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The Most Influential Aircraft of World War II

Updated on August 4, 2015

North American P-51D Mustang

In the early days of 1940, the British contacted North American Aviation to custom build Curtiss P-40 fighters for the Royal Air Force. North American Aviation agreed, but agreed to build a better fighter. Within 117 days, the origins of the legendary P51 Mustang were born.

While many variants were produced of the Mustang, none came close to the superiority that the P-51D gave young aviators during the war. Over 8,000 arrived in Europe during the Spring of 1944, and the P-51D didn't waste anytime becoming the USAAF's primary long range escort fighter. The Mustang also served as a fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. P-51Ds arrived in the Pacific at the end of 1944. P-51Ds started flying long-range B-29 escort and low-level fighter-bomber missions against ground targets in Japan during the Spring of 1945 from airfields on Iwo Jima.

The "D" model incorporated some tremendous improvements to the aircraft which included a new "bubble top" canopy, a brand new K-14 gun sight, and went from four to six .50 caliber machine guns that incorporated a better ammunition feed system to drastically reduce gun jams.

The Mustangs are credited with shooting down more enemy aircraft than any other plane in the sky, a total of 4,950 by the end of World War II. There is absolutely zero doubt that the P-51 Mustang was the best fighter during the course of the war, over 281 Mustang pilots also became aces during combat.


  • Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and 10 5-in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs
  • Engine: Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650 of 1,695 hp
  • Maximum speed: 437 mph
  • Cruising speed: 275 mph
  • Range: 1,000 miles
  • Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
  • Span: 37 ft.
  • Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
  • Height: 13 ft. 8 in.
  • Weight: 12,100 lbs. maximum

Focke Wulf Fw 190

The Fw 190, one of Germany's best fighter airplanes of World War II, made its first flight on June 1, 1939. It appeared in action over northwestern France in September 1941 and rapidly proved its superiority over the Mark V Spitfire, Britain's best fighter of that time.

Fw 190s inflicted cruel punishment on B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator crews, and were almost impossible to defeat until the long range P-51 Mustang finally became available in 1944 to escort bombers to their targets.

Most Fw 190s were the "A" series, powered by a BMW radial engine. Late in 1943, however, the more capable "D" series appeared in action against U.S. bombers, powered by the more powerful Jumo 213 inline, liquid-cooled engine. Because the larger engine lengthened its nose, a 20-inch section had to be added to the Fw 190D-9's fuselage just forward of the tail. During its lifetime, more than 20,000 Fw 190s of all types were built.


  • Armament: Two 20mm MG 151 cannons in wings and two 13mm MG 131 machine guns in nose
  • Engine: Junkers Jumo 213 of 2,240 hp with methanol-water injection
  • Maximum speed: 426 mph
  • Cruising speed: 280 mph
  • Range: 520 miles
  • Ceiling: 40,000 ft.
  • Span: 34 ft. 5 1/3 in.
  • Length: 33 ft. 5 1/4 in.
  • Height: 11 ft. 1/4 in.
  • Weight: 10,670 lbs. combat-loaded

Messerschmitt Bf 109

Early in World War II, the Bf 109E completely dominated the Polish PZL fighters. In the invasion of France in May 1940, the Bf 109E outfought French Morane-Saulnier MS 406s and British Hawker Hurricanes.

The Bf 109F began to replace the E series in late 1940. Intended to counter the Spitfire, the F series had an engine with increased horsepower and a more streamlined airframe and cooling system. More than half of the Luftwaffe single-engine fighter units involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, flew the Bf 109F. The F model also enjoyed considerable superiority over the RAF Kittyhawks (P-40s) and Hurricanes it met over the skies of North Africa.

The limits of the Bf 109 design appeared with the Bf 109G series, which began production in early 1942. The Bf 109G had a higher top speed but was less maneuverable than earlier versions. Some later Gs had bulges in front of the cockpit caused by the larger 13mm MG 131 machine guns, which added further weight and drag. Pilots of the Bf 109G found it increasingly difficult to fly against more capable aircraft such as the P-51D Mustang. Despite its limitations, the G series was the most numerous of the Bf 109 types and remained in production into 1945.

