper Aircraft of Vero Beach, Florida. The aircraft is powered by a single engine and has the capacity for one pilot and five passengers. Early Malibus were all piston-engined, but a turboprop version, introduced as the Malibu Meridian but now called the M500, is also available. Currently, Piper offers the M350, M500, and M600 in the PA-46 family.
The PA-46 was the third single-engined piston aircraft with a pressurized cabin to reach the market, after the Mooney M22 and Cessna P210 Centurion, and the only one still in production.
Work on the PA-46 began in the late 1970s, with a prototype (the PA-46-300T) first flying on November 30, 1979. The type was announced in November 1982, apparently to compete with Cessna's newest creation of the era, the P210 Centurion. Like the Centurion, the Malibu was to feature cabin pressurization 5.5 psi (380 hPa), a feature not included on the prototype.
The first example of the initial production version flew in August 1982, and FAA certification was obtained in September 1983. Deliveries started two months later. 404 aircraft with Continental TSIO-520 engines were built before this model was replaced in production by the PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage.
The PA-46-310P is powered by a Continental TSIO-520BE engine rated at 310 hp (230 kW). The PA-46-310P has lower fuel consumption, greater range, and the ability to cruise at "lean-of-peak." The PA-46-310P has a maximum cruising range of 1,550 nmi (2,870 km) (with reserves), while the PA-46-350P initially had a maximum cruising range of only 1,055 nautical miles (1,954 km), although this is now increased to 1,345 nautical miles (2,491 km).
The PA-46-310P Malibu has set several world speed records: Seattle to New York set November 23, 1987 at 259.27 mph (417 km/h); Detroit to Washington, DC set January 4, 1989 at 395.96 mph (637 km/h); and Chicago to Toronto set on January 8, 1989 at 439.13 mph (707 km/h). All three records were set by Steve Stout in his 1986 Malibu N9114B.
The Continental TSIO-520-BE powered Malibu was discontinued in 1988 following a series of incidents and accidents attributed to engine failures. One such accident resulted in a settlement in which Teledyne Continental Motors paid $32,125,000 to a pilot injured in the crash of a Malibu.
PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage
Production of the Malibu Mirage commenced in October 1988 for the 1989 model year. New features included a more powerful Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A 350 hp (260 kW) engine and a new wing. Various changes have occurred over the model years. Earlier models had an all-King panel and later this became largely Garmin, the Garmin G1000glass cockpit is now standard.
In 1995, the pilot's windshield became a glass assembly (earlier it had been acrylic glass with a heat strip overlay). In 1996, numerous switches were moved to an overhead console. In 1999, the Mirage gained the strengthened wing designed for the turboprop Meridian.
PA-46-500TP Malibu Meridian
In 1997, Piper announced its intention to market a turboprop-powered version of the Malibu, and flew a prototype the following year powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42A of 500 shp (370 kW). Certification was achieved in September 2000 and deliveries began in November that year. Changes made to allow for turboprop power include larger wings and tail surfaces. In 2009, Piper began offering the Meridian with a three-screen version of the Garmin G1000 including the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot as a replacement for the Avidyne Entegra system.
Piper added wing root filets to increase wing area and 342 lb (155 kg) of fuel capacity, a larger tailplane and reinforced wing spar and landing gear to raise MTOW to 4,850 lb (2,200 kg) then 5,092 lb (2,310 kg) from 2003. For a 1,000 nmi (1,900 km) trip, block fuel is 985 lb (447 kg) at 233 kn (432 km/h) block speed, while its maximum cruise speed is 260 kn (480 km/h).
Piper Aircraft no longer refers to their top-of-the-line aircraft with the names Malibu, Malibu Mirage or Malibu Meridian. The PA-46 line of aircraft, as of 2015, is now referred to as the Piper M-Class. The M350, M500 and the newest M600 make up the entire M-Class line. The models range in price from the M350 at $1.478 million, to $2.3 million for the M500, to the flagship M600 whose pricing starts at over $3.3 million.
