Republic P-47M Thunderbolt

475 mph.  That is highest maximum level speed recorded by any American combat aircraft in World War II.

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Obviously a Mustang, right?  Or maybe a Bearcat if we stretch the definition of World War II combat types?

I’m guessing you all can deduce from the pictures that was actually a Thunderbolt.

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In the ongoing effort to get the most from its basic design, Republic pulled three P-47D models from the production line and put the latest version of Pratt & Whitney’s R-2800 engine on them. They tagged this new sub-type a XP-47M. Actually, they did this to four sequential airframes, but one of them was further modified into the XP-47N.  We’ll save that story for another day.
The particular engine used was the R-2800 -14W/-57, also known as the “C Series”.  This was paired to a new CH-5 turbosupercharger and given water boost.  That is a lot of mumbo jumbo and I don’t honestly know what all distinguishes different versions of the engine, just note that horsepower and reliability were typically improved over the life of any engine.  MOST World War II era aircraft had mechanical supercharging, exhaust driven turbocharging, or both.  An engine with neither is called “normally aspirated” and often works fine on the ground, but performance will drop off quickly as the air thins above 10000 feet.  The turbo or super charging increases pressure and airflow through the engine.  It is often seen with multiple speeds or stages, that got increasingly more sophisticated as the War went on.  The better an aircraft’s performance is at a range altitudes allows it to better set the terms of combat.  Especially if you can always get above the other guy and have good speed while doing it.  The best high altitude types usually had both types (turbo- and super-) like the Thunderbolt.
The water boost appeared on several late War variants of the R-2800 engine. It could, for 5 minutes or so, cool the cylinder heads to allow denser air into the piston and increase combustion power.  This works until the water reservoir heats up to the point its no longer cooling.
At maximum boost this engine put out one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement.  That’s 2800 horsepower.  That’s a lot.

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Loaded for maximum range.  If that massive engine is used for lifting fuel, the Thunderbolt has about the same range as a Mustang.  But uh, that’s with about twice the fuel…

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I think this angle emphasizes the type’s slim body!

The P-47M originally had only a single hard point under the belly to keep it light and sleek (errr, well, for a Thunderbolt).  But it was quickly determined more would be needed both for extra fuel and ordinance, so underwing pylons were usually added.  Only 130 of these ultimate hot rod Thunderbolts were built for the exclusive use of the 56th Fighter Group; it had already been decided they would be the only Thunderbolt group still tasked with air-to-air missions in the last months of the European air war.

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In two years of combat the Thunderbolt was developed quite a bit.

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Officially the three squadrons of the 56th Fighter Group were differentiated by the rudder color.  Red for the 61st Fighter Squadron, yellow for the 62nd FS and blue for the 63rd FS.  Unofficially, each squadron carried its distinct “camouflage”  scheme from June 1944 to the end of the War.

Unfortunately, when the P-47M was first delivered in January of 1945 it had serious problems.  This mostly meant engine failures.  After several frustrating weeks, including the dreaded consideration that the 56th might convert to Mustangs (!), the problems were finally traced to the ignition harness.  This did require new hardware on every single “M”, but in the end the Group flew this very fast mount for the last months of the European War.

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Thunderbolt is clearly bigger than its common adversaries.  It was also more powerful, and at high altitude completely dominant.

This particular plane was with the 56th Fighter Group, 63rd Fighter Squadron.  It was flown by Lt PG Kuhn who had one kill in the air, four on the ground.  By 8th Air Force rules that made him an ace.

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Lt Kuhn in Fireball. (USAAF photo)

This is the Tamiya kit with Aeromaster decals.  This was also my second try with Alclad metallic paint, and I would say I was much happier this second time around.  I still have some learning to do!  But I’m more confident I can hide my mistakes this time around and feel less need to explain myself.  So hey, that’s progress!

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But there was at least one German type that wasn’t so easy to catch.  At least in the air; extensive fighter sweeps ahead of the bombers and after the bombers proved very effective.  The 56th FG in particular excelled at this.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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30 Responses to Republic P-47M Thunderbolt

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Some beautifully intricate painting there, not least the Bf 109, looking very sinister in grey and black.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I got the same kit last year at a good price on Amazon. I am glad I did buy it when it was available and global shipping was not a problem. I got a look at my stash yesterday and I felt a bit overwhelmed by all that I have collected and added to my stash since last year.

    • atcDave says:

      No doubt the “stash” is intimidating for many of us. And a source of some annoyance to the spouse!

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        I keep the stash out of sight as much as possible. However I know it’s still there. Intimidating is the right word.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    By the way… great article and interesting info about the turbocharger.

  4. Jeff Groves says:

    The Thunderbolt deserved more credit than it got. It would have made a vastly superior platform for ground attack in Korea than the Mustang.

    • atcDave says:

      Yes! I agree exactly. The Thunderbolt put some serious hurt on the Luftwaffe.

      As I understand, the Mustang was chosen for Korea because the parts supply was deeper. But no doubt, the Thunderbolt would have been better suited for the work it did.

  5. A great model and an interesting explanation of the the turbo / super charger. You would be hard pushed to say it was the fastest in level flight!