During WWII, the Bf 109 was the backbone of the Luftwaffe fighter force, serving on all fronts and also in the air forces of its European allies. Even though the superior Fw 190 began to replace the Bf 109 in some units as early as the summer of 1941, production of the Bf 109 actually rose until the closing months of the war and it remained the most numerous Luftwaffe fighter. By war's end, Germany had built more than 30,000 Bf 109s.


  • Armament: One 30mm MK 108 cannon and two 13mm MG 131 machine guns
  • Engine: One Daimler-Benz DB 605D inverted V rated at 1,850 hp for take-off
  • Maximum speed: 426 mph at 24,280 ft.
  • Range: 373 miles
  • Ceiling: 41,400 ft.
  • Span: 32 ft.
  • Length: 29 ft. 5 in.
  • Height: 8 ft. 2.5 in.
  • Weight: 5,800 lbs.

Supermarine Spitfire

Originally, the Spitfire had been designed as a short-range home-defense fighter, but by 1941 the RAF had begun offensive operations over Nazi-occupied Europe. To extend the Mk. Vs range, the RAF adopted 30- and 90-gallon jettisonable fuel tanks which fit flush under the fuselage.

Also, as the war progressed and fewer enemy fighters were encountered, the Spitfires began flying ground strafing missions. To improve the low-altitude characteristics, most Spitfire Mk. Vs had their wingtips removed. Categorized as low-altitude fighters, these aircraft carried the prefix of "L.F." (i.e. Spitfire L.F. Mk. Vc).

While the Mk. V went into hurried production, the RAF quickly converted more than 100 Spitfire Mk. I aircraft into the Mk. V version. These converted aircraft started arriving at the combat units in March 1941. In addition to these converted aircraft, a total of 6,464 Spitfire Mk. Vs were built between 1941 and 1943. Fighting on every front during the war, these Mk. Vs equipped more than 140 RAF squadrons, including the Eagle Squadrons composed of American volunteers flying for the RAF.

Nine other Allied nations, including the United States, flew Mk. Vs. The U.S. Army Air Forces' 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups flew them first during Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. Some of the American pilots removed one machine gun from each wing to lessen weight and thereby improve maneuverability. The Spitfire is the most famous aircraft of British history.


  • Armament: Normally two Hispano 20mm cannon and four Browning .303 machine guns; some with four Hispano 20mm cannon
  • Bomb load: Two 250-lb. bombs or one 500-lb. bomb
  • Engine: 1,470-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 45
  • Maximum speed: 374 mph
  • Ceiling: 37,000 ft.
  • Span: 36 ft. 10 in. (32 ft. 7 in. in L.F. version)
  • Length: 29 ft. 11 in.
  • Height: 11 ft. 4.75 in.
  • Weight: 6,785 lbs.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

The Flying Fortress is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. The B-17 prototype first flew on July 28, 1935. Although few B-17s were in service on Dec. 7, 1941, production quickly accelerated after the U.S. entry into World War II. The aircraft served in every combat zone, but it is best known for the daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. Production ended in May 1945 and totaled 12,726.

The B-17 underwent a number of improvements over its ten-year production run. B-17 Models ranged from the YB-17 to the B-17G model. Throughout the war the B-17 was refined and improved as the combat experience showed the Boeing designers where improvements could be made. The Final B-17 production model, the B-17G was produced in the largest quantities (8,680) than any other previous model and is considered the definitive "Flying Fortress".

With its 13 .50-caliber machine guns, Chin, top, ball and tail turrets; waist and cheek guns the B-17 was indeed an airplane that earned the respect of its combatants. In addition, the flight crews loved the B-17 for her ability to take and withstand heavy combat damage and return safely home.

During WWII, the B-17 saw service in every theater of operation, but was operated primarily by the 8th Air force in Europe and participated in countless missions from bases in England. A typical B-17 Mission often lasted for more than eight hours and struck targets deep within enemy territory. During the war, B-17's dropped 640,036 tons of bombs on European targets in daylight raids. This compares to the 452,508 tons dropped by the B-24 and 464,544 tons dropped by all other U.S. aircraft.