The M350 is an updated version of the Mirage. The M350 is fitted with the same 350 hp (261 kW) turbocharged Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A engine and Hartzell three-bladed propeller as the Mirage. Improvements over the Mirage are an Ametek digital fuel quantity system and an improved Garmin G1000 NXi flight system. The new Garmin system has envelope-protection and anti-hypoxia tools. It will initiate an emergency descent in the case that the pilot becomes incapacitated as a result of hypoxia. The M350 is capable of cruising at 213 kn (394 km/h) with a range of 1,343 nmi (2,487 km). The plane has a service ceiling of 25,000 ft (7,620 m). No wind, standard day gross weight takeoff is achieved in 1,087 ft (331 m) and landing in 1,020 ft (311 m).
The M500 is an updated version of the Meridian. It also has the updated Garmin G1000 NXi flight system, like the M350. The G1000 NXi system includes an automatic wings-level function and control override to prevent exceeding the plane's flight envelope. Its purpose is to maintain a safe, stable flight condition in the case of pilot disorientation or incapacitation. The safety feature is called Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP). The M500 also has ADS-B, but no FADEC. The M500's fuel tanks can carry 170 US gal (644 l) and its Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A engine burns 37 US gal/h (140 l/h). It is a light plane with a maximum ramp weight of 5,135 lb (2,329 kg) and 5,092 lb (2,310 kg) MTOW. It cruises at 260 kn (482 km/h) at an altitude of 30,000 ft (9,144 m). The M500, at a price of $2.26M  has few competitors, including the cheaper sister-ship, Piper M350, the $2.3M Cirrus Vision SF50, the $3M Epic E1000 and the $3M Eclipse 550.
In 2015, Piper introduced the M600, as an upgrade to the M500. The M600 has 600 hp (447 kW) and a price tag of $2.82 million. The new M600 is equipped with the Garmin G3000, a new wing and more fuel capacity. The aircraft is more capable than the M500, as the M600 has greater range and a slightly higher top speed. It has anti-hypoxia tools like in the M350.
It received its FAA certification on June 18, 2016. Its NBAA Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) range is 1,484 nmi (2,748 km), up from 1,000 nmi (1,852 km) for the M500, and maximum cruise speed is 274 kn (507 km/h; 315 mph), up from the M500's 260 kn (480 km/h; 300 mph). The M600's MTOW is 6,000 lb (2,700 kg), up from the M500's 5,092 lb (2,310 kg), with a 260 US gal (980 L) fuel capacity, greater than the M500's 170 US gal (640 L). The M600's standard equipped weight is 200 lb (91 kg) higher than the M500's. Full-fuel payload for the M600 is 645 lb (293 kg) compared to 550 lb (250 kg) for the M500.
Between June 2016 and March 2018, 50 have been delivered, mostly in the U.S. and mostly are owner-flown. It offers nearly the range of the TBM 900 for much less cost, and can operate from shorter runways than very light jets like the Eclipse 500 or the Citation Mustang. It burns 350 lb (160 kg) (56.3 usgal/hr) in the first hour, 300 lb (140 kg) (50 usgal/hr) the second hour and 200 lb (91 kg) thereafter, averaging 270 lb/hr (45 US gal (170 l)) per hour, while $125–130 per hour has to be budgeted for the 1,800 h engine midlife inspection before the $150,000–200,000 3,600 h overhaul.
Starting in 2020, Piper will offer an emergency autoland system by Garmin, which initiates at the push of a button. Built into the G3000 integrated avionics for the new SLS model, the system will be a first in general aviation, along with the Cirrus Vision Jet. Piper calls the technology "HALO". Offered for $170,000 including extra equipment, it provides access to more than 9,000 runways over 4,500 ft (1,400 m).
In October 2007 Piper announced the Matrix, an unpressurized version of the Mirage. The new model has been designated as the PA-46R-350T, indicating retractable landing gear, 350 horsepower (260 kW), and turbocharging.