    • atcDave says:

      I think I qualified it enough? American, combat type. Certainly British and German had types as fast (Tempest) or faster (Me 163, Me 262). Some experimental types were clearly faster. And of course several air racers derived from WWII types.
      For American types though I think only the P-80 could actually beat it, and that hadn’t progressed past service test by the end of the War. Maybe a P-51H? But again, no actual combat.

      • You certainly did qualify it Dave, when thinking of the fastest US Combat types, the P-47 doesn’t always come to mind as the top. Most would perhaps go for the P-51. The sheer size and Weight of the P-47 would put many off even considering it.

      • atcDave says:

        Oh yeah! I expected it wouldn’t be anyone’s first guess!

      • Tobias says:

        P-51H? WW2? No.
        The P-47M was the fastest. Not sure why there is any confusion? Some uneducated people looking at it and don´t believing that ebast can be fast? Well, that is on you…

  6. Ernie Davis says:

    I know I’ve said this before, but there are certain planes, notably the Mustang and Spitfire in my opinion, that look exactly like what they are. The P47 has some of that, in that it looks like a flying tank to an extend, so no, most people would guess Mustangs, Spitfires, even Lightnings before the Thunderbolt.

  7. Kevin says:

    This post is, obviously, a bit late for the above topic… but, I just came across your forum and would enjoy adding a humorous anecdote, if I may. Many years ago, I had heard of a little saying that may have circulated among a few fighter pilots in WW II… it was something along the lines of: if you wanna send a pic back home to your girl, pose with a P-51, (like the Spitfire, it’s a beautiful aircraft). However, if you wanna see your girl again, fly a Thunderbolt! Taking nothing away from the Mustang, only echoing that the Thunderbolt was truly one bad hombre!

    • atcDave says:

      That’s awesome! I think there’s no doubt a Thunderbolt could take a hit better.

      • Kevin says:

        Agreed! It would have faired far better, given the harsh combat theater of Korea, more so as compared to the liquid cooled Mustang… again, just pointing out that radial engine equipped Corsairs, and Skyraiders, of the USN/ USMC were, among other types, the [early] go to veterans. Of course, much of that may be attributed to what was available at the time, as well as the rapidly expanding world of combat aircraft development during the late 1940s and early 50s… the times were a changing. Love those big round engines… Cheers!

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I think there’s no doubt the Thunderbolt would have faired better than the Mustang in Korea. I’ve read it was purely a matter of availability and supply issues that led to the Mustang being there (it still had a better parts inventory).

      • Kevin says:

        Again, I agree! By the way, great looking models, very nice work… a job well done! Thank you for sharing, and for the forum opportunity… please, continue the Airplane talk, (P-47s)! All the best!

      • atcDave says:

        Thank you for all that. I do love the chance to chat, especially with those who are as interested in the subject as I am!

    • Tobias Björkman says:

      Yeah. You can “take away” from the mustangs since they actually stole quite a alot of the glory from the P-47s.. The P-47s were still the most numerous fighter when the Luftwaffe was dealt with during the last moths of -43 and into the berlin campaign in Feb-Mar -44.
      And you did not see any P-51Ds until may-june -44 (when the bubbletop P-47s arrived as well).
      The P-47 did the hard work crushing the luftwaffe for the normandy invasion – the most crucial part and when they still had alot of veterans. The P-47s sorted that….

      And you will be very hard pressed to find any ex-P-47 pilot who went on to fly P-51B/C/Ds – that say anything negative about the p-47… It was about the range and a greater chance to see enemy fighters. And even that is pushing it since if the P-47 had been given the extra tanks they actually could have used (since they existed), earlier, they could have done alot of that too. They could have gone on the Regensburg and Schweinfurt missions all the way, had the 8th AF top dudes given them the tanks.. Which they did not..
      The P-47s could fly to Berlin, and they did. They just guzzled more fuel..

      But for the top brass there was one more thing. You get three P-51Ds for the price of 2 P-47s….
      That is it. The P-51D was absolutely not better. They were in fact very similar in speed and maneouvreability. VERY close. But the P-47 was much tougher and had both more firepower and ammo while the P-51 was more fuel efficient.

      But look around for those negative comments about P-47s by ex-pilots of it, flying P-51s.. You won´t find many, if any….

      • atcDave says:

        Don Blakeslee and the whole 4th Fighter Group might disagree! They were pretty shameless Mustang fan boys.
        No doubt though the Thunderbolt was more rugged, more survivable when damaged. The Mustang did have a slightly better critical Mach number thanks to its laminar flow wing. But I think you’re exactly right that the cost issue was the main reason Mustangs were “preferred” by officialdom. I’ve also mentioned several times here that the Thunderbolt was the plane that truly broke the Luftwaffe, the Mustang just cleaned out the scraps.
        Certainly for the Korean War, doing close support, the Thunderbolt would have been a far better choice than the Mustang.

      • Kevin Kennedy says:

        There’s no disagreement here… if it were me, I (personally) would rather have been assigned to P-47s, over P-51s, because of the reasons already shared… that, and I’m a huge Thunderbolt, and BIG round engine (R2800) fan! My personal favorite, is the Pacific’s P-47N, which was purposely designed to have the “long legs” necessary for escort duty (B-29s) in the Pacific, instead of Europe, which was
        (wholly) a different type of combat theater.