  • Armament: 13 .50-cal. machine guns; normal bomb load of 6,000 lbs.
  • Engines: Four Wright Cyclone R-1820s of 1,200 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 300 mph
  • Cruising speed: 170 mph
  • Range: 1,850 miles
  • Ceiling: 35,000 ft.
  • Span: 103 ft. 10 in.
  • Length: 74 ft. 4 in.
  • Height: 19 ft. 1 in.
  • Weight: 55,000 lbs. loaded

Junkers Ju 87 Stuka Dive-Bomber

The all-metal Ju 87 Stuka aircraft were the German Luftwaffe's primary dive bombers. At first glance, they were crude-looking, but this feature reflected the principle behind the Ju 87 design, which stressed the ease of production and the ruggedness of the aircraft over other items on the wish list. Two unique characteristics made these aircraft stand out: first, the dive brakes, automatic pull-up systems, and the strengthened airframes ensured that the bomber maintained control during dives; then, the wind-powered sirens terrorized the enemy psychologically.

A typical Stuka attack began at the altitude of 13,000 feet, diving down at the target at the speed of about 300 miles per hour. About four seconds before the ideal altitude for releasing the bomb, a horn in the cockpit sounds off; when the horn stopped, the pilot released the bomb, and the automatic pull-up system would kick in to help the aircraft zoom-climb.

While they were among the key components of the successful Blitzkriegcampaign on continental Europe early in the war, they were not so effective during the Battle of Britain. After the Battle of Britain, most of these dive bombers were relocated to the Eastern Front and the Mediterranean. Between 1936 and Aug 1944, more than 6,000 Stuka bombers were built. Because Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers performed so well as tactical bombers, this success became a curse as well.


  • Armament: 3x7.92mm machine guns (two forward, one rear), 2x37mm BK 37
  • Engines: Junkers Jumo 211J rated at 1,410hp
  • Maximum speed: 254 mph
  • Cruising speed: 170 mph
  • Range: 950 miles
  • Ceiling: 23,910 feet
  • Span: 45 ft
  • Length: 38 ft
  • Height: 13 ft
  • Weight: 8,580 lbs

Boeing B-29 Superfortress

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was in hindsight, a B-17, along with a B-24 combined on steroids. Boeing submitted the proposal for the B-29 long-range heavy bomber to the Army in 1940, before the United States entered World War II.

One of the most technologically advanced airplanes of World War 2, the B-29 had many new features, including guns that could be fired by remote control. Two crew areas, fore and aft, were pressurized and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays, allowing crew members to crawl between them. The tail gunner had a separate pressurized area that could only be entered or left at altitudes that did not require pressurization. The B-29 was also the world’s heaviest production plane because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements.

The B-29 used the high-speed Boeing 117 airfoil, and its larger Fowler flaps added to the wing area as they increased lift. B-29s were primarily used in the Pacific theater during World War II. As many as 1,000 Superfortresses at a time bombed Tokyo, destroying large parts of the city. Finally, on Aug. 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later a second B-29, Bockscar, dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Shortly thereafter, Japan surrendered.

After the war, B-29s were adapted for several functions, including in-flight refueling, antisubmarine patrol, weather reconnaissance and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 in squadron use retired from service in September 1960.


  • Armament: Eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets plus two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in tail; 20,000 lbs. of bombs
  • Engines: Four Wright R-3350s of 2,200 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 357 mph
  • Cruising speed: 220 mph
  • Range: 3,700 miles
  • Ceiling: 33,600 ft.
  • Span: 141 ft. 3 in.
  • Length: 99 ft.
  • Height: 27 ft. 9 in.
  • Weight: 133,500 lbs. maximum

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero

The Allies' main opponent in the Pacific air war, the Zero is the most famous symbol of Japanese air power during World War II. The fighter first flew in April 1939, and Mitsubishi, Nakajima, Hitachi and the Japanese navy produced 10,815 Zeros from 1940-1945. Zeros were produced in greater number than any other aircraft. Its distinctive design and historical impact make the Zero an important machine in air power history.