Piper Aircraft is marketing the Matrix as a cabin-class aircraft for Cirrus SR-22 and Cessna 400 owners to step up to.
Standard equipment on the Matrix includes a built-in oxygen system, Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit, S-Tec 55X autopilot and air conditioning.
Major options on the Matrix are a de-ice system, an "Enhanced Situational Awareness Package", speed brakes, an avionics package featuring the Avidyne TAS610 dual antenna traffic advisory system, GWX-68 Weather Radar, and, beginning in 2010, the Garmin G1000 avionics system with twin 10" PFD's and a 15" MFD.
The Matrix's powerplant is a turbocharged Lycoming TI0-540-AE2A producing 350 hp (260 kW). The aircraft's performance includes a cruise speed of 215 knots (398 km/h) at 25,000 feet (7,600 m), 215 knots (398 km/h) at 17,500 feet (5,300 m) and 188 knots (348 km/h) at 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Maximum takeoff weight is 4,340 lb (1,969 kg) and an empty weight of 2,937 lb (1,332 kg) giving a standard useful load of 1,421 lb (645 kg)).
Matrix deliveries began in early 2008.
The JetPROP is an aftermarket turbine engine conversion for the PA-46-310P Malibu and PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage offered by Rocket Engineering of Spokane, WA. Originally certified in 1998 as the JetPROP DLX with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 engine, conversions 90 and above used the P&W PT6A-35, after the -34 was discontinued. A lower cost JetPROP DL version became available in October 2003 utilizing the P&W PT6A-21. As of September 2008, 233 JetPROP conversions had been delivered. Twenty percent of the entire PA-46 fleet have been converted.
ZeroAvia, a Cranfield University partner, is a U.S./UK startup developing a Hydrogen fuel cell power train targeting to halve a turbine operating costs. It flight-tests a pair of 130 kW (170 hp) electric motors replacing the piston engine of a Piper Malibu Mirage in California. In September 2019, the UK government granted £2.7 million ($3.3 million) for its HyFlyer demonstrator, culminating in a 250–300 nmi (460–560 km) flight using hydrogen fuel cells. Other partners, including the Orkney Isles-based EMEC, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, and fuel-cell developer Intelligent Energy should match this funding. The prototype made its maiden hydrogen-powered flight at Cranfield Airport on September 24, 2020.
|Model / Year||2002||2003||2004||2005||2006||2007||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||Totals|
Accidents and incidents
As of January 2019[update], 225 accidents had been reported in the Aviation Safety Network wiki database, including 106 hull losses, causing 219 fatalities. Hull losses represent 9% of the 1177 PA-46s produced from 2002 through 2017.
On 21 January 2019, a PA-46-310P travelling from Nantes Atlantique Airport, France, to Cardiff Airport, Wales, crashed into the water off Alderney, Channel Islands, while carrying Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala, who had been signed by Cardiff City from FC Nantes two days earlier. The plane's wreckage was discovered on the seabed of the English Channel on 3 February 2019. Sala was confirmed dead on 7 February.
|Cabin Volume||201 cu ft (5.7 m3)|
|Pressurization||0||5.6 psi (390 hPa)|
|Wingspan||43.0 ft / 13.11 m||43.16 ft / 13.15 m|
|Length||28.11 ft / 8.6 m||29.6 ft / 9.02 m||29.7 ft / 9.05 m|
|Height||11.3 ft / 3.44 m|
|MTOW||4,340 lb / 1,969 kg||5,092 lb / 2,310 kg||6,000 lb / 2,721 kg|
|OEW||3,003 lb / 1,362 kg||3,050 lb / 1,383 kg||3,436 lb / 1,559 kg||3,650 lb / 1,656 kg|
|Fuel Capacity||120 USgal / 454 L||170 USgal / 644 L||260 USgal / 984 L|
|Constant-speed propeller||3 blade||4 blade feathering, reversible|
|Engine||Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A||Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A|
|Power||350 hp (260 kW)||500 hp (370 kW)||600 hp (450 kW)|
|Maximum cruise||213 kt / 395 km/h||260 ktas / 482 km/h||274 ktas / 507 km/h|
|Ceiling||25,000 ft / 7,620 m||30,000 ft / 9,144 m|
|Range (45 minute reserve)||1,343 nm / 2,487 km||1,000 nm / 1,852 km||1,484 nm / 2,668 km|
|Takeoff (50 ft obstacle)||2,090 ft / 637 m||2,438 ft / 743 m||2,635 ft / 803 m|
|Landing (50 ft obstacle)||1968 ft / 600 m||2,110 ft / 643 m||2,659 ft / 810 m|
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- ^Federal Aviation Administration (October 2010). "Type Certificate Data Sheet No. A25SO"(PDF). Retrieved 14 March 2011.
