More Super Warbirds of World War II

(Includes Meteor F.3, La-7, Me.262A-1, N1K1, P-40Q,
P-47N, P-80A, Spit Mk. XIV, Ta 152, Yak-9U)

By Chuck Hawks

Almost immediately after publishing the article "Super Warbirds of WW II," I received e-mail suggesting additions to the list. Keep in mind that part of my original criterion was use in the air superiority role during the war and production in reasonable numbers, so that the fighters on the list had at least some historical impact. The intent of this article is to touch on some of the late war fighters that were not included in the previous article and, in most cases, would not meet those criteria.

Curtis P-40Q Warhawk

The P-40Q was never produced, as it came too close to the end of the war. Only two prototypes were built, but it is included here because I have always thought it was a neat airplane. I can well remember my father (an aeronautical engineer in the Air Force working in research and development during WW II) telling me as a child that the P-40Q was a "hot" fighter plane, thus its inclusion here. A total of 13,738 P-40's were built during the war, but by the time the P-40Q prototype had proven itself the P-51D, P-47D, P-38L and Corsair fighters were all being mass produced, the Air Force was flight testing jet fighters, the Allies were clearly going to win the war and another piston-engined fighter was simply not required.

The P-40Q was a complete redesign of the classic P-40 that bore little external resemblance to the original. It featured refined, low drag aerodynamics, clipped wings, a cut down rear fuselage and a bubble canopy. The radiators were faired into the leading edges of the wings and the nose scoop was small and streamlined. Only the familiar, rounded P-40 tail contours were retained. In appearance, the P-40Q looked rather like a P-51D without the large scoop under the fuselage. It was a very clean and attractive airplane.

Power was provided by a water-cooled, V-12, Allison V-1710-121 engine that developed 1,425 HP at takeoff and 1,100 HP at 25,000 feet. The power was delivered by a four-bladed propeller. The prototypes were armed with 4-.50" machine guns mounted in the wings, but the intention was to upgrade this to 6-.50" machine guns, or alternatively, 4-20mm cannons in production versions.

Overall performance was excellent, especially considering that its engine developed about 500 HP less that many of the other late war fighters. The P-40 was always a maneuverable fighter, more than able to hold its own with any of the other top American fighters in that department. The P-40Q's top speed at 20,500 feet was 422 MPH and climb to 20,000 feet took only 4.8 minutes. That translates to a sustained climb rate of 4,167 ft./min., far better than the famous P-51D Mustang (7.5 min. to 20,000 ft.).

Gloster Meteor F.3

The Meteor was the first British jet fighter, entering service on a test basis in the middle of 1944. Deliveries of production F.3's, powered by a pair of Rolls Royce Wellands 1,400 pound static thrust began at the beginning of 1945. The next batch was powered by improved RR Derwent engines developing 2,000 pounds of static thrust. The top speed of the latter was 475 MPH at 30,000 feet and the initial climb rate was 4,000 ft./min. with a service ceiling of 44,000 feet. The Meteor was well armed, with 4-20mm nose mounted cannons.

The British Meteor F.3, German Me.262-A1 and American P-80A all has similar total thrust from their jet engines, but the American jet did it with one engine, rather than two, and the resultant lower drag made it a bit faster. Rather than send their new jets into air combat in France, the RAF chose to keep them home to chase the pulsejet powered V-1 buzz bombs that Hitler was raining down on England.

Kawanishi N1K1-J Shiden (Allied code name "George")

The Kawanishi N1K1 Shiden (Violet Lightning) was a land-based Imperial Japanese Navy fighter developed in 1944 from the earlier Kawanishi Kyofu, a floatplane fighter. The Shiden was probably the most formidable IJN fighter of the war, by all accounts a very dangerous opponent for all Allied fighters. Unfortunately for the Japanese, only 1,007 N1K1's were produced and this kept the Shiden from being featured in my previous "Super Warbirds of WW II" article.