        I believe that crews, whether they be ground, or air, (for the most part), took great pride in whatever weapons platform they were assigned, and boasted that they had, or were, the best…. which was good! Just depends on where you ended up, as well as the (very rapid) changes that were being made in combat aviation, mid to late war time… advances were being made at a lightnings pace, by just about ALL players involved in the war… As for stealing “glory”… thats just the way it was back then… may not be fair, but back then,, reporters and journalists may not have had opportunity to venture out to the airfields, as much, where the Thunderbolts were, like they did with the Mustangs. Same thing happened with the B-24 Liberator… the B-17s were just closer to where the journalists could, or did, go out into the English countryside. But, that takes NOTHING away from the Liberators accomplishments. What would the bombing campaign in the European theater have looked like without the B-24… the B-17 couldn’t, and didn’t, do it alone… It wasn’t Flying Fortresses associated with the (famous) raids on the Ploesti oilfields… No! It was just all about timing and location… take, for instance, the 9th Air Force… they wouldn’t have given up their Thunderbolts, not on your life. My take, is that the brass, the ‘in charge’ commanders who made the BIG decisions during the war understood what resources they had at their disposal and applied them accordingly, such as having an AMAZING ground attack asset in the Thunderbolt! That takes nothing way from the P-47s lethality in the air to air combat arena… she earned plenty of ‘kills’. It’s just that it was recognized, and needed, for a specific mission… doing it better than any other USAAF asset at the time. Did they ALWAYS make the right decision about it… perhaps not, but that is a whole other conversation about a whole other topic set for a different forum. As far as I’m concerned, the Thunderbolt, and all the crews/ personnel associated with her, including her design team, can hold their heads up high, and be very proud, as they did a very difficult job most effectively! Heck, even in today’s 21st Century combat world… I’d take the A-10 over just about anything else… why? Because, she may be affectionately known as the ‘Warthog’, but she’s a Thunderbolt (II) by design!

        So, I hear you, and agree with you… love for the P-47! You’re spot on and have my support, I’ll stand up and shout out the P-47s “praises” along side of you! As I mentioned before, the Thunderbolt is One Bad Hombre. OH, and also… spread some of that “love” around for the (Pacific’s ‘Thunderbolt’)… the F6F Hellcat, or the Corsair… Both HUGELY successful weapons platforms. See, gotta LOVE those BIG Round Engines! Anyways, thank you, Amigo, for the passionate response, and for your great comments… Enjoy, and all the best to you, Tobias!

        Cheers,
        Kevin

      • atcDave says:

        Some great comments there Kevin, thanks for posting all that!
        One thing you hit on I think is particularly true, most pilots and ground crew developed great affection for whichever machine they were assigned to. At least among broadly capable types. So while the P-39 had few fanboys, pilots actually did love the P-40, until about 1944 when they all wanted a Mustang, Lightning or Thunderbolt.

        I always try to sort out the actual good and bad of different designs, but it I often isn’t easy because pilot commentary is so heavily emotional.

  8. Kevin Kennedy says:

    So true… we see it in everything, in everyday life, a maturation process! Some designs (aircraft) are just horrible… won’t mention anything specific, LOL! But, we, as enthusiasts, also have the benefit of looking back on these events that took place years ago, and depending on the particular conflict of discussion(s), we have the advantage of that knowledge gained… those that lived it, experienced it and had to survive it, were most grateful for anything that gave them advantage, or a better chance of survivability.

    You do a great job, Dave, so no worries, Amigo! I enjoy this forum, and though I don’t always comment on all posts, I do see them and will definitely contribute on the ones that I’m most passionate about… example, the P-47 Thunderbolt!

    I very much enjoy every opportunity to “talk aircraft” on your page. So, all the best to you, Sir… and many thanks!

    Kevin

  9. Kevin Kennedy says:

    Amen… and, I hear you about bothering the wife, HaHa! I’ve (humorously) “annoyed” a couple of women in my lifetime, while piecing together a sizeable military aviation memorabilia collection… I’ve (literally) dragged back rather large pieces of combat aircraft to exhibit in my collection, example: a 13′ long tail off of an F-106 Delta Dart… brought that piece home on a trip back from Arizona after attending a Spring Training game, (White Sox), 15 years ago. Or, the ejection seats, canopies or anything else I’ve picked up over the past 20-25 years. But, that’s just me and what I enjoyed… the historical vintage pieces/ parts, models, art prints, autographs and so on… I guess there could be worse ways a person could carry on, LOL! So, like you were saying… yup, I’ve had opportunity to annoy the wife, but she’s a GREAT girl, very supportive, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything! So, again… thank you!

    • atcDave says:

      The F-106 tail is awesome! My wife often groans about the stacks of unbuilt models in one corner of the basement, but honestly she’s pretty supporting too. She paints and does photography so she does get the NEED for space for one’s hobbies. And she truly does tolerate it all in good humor. Even if three airshows this summer might have been testing her limits.

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