- ^"Piper Launches New M600 and M350 Models". April 2015. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
- ^Goyer, Robert (August 4, 2011). "Piper Malibu: A New Airplane for a New Day". Flying. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
- ^"Piper PA-46 Light Sport Aircraft". Aerospace technology. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
- ^"Aircraft Information: Piper PA-46 Malibu/Malibu Mirage". Airliners.net.
- ^"Magazine"(PDF). Malibu/Mirage Owners & Pilots Association. May 1992. pp. 10–11.
- ^"$32,125,000 Settlement - O'Reilly Collins - Nationwide Personal Injury Lawyers". 27 September 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-27. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
- ^Fred George (Apr 22, 2019). "Piper Meridian: Cheapest High-Performance Single-Engine Turboprop"(PDF). Business & Commercial Aviation. p. 66. Lay summary.
- ^"Purchase planning handbook - pistons table". Business & Commercial Aircraft. Second Quarter 2021.
- ^"Purchase planning handbook - turboprops table". Business & Commercial Aircraft. Second Quarter 2021.
- ^"Piper Launches Three New M-Class Models, Including a New Turboprop". avweb.com. Aviation Publishing Group. 13 April 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
- ^"Specs & Performance – Piper". Piper.com. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
- ^"Piper Launches M600 and M350". Flyingmag.com. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
- ^"New Meridian: Piper updates pressurized turbine single". AOPA. January 27, 2015.
- ^Robert Goyer (6 April 2015). "We Fly: Piper Meridian M500". Flying.
- ^"Piper Launches Latest M500 Product With The Latest In Garmin Avionics". Piper. January 28, 2015.
- ^"Piper Meridian M500 Versus the World: Comparison Specs". Flying. April 10, 2015.
- ^Whitfield, Bethany (14 April 2015). "Piper Launches M600 and M350". Flying.
- ^"Video: Piper's New M600 Shows at Sun 'n Fun". avweb. April 21, 2015.
- ^Matt Thurber (June 20, 2016). "Piper M600 Receives FAA Certification". Aviation International News.
- ^Fred George (Mar 23, 2018). "Piper M600: Sweet Spot On The Price Vs. Performance Curve". Business & Commercial Aviation.
- ^Anglisano, Larry (30 October 2019). "Garmin's New Emergency Autoland". AVweb.
- ^"Piper Announces New M600 SLS". Piper. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
- ^Fred George (Oct 30, 2019). "Flying Garmin's New Emergency Autoland". Business & Commercial Aviation.
- ^ abRobert Goyer: "Piper Matrix" Flying March 2008, page 56. Hachette Filipacchi Media USA Inc.
- ^ abcdeFlying Editors: "Matrix: Cabin-Class Comfort for Less" Flying. January 2008, page 19. Hachette Filipacchi Media USA Inc.
- ^ abPiper Aircraft (n.d.). "Matrix Price & Standard Equipment". Archived from the original on 2007-12-13. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
- ^JetPROP, LLC (2008). "About JetPROP". Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- ^Tony Osborne (Sep 30, 2019). "The Week In Technology, Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 2019". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- ^Broadbent, Mark (November 2020). "ZeroAvia's historic hydrogen flight". Air International. Vol. 99 no. 5. p. 7. ISSN 0306-5634.