The A6M first saw combat in China in the late summer of 1940, and it quickly helped Japan dominate the air in Asia. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, 125 Zeros from six aircraft carriers participated. In the early part of the war, Allied aircraft such as the Curtiss P-40 and Seversky P-35 were at a disadvantage in a dogfight with a Zero flown by a skilled pilot, and the A6M became a well-known and dangerous opponent.

The Japanese advantage, however, began to disappear as American tactics evolved. American pilots gained experience fighting the Zero in China with the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, and at the Battle of Midway. The key to fighting the Zero was to stay out of dogfights, and instead use superior armament and hit-and-run diving attacks against the relatively fragile A6M. American fighters introduced in 1943 were more powerful (2,000-hp engines), faster, and had much more firepower than the Zero. As Allied pilots used their heavily-armed aircraft to advantage, the Zero's dominance ended. At the same time, the number of American aircraft and pilots increased, and the number of experienced Japanese aircrew shrank.

While development of the Zero continued by adding self-sealing tanks, armor plate and increasing horsepower to 1,150 hp, the later Zero was much heavier and thus less nimble. Weight increased 28 percent, but horsepower increased only 16 percent, degrading overall combat performance. Around October 1944 during the battle for the Philippines, Zeros were used in kamikaze attacks. Kamikazes used A6Ms more than any other aircraft for these suicide missions.


  • Armament: Two 20mm cannon, two 7.7mm machine guns, 2× 60 kg bombs or 1× fixed 250 kg (551 lb) bomb for kamikaze attacks.
  • Engine: Sakae 12 of 940 hp
  • Maximum speed: 331 mph
  • Range: 1,930 miles
  • Ceiling: 33,785 ft.
  • Span: 39 ft. 4-1/2 in.
  • Length: 29 ft. 8-3/4 in.
  • Height: 10 ft.
  • Weight: 5,313 lb loaded

Vought F4U Corsair

The Corsair is considered by many, to be one of the most effective fighters of the entire second World War. With claiming an astonishing 11-1 kill ratio it's hard to disagree that the Vought F4U Corsair was one of the most influential aircraft ever produced.

The Japanese nicknamed it “Whistling Death,” due to its distinct engine noise. The Corsair's inverted gull-wing design ably accommodated both the gigantic propeller and the short, stout landing gear that was an integral part of its design. It held air supremacy during WWII in the Pacific theater, and it was widely used as both a carrier fighter and a ground attack aircraft, the F4U outclassed the Japanese Zero on almost every level.

The United States Navy deemed the Corsair unsuitable to land on carrier decks so it was given to the US Marines for land-based operations, where it earned an outstanding combat record. Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia also received the F4U during WWII.

While many variants of the F4U Corsair were produced, none were more important than the F4U-4. Seven prototypes were built, anticipating the many problems which would arise from the proposed changes. It had 6 Browning .50 caliber wing mounted machine guns plus it could carry two 1,000 lb bombs or eight 5 inch rockets.

The first 300 of the production F4U-1Cs were assigned to Marine Air Group 31 and were taken into the Battle for Okinawa aboard the escort carriers Sitko Bay and Bereton. The Army and Marine riflemen who fought that battle on the ground remember the F4U-4 as the "Sweetheart of Okinawa" and it undoubtedly saved many hundreds of their lives.


  • Armament:6 x 12.7mm M2 Browning heavy machine guns (three to a wing)
  • Engines:1 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-18W 18-cylinder Double Wasp two-row air-cooled radial piston engine generating 2,325 horsepower.
  • Maximum speed: 446 mph
  • Range: 1,560 mi
  • Ceiling: 41,500 ft
  • Span: 41 ft
  • Length: 33 ft 8 in
  • Height: 16 ft 1 in
  • Weight: 14,670 lbs. loaded

Ilyushin-2 Shturmovik

The Ilyushin-2 Shturmovik was the important Soviet aircraft during WWII. It earned an incredible reputation for becoming the #1 anti-tank aircraft in the World. 36,183 of the Il-2 were produced during the war, and in combination with its successor, the IIyushin II-10, a total of 42,330 were built, making it the single most produced military aircraft design in aviation history.