The Shiden was intended to be a high altitude fighter and it was provided with automatically adjusting combat flaps that gave it excellent maneuverability. Armament was heavy with 4-20mm cannons mounted in the wings and 2-7.7mm cowl-mounted machine guns. Top speed was given as 362 MPH at 19,360 feet and the climb to 19,865 feet (6,000 meters) took only 5 min. 50 sec. The service ceiling was 35,300 feet and the normal range was 890 miles.

This was a formidable fighter that did everything well. Had the Japanese fighter forces access to 100 octane aviation gas, adequate fighter production and well-trained pilots, the Army Ki-84 and Navy N1K1 fighters might well have managed to retain air superiority over Japan in 1944-1945. Fortunately for the Allies, none of these things were available to the Japanese at that stage of the war.

Lavochkin La-7

This 1944 vintage Soviet fighter with a (mostly) metal airframe was derived from the previous La-5 and powered by an air-cooled, 1,850 HP ASh-82FNV radial engine, which was based on the American Wright R-2600 Cyclone. The engine was closely cowled and the three-bladed propeller was fitted with a large spinner for improved streamlining. This reduced airflow to the engine, so a fan was fitted behind the spinner to assist in cooling the big engine.

A long greenhouse canopy provided very good all-around pilot visibility and a suite of two or three 20mm cannons provided serious firepower. Maximum speed was 423 MPH and the service ceiling was 31,168 feet. The best climb was 3,602 ft./min. Maximum range was 615 miles.

In the USSR, the La-7 was considered the best dog fighter in the world and most of the top scoring Soviet aces flew the airplane. The La-7 could out-climb and out-turn the popular German FW-190A series fighters that it faced on the Eastern Front and it was much faster. Flown by an expert, it was a tough adversary for any of the Luftwaffe fighters at the low to medium altitudes that almost all Eastern Front air battles occurred and it was produced in good numbers (5,753).

However, the air war on the Eastern Front was dictated by the armies' need for tactical air support. Over Western Europe (before D-Day), the air war was primarily strategic and a battle for air superiority, as land forces were not involved; ditto over Japan. It would be interesting to know how the La-7 would have faired had the Japanese and Germans been provided with La-7's to defend their homelands against the best Allied fighters.

Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star

The P-80 was America's first production jet fighter. It was designed and built during the latter part of WW II, but just missed combat. I was told that the first P-80 squadron was on its way to the Pacific Theatre when the war ended. Dick Bong, American Ace of Aces, was killed in a P-80 accident.

The Shooting Star was powered by a GE J-33-GE-9 jet engine that developed 4,000 pounds of static thrust and gave it a top speed of 558 MPH at sea level and 533 MPH at 20,000 feet. This was based on the British Whittle centrifugal flow engine design. The P-80 was

America's answer to the German Me.262 jet, but Germany collapsed before the two could meet in the sky. Their speed at altitude was similar and the P-80 was reputed to be more maneuverable than the twin-engined German jet fighter. It also had much longer range, required for long-range bomber escort missions and service in the Pacific Theatre.

The P-80 carried the standard American fighter plane armament of 6-.50" machine guns. Initial climb rate was 4,560 ft./min. and time to 20,000 feet was only 5.5 minutes. Later F-80 models served in the Korean War, where they were out-classed in the air superiority role by the next generation of jet fighters, the Soviet MiG-15 and American F-86.

Messerschmitt Me.262A-1 Swallow

The first operational jet fighter in the world, the Me.262A-1 fighter was a sensation when it appeared in November 1944. The sad fact for Germany is that it could have entered service about a year earlier had Adolf Hitler not interfered by insisting that this fighter airplane be redesigned as a bomber and had the program received the accelerated priority it deserved.