- ^"General aviation statistical databook & 2016 industry outlook"(PDF). General aviation manufacturers association. 2016. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2016-08-07.
- ^"General Aviation Shipment Report 2016"(PDF). GAMA. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
- ^"General Aviation Shipment Report 2017"(PDF). GAMA. Archived from the original(PDF) on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
- ^"Database results: PA46". Aviation Safety Network. 22 January 2019.
- ^"ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 220997". Aviation Safety Network. 21 Jan 2019.
- ^"Emiliano Sala: Missing Premier League footballer's plane found". MSN. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
- ^"Emiliano Sala: Body identified as footballer". BBC. 7 February 2019.
- ^"Matrix Specifications & performance". Piper.
- ^"M350 Specifications & performance". Piper.
- ^"M500 Specifications & performance". Piper.
- ^"M600 Specifications & performance". Piper.
Recently, I purchased a 2001 Piper Meridian for use in my business. After going through the aircraft selection and purchase transaction, I can say with total confidence that using Malibu Aerospace was the best decision I made in the process. Chad Menne and the team at Malibu Aerospace are the P46/PA46 type specialists. They not only fix these planes, they fly them. A lot. And that’s a big difference when compared to your local mechanic or even the Piper service center staffed with non-pilot A&P/IAs.
Malibu Aerospace knows every blade, linkage, wire, rivet, nut, bolt and pixel on the P46 airframe. This is not an accident. It is because they do 80+ annual inspections a year on them, most with a test flight before and/or after! They know the air-frame “cold”, not only by model year and serial number, but by heart, instantly, from memory. Just ask a question and you get an immediate, unqualified, accurate response from the type experts. This deep pool of specialty knowledge comes only from years of experience working on these airplanes, and a professional passion for the highest quality work standards throughout. To the customer, this saves significant labor time because you do not pay your local mechanic to learn the intricacies of your specialized P46 airframe at your expense with hourly billing. Most importantly, it adds an immeasurable margin of safety because the Malibu Aerospace team draws on extensive field experience to communicate what has been problematic in the fleet from plane-to-plane, model-to-model, or year-to-year as it applies to your particular plane.
The Piper maintenance manual says one thing and most A&Ps can read it. The Malibu Aerospace team goes above and beyond. They follow the manual and know how to “fix it”, but they also know from experience what the fleet service history has been, what typically goes wrong on which planes, what the warning signs are, what the alternative costs are, what the best trade-offs are considering solutions they have seen and implemented in the past, and very importantly, what actions are most likely to avoid future related problems on any given issue. Going through the pre-purchase inspection with Malibu Aerospace revealed a handful of potential issues that another very well-respected Piper maintenance shop failed to identify for the previous owner on my plane.
Many of these were small issues that should have been corrected. But two were potentially serious problems that left me wondering why anyone would even bother with a non-type specialist shop. Since the inspection at Malibu Aerospace, the plane has performed flawlessly. Yes, it was inconvenient to ferry the plane to Minneapolis (KANE) for the pre-buy. But it paid a return-on-investment ten-times the ferry cost in the form of a quality job and the added safety margin I know I received from the work done by Malibu Aerospace. The team’s responsiveness and flexibility to ferry the plane for me were also the best I have experienced in 15 years of flying, and made the process relatively painless. After the excellent experience, I can say that I will not take my plane anywhere else for the annual inspection. I highly recommend this shop to current and would-be PA46/P46 owners.
– RW Curtis, N801WASours: https://www.malibuaerospace.com/testimonials
1941 prototype fighter aircraft
The Curtiss XP-46 was a 1940s United Statesprototypefighter aircraft. It was a development of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in an effort to introduce the best features found in European fighter aircraft in 1939 into a fighter aircraft which could succeed the Curtiss P-40, then in production.