Designed by Sergei Ilyushin in 1939, the Il-2 was an all-metal, low-wing monoplane designed for low altitude tank busting. One of the features that suited for this duty was a heavily armored, tub-like underside that held the engine, cockpit and fuel supply. This armor plus its speedy 1,770 horsepower, liquid cooled engine meant that it could fly through withering ground fire and make it home in one piece. The Il-2 made short work of German tanks, especially with its air-to-ground rockets. In the battle for Kursk many of Germany’s newest tiger tanks were destroyed by Il-2s, turning the tide of the battle.

To Il-2 pilots, the aircraft was simply the diminutive "Ilyusha". To the soldiers on the ground, it was the "Hunchback", the "Flying Tank" or the "Flying Infantryman". Thanks to the heavy armor protection, the Il-2 could take a great deal of punishment and proved difficult for both ground and aircraft fire to shoot down.

Owing to a shortage of fighters, in 1941–1942, Il-2s were occasionally used as fighters. While outclassed by dedicated fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in dogfights, the Il-2 could take on other Luftwaffe aircraft with success.


  • Armament:2 x 7.62mm machine guns; 2 x 23mm cannons; 1,321 pounds of bombs or rockets
  • Engines: 1 x 1,770-horsepower AM-38F liquid-cooled in-line engine
  • Maximum speed: 251 mph
  • Range: 373 miles
  • Ceiling: 19,685 ft.
  • Span: 48 ft.
  • Length: 36 ft.
  • Height: 11 ft. 1 in
  • Weight: 14,021 lbs. loaded

Messerschmitt ME 262A Schwalbe

Developed from a 1938 design by the Messerschmitt company, the Me 262 Schwalbe was the world's first operational turbojet aircraft. First flown under jet power on July 18, 1942, it proved much faster than conventional airplanes. Development problems (particularly its temperamental engines), Allied bombings and cautious Luftwaffe leadership contributed to delays in quantity production.

On July 25, 1944, an Me 262 became the first jet airplane used in combat when it attacked a British photo-reconnaissance Mosquito flying over Munich. As a fighter, the German jet scored heavily against Allied bomber formations. U.S. Army Air Forces bombers, however, destroyed hundreds of Me 262s on the ground. Of the more than 1,400 Me 262s produced, fewer than 300 saw combat. Most Me 262s did not make it to operational units because of the destruction of Germany's surface transportation system. Many of those that did were unable to fly because of lack of fuel, spare parts or trained pilots.

Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied kills,although higher claims are sometimes made.The Allies countered its potential effectiveness in the air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and during takeoff and landing.

While German use of the aircraft ended with the close of the Second World War, a small number were operated by the Czechoslovak Air Force until 1951. Captured Me 262s were studied and flight tested by the major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs of a number of post-war aircraft such as the F-86 Sabre and the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.


  • Armament: Four 30mm MK-108 cannons and 1,000 lbs. of bombs
  • Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 004s of 1,980 lbs. thrust each
  • Maximum speed: 540 mph
  • Cruising speed: 460 mph
  • Range: 650 miles
  • Ceiling: 38,000 ft.
  • Span: 41 ft.
  • Length: 34 ft. 9 in.
  • Height: 11 ft. 4 in.
  • Weight: 15,600 lbs.

Lockheed P-38L Lightning

The P-38 was originally conceived as an advanced, high-performance twin-engine interceptor. Early model P-38s experienced turbulent airflow over the tail and problems at high dive speeds, known as compressibility, but later modifications corrected these difficulties.