The Me.262 introduced swept-back wings and well as jet propulsion to WW II fighter planes. It was powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 B2 axial flow jet engines that developed 1,985 pounds of static thrust each and powerfully armed with 4-30mm nose-mounted cannons, giving it the heaviest armament among the early jet fighters and making it a great bomber interceptor. Me.262 fighters could also carry 24-2" R4M air-to-air rockets with which to attack bombers. Top speed was 472 MPH at SL and 528 MPH at 22,965 feet. The initial climb rate was 3,937 ft./min. and the service ceiling was 39,370 feet.

The Me.262 handled very predictably and was easy to fly. However, it could be out maneuvered by most other WW II fighters, its engines were unreliable and its range was only 500 miles at 32,800 feet at full power. At that altitude, the thrust of its Junkers Jumo 004 B2 axial flow jet engines was only about 770 pounds of static thrust. Less than 1,300 total Me.262 jets were produced before the end of the war and many of these were not fighter variants. Bomber, ground attack, reconnaissance and two-seat trainer versions were also produced, in addition to the Me.262 interceptors that Germany so desperately needed in 1944-1945 to stem the Allied daylight strategic bombing campaign that was pounding German industry to rubble.

Republic P-47N Thunderbolt

The Republic P-47M and P-47N were the final models of the 15,329 Thunderbolts produced through November 1945. They had the 360-degree vision bubble canopy of the earlier "D" model and an up rated Wright Double Wasp C air-cooled radial engine with a GE CH-5 turbocharger that cranked a maximum of 2,800 HP with water injection at 32,500 feet. The "M" was a low-level ground attack fighter and the "N" was the air superiority model, a long range, high altitude escort fighter.

The P-47N had a top speed of 448 MPH at 25,000 feet and 381 MPH at 5,000 feet. The climb rate was 2,770 ft./min. at 5,000 feet and the service ceiling was 42,000 feet. Time to 20,000 feet was 11.7 minutes. Maximum range was some 2,000 miles. Its wings had squared tips and incorporated eight internal fuel tanks and drop tanks could be fitted beneath the wings. It was designed to escort B-29's on long-range missions to Japan and featured such pilot amenities as folding rudder pedals for additional legroom and an armchair seat. The standard P-47 armament of 8-.50" machine guns (four per wing) was retained.

This was a big (20,500 lb. takeoff weight with a max fuel load), formidable fighter. How it would have faired against equal numbers of equally well maintained and flown Japanese Ki-84 and N1K1 fighters that were slower, but could out climb and out turn it, must remain a matter of speculation.

The P-47's status as a super fighter in the air superiority role is questionable. It is a fact that during the second half of the US strategic bombing offensive against Germany, the P-51 largely replaced the P-47 (except in the 56th FG) as the main air superiority fighter. Forced to choose after the war, the USAF, favoring the air superiority role, retained the P-51 in service and retired the P-47.

That was probably a bad decision, for the P-80 and other new jet fighters quickly assumed the air superiority role, relegating the surviving piston-engined fighters to the ground support mission. The P-47 carried more guns, more bombs and was less vulnerable to ground fire than the P-51. The Air Force needed them desperately in the Korean War, but by then they were not available.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk. XIV

The stopgap Spitfire Mk. IX of mid-1942, essentially a Mk. V airframe fitted with the 1,655 HP (at 10,000 feet) RR Merlin 70 engine intended for the improved (but delayed) Mk. VIII airframe, turned out so well that it remained in front-line squadron service for the rest of the war. Supermarine attempted a similar feat with the 1944 introduction of the Mk. XIV, essentially another interim model based on mating the by then existing Merlin 70 powered Mk. VIII airframe mated to the new RR Griffon 65 engine and fitted with a 5-bladed Rotol propeller to make use of the extra power. The RR Griffon 65 featured two-stage, two-speed supercharging and developed 2,035 HP at 7,000 feet. It was designed as a replacement for the Merlin and to mount in airframes designed for the Merlin.