Design and development
A United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) specification based upon a Curtiss proposal was the basis for an order placed in September 1939 for the XP-46. The requirements called for a single-engine, low-wing aircraft, slightly smaller than the P-40, and with a wide-track, inward-retracting landing gear. The selected powerplant was a 1,150 hp (858 kW) Allison V-1710-39 V-12 engine. The planned armament included two .50 in (12.7 mm) synchronized machine guns in the forward fuselage and provisions for eight .30 in (7.62 mm) wing-mounted guns. The USAAC later added requirements for self-sealing fuel tanks and 65 lb (29 kg) of armor, the weights of which were to adversely affect performance.
In 1940 the British Purchasing Commission placed an order for the P-46 as a replacement for the P-40, the name 'Kittyhawk' being allocated by the Air Ministry in anticipation of receiving the aircraft.
However, the USAAC asked Curtiss in July 1940 – while the XP-46 prototypes were under construction – to prioritize an upgraded P-40, featuring the engine intended for the XP-46. This would also avoid disruptions to the production line caused by any switch to a new airframe. The British order for the P-46 was later cancelled, and the 'Kittyhawk' name subsequently applied to the upgraded P-40.
Two prototypes, designated XP-46A, were nevertheless delivered to the USAAC; the first flight occurred on 15 February 1941. The type's performance during trials was found to be inferior to the then-contemporary P-40D. As the P-46 offered no significant improvement on the P-40, the program was cancelled.
A myth claims that work on the XP-46 was the basis of the North American NA-73X – the prototype P-51 Mustang. While North American Aviation (NAA) purchased technical aerodynamic data on the P-40 and XP-46 from Curtiss for $56,000, and there are certain design similarities in the radiator/oil-cooler configuration of the two types, North American had already made significant progress on its design.
Specifications (Curtiss XP-46A)
Data from Curtiss Aircraft 1907–1947
- Crew: 1
- Length: 30 ft 2 in (9.19 m)
- Wingspan: 34 ft 3.75 in (10.4585 m)
- Height: 10 ft 1 in (3.07 m)
- Wing area: 208 sq ft (19.3 m2)
- Airfoil:root:NACA 23016.5; tip:NACA 23009
- Empty weight: 5,625 lb (2,551 kg)
- Gross weight: 7,665 lb (3,477 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Allison V-1710-39 V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine, 1,150 hp (860 kW)
- Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propeller
- Maximum speed: 355 mph (571 km/h, 308 kn) at 12,200 ft (3,700 m)
- Range: 325 mi (523 km, 282 nmi)
- Time to altitude: 12,300 ft (3,700 m) in 5 minutes
- 2 × 0.50 in (13 mm) synchronized machine guns in the forward fuselage
- Provision for 8 × 0.30 in (7.6 mm) wing-mounted guns
- ^ abEngel, Leonard. "Half of Everything: An American's Survey of Orders Placed in the United States."Flight, 5 December 1940, p. 472.
- ^https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1941/1941%20-%201120.html[dead link]
- ^Berliner 2011, p. 18.
- ^Baugher, Joe. "North American NA-73."USAAC/USAAF/USAF Fighter and Pursuit Aircraft: North American P-51 Mustang, 29 August 1999. Retrieved: 10 August 2010.
- ^Note: The British Air Ministry insisted NAA purchase the Curtiss data as in 1940 the former company had no experience of high speed flight, its previous fastest design being the Harvard trainer. The data was insisted upon so that NAA had aerodynamic data at high subsonic Mach numbers of an existing high speed fighter as guidance during the design of the NA-73.
- ^Bowers, Peter M. (1979). Curtiss aircraft, 1907-1947. London: Putnam. pp. 435–436. ISBN .
- ^Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". m-selig.ae.illinois.edu. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
- Berliner, Don. Surviving Fighter Aircraft of World War Two: Fighters. London: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2011. ISBN 978-1-8488-4265-6.
- Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft, 1907-1947. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-370-10029-8.
- Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Four: Fighters. London: MacDonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (Sixth impression 1969). ISBN 0-356-01448-7.
- Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: US Army Air Force Fighters, Part 1. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-356-08218-0.
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