In the distance you hear a deep hum – as it gets closer, you see a gleaming aircraft appear on the horizon and suddenly you break out in goose bumps as a gleaming vintage World War II (WWII) aircraft passes over you at top speed. Maybe I’m the only one that gets giddy when I hear those old war birds, or maybe there are more out there that can barely contain themselves when old aircraft come to life once again. Today, I’ll list my three favorite warbirds from WWII along with a little history about their important role in our history.
#1: The B-29 Superfortress
Quite possibly the hardest-working aircraft ever designed in WWII, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was designed in response to a request from the United States Army Air Corps for a pressurized, long-range, bomber aircraft. Clocking out at over 350 miles per hour (mph) in cruise, the Superfortress could attain altitudes at over 30,000 feet with a wingspan at over 140 feet long.
The Superfortress also came equipped with four, remotely controlled turrets – the General Electric Central Fire Control System. Among the first of its kind, these turrets were controlled via analog electrical instrumentation. Additionally, the B-29 was the first fully-pressurized bomber aircraft providing safety and comfort for its crew. Almost 4,000 of these “super bombers” were built by Boeing to aid in the war effort.
Today, only 22 B-29s are in existence with one still flying which you may have seen at places such as AirVenture in Oshokosh, WI – this B-29 is affectionately dubbed “Fifi”.
#2: The P-51 Mustang
Next up we have the P-51 Mustang. This gleaming gem was used as a long-range, single-pilot fighter, and a fighter-bomber during WWII, the Korean War and various other conflicts. Designed in 1940 by the American company, North American Aviation, it was in response to the licensing requirements of the British Purchasing Commission.
First flown operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Mustang was used as a tactical-reconnaissance aircraft and a fighter-bomber. Due to the Rolls-Royce engine in the P-51B/C model, the fighter could perform at altitudes above 15,000 feet allowing it to match or better the Luftwaffe’s fighters – I wonder what they did for oxygen up there?
Not limited to just Europe, the P-51 was flown in many conflicts including the North African, Mediterranean, and Italian theaters and was used in the Pacific War against the Japanese. During the Korean War, it was used as the main fighter aircraft until jet aircraft took over that role with the advent of new technology. Despite the new technology, the Mustang was used until the early 1980s in conflicts.
Now, these amazing fighters are owned by private collectors, on display in museums, and still flown in many airshows all over the country. It just goes to show one that after even 50 years, this amazing aircraft still exists – what a testament to American engineering!
#3: The B-25 Mitchell
Dubbed the “Mitchell Bomber” after Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, the B-25 is another bomber that served in every theater of WWII in addition to remaining in service which spanned four decades. With nearly 10,000 of these twin-engine bombers built, like many other aircraft, this design came at the request of the Army Air Corps.
Going up against other aircraft manufacturers such as Douglas, North American Aircraft (NAA) went on to design the most military aircraft in United States history. NAA was also the only company to simultaneously produced bombers, fighters, and trainers. Among some of the most notable missions the Mitchell flew was the “Doolittle Raid” in 1942 led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on the mainland of Japan four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Over the years, the B-25 had a few variants in design that included equipment for de-icing, anti-icing, and gunship modifications making it a versatile war-time platform. The B-25 proved to be a formidable airframe and was used around the world for war-time activities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands.
And Your Favorites Are?
While many of these aircraft were designed to subdue our enemies overseas, I can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of American aerospace engineers and the sheer beauty of these aircraft. My favorite part about being in Oshkosh for AirVenture is watching the reenactment of the Doolittle Raid and the tributes to aerospace egineers, not to mention all the privately restored warbirds on display.
So, what’s your favorite warbird?