Another change made during Mk. XIV production was cutting down the fuselage aft of the cockpit and fitting a bubble canopy in place of the Malcolm hood that was used on previous Spitfires. This improved pilot visibility to the rear, but actually decreased forward visibility, because of heavy framing around the bullet-resistant glass windscreen. Other changes included an additional fuel tank (placed behind the pilot) and an enlarged rudder to compensate for the bigger engine in the nose.

The upshot was a Spitfire with improved range, speed, climb and high altitude performance. Top speed was 439 MPH at 24,500 feet (357 MPH at SL) and best climb was 4,700 ft./min. at 7,000 feet. The normal range was 460 miles cruising at 20,000 feet. Armament was usually 2-20mm cannons and 2-.50" machine guns, all mounted in the wings.

Oddly, and this is the reason the Mk. XIV was omitted from the first super fighters article, its dog fighting performance suffered in comparison with the earlier Mk. IX. In 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence, Israeli fighter pilots flew both Mk. IX and Mk. XIV Spitfires and concluded that the Mk. IX was more maneuverable and better in a fight.  Interesting, and it indicates that the XIV was not really that ueber. This has also proved to be the case in the online Warbirds flight and combat simulator, where both the Mk. IX and Mk. XIV are modeled.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152

The Ta 152 was a development of the long nose FW 190D, which is covered in the previous "Super Warbirds" article. The change in nomenclature was to honor Professor Kurt Tank, Focke-Wulf's head designer.

The biggest difference between the Ta 152C and the FW 190D (Dora) was a new wing center section and change to a Daimler-Benz DB603LA liquid-cooled V-12 motor that developed 2,100 HP at takeoff and 2,300 HP with MW 50 boost. This increased performance, resulting in a top speed of 463 MPH at 34,450 feet and an initial climb rate of 3,050 ft./min. The normal range was 684 miles. Armament was 1-30mm engine mounted cannon and 4-20mm cannons in the C-1 and C-3 prototypes. A total of three Ta 152C-1 and two Ta 152C-3 prototypes were completed before the project was dropped in favor of the Ta 152H, a high altitude variant produced in very limited numbers.

The Ta 152H was developed in parallel with the Ta 152C and intended to serve in the high altitude and escort fighter roles. The "H" reverted to a Junkers Jumo water-cooled, V-12 engine, in this case the 213E-1 that developed 1,750 HP for takeoff and 2,050 HP with MW 50 boost. Its wing was an entirely new, long span design optimized for high altitude flight. Armament was 1-30mm cannon and 2-20mm wing mounted cannons.

Performance included a top speed of 462 MPH at 31,170 feet and an initial climb rate of 3,445 ft./min. The normal range was 944 miles. Around 150 Ta 152H series fighters were built before the Focke-Wulf works fell to the Soviet Army in 1945 and they were used operationally from January 1945 until VE Day. The Ta 152H was the fastest Axis piston-engined fighter to be produced in WW II.

Yakovlev Yak-9U

The Yak-9U of 1944 was based on an aerodynamically improved, all metal airframe and a powerful Klimov M-107A liquid-cooled, V-12 engine that delivered 1,650 HP from takeoff to 5,900 feet. This, arguably, created a Soviet super fighter and something over 3,900 were built. Top speed was rated at 434 MPH at 18,092 feet (5500 meters). Range was 420 miles, best climb was 3,280 ft./min. and the service ceiling was 35,000 feet.

Early Yak-9U fighters retained the plywood skin of earlier Yak-9 versions, but this was replaced by lighter aluminum skin in the final months of the war. Armament consisted of a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub and 2-12.7mm (.50") machine guns mounted in the nose cowling. Pilot visibility was very good through what looked like a cross between a greenhouse and a bubble canopy.

After the war, the final Yak-9 model, the "P" was produced. This was similar to the -9U with improved avionics and an all cannon armament. In the 1990's, Yakovlev, desperate for hard currency, produced replica Yak-3M and Yak-9U-M fighters for private ownership with modern avionics and powered by American Allison V-1710 engines. What a kick it would be to have one of those!

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Copyright 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.