The first major production version was the P-38E, which had a 20mm cannon rather than the earlier 37mm cannon. Production of the E began in September 1941 and 210 were built. The next version, the P-38F, introduced pylon racks that could carry either bombs or droppable fuel tanks, greatly extending its range. Production of the G began in August 1942, followed by the P-38H in May 1943, which had a more powerful version of the Allison V-1710 engine.

The versatile Lightning performed many different missions during World War II, including dive bombing, level bombing, bombing through clouds, strafing, photo reconnaissance and long range escort. It first went into large-scale service during the North African campaign in November 1942, where the German pilots named it Der Gabelschwanz Teufel ("The Forked-Tail Devil"). When the Lightning began combat operations from England in September 1943, it was the only fighter with the range to escort bombers into Germany.

The Lightning truly shined in the Pacific theater; seven of the top eight scoring USAAF aces in the Pacific flew the P-38. On April 18, 1943, the long range of the P-38 enabled USAAF pilots to ambush and shoot down an aircraft carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was the planner of the Pearl Harbor raid and the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The P-38 became the standard USAAF fighter in the Pacific theater until the closing months of WWII.


  • Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon
  • Engines: Two Allison V-1710s of 1,475 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 414 mph
  • Cruising speed: 275 mph
  • Range: 1,300 miles
  • Ceiling: 40,000 ft.
  • Span: 52 ft.
  • Length: 37 ft. 10 in.
  • Height: 12 ft. 10 in.
  • Weight: 17,500 lbs. loaded

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

The B-24 Liberator is one of the greatest American heavy bombers of Word War II. It outclassed the Boeing B-17 on almost every level. The Liberator had a more modern design, a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load. But it was harder to fly at higher altitudes, and had trouble staying in formations.

The B-24 was employed in operations in every combat theater during World War II, with earning a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters and in antisubmarine warfare. the B-24 was used by every branch of the American armed forces, as well as by several Allied air forces.

The Liberator had the ability to fly over a great range, and it was particularly suited for such missions as the famous raid from North Africa against the oil industry at Ploesti, Rumania, on Aug. 1, 1943. This feature also made the airplane suitable for long over-water missions in the Pacific Theater. With over 19,000 Liberators produced, and 8,000 produced by Ford Motor Company, the B-24 remains the most produced American military aircraft in history.


  • Armament: 10 .50-cal. machine guns and 8,000 lbs. of bombs
  • Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney R-1830s of 1,200 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 303 mph
  • Cruising speed: 175 mph
  • Range: 2,850 miles
  • Ceiling: 28,000 ft.
  • Span: 110 ft.
  • Length: 66 ft. 4 in.
  • Height: 17 ft. 11 in.
  • Weight: 56,000 lbs. loaded

North American B-25 Mitchell

Built by North American Aviation, the B-25 first flew on Aug. 19, 1940, and the U.S. Army Air Corps accepted the first five B-25s in February 1941. By the end of the war, North American Aviation had built a total of 9,816 B-25s at its California and Kansas plants.

During its long career, the B-25 experienced a number of modifications. The first major change occurred with the G model that included a 75mm cannon and two fixed .50-cal. guns in the nose. The H model was the first to add additional forward firing .50-cal. guns in cheek blisters. In the J version, the most numerous variant, the aircraft returned to its initial arrangement as a level bomber, reverting to a transparent nose that included one flexible and two fixed .50-cal. guns.

Subsequently, B-25s saw duty in every combat area being flown by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians and Australians in addition to U.S. forces. Although the airplane was originally intended for level bombing from medium altitudes, it was used extensively in the Pacific Theater for bombing Japanese airfields and beach emplacements from treetop level, and for strafing and skip bombing enemy shipping.

The B-25 medium bomber was one of America's most famous airplanes of World War II. It was the type used by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942.


  • Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns; 3,000 lbs. of bombs
  • Engine: Two Wright R-2600s of 1,700 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 328 mph
  • Cruising speed: 233 mph
  • Range: 2,500 miles (with auxiliary tanks)
  • Ceiling: 21,200 ft.
  • Span: 67 ft. 6 in.
  • Length: 53 ft.
  • Height: 16 ft. 9 in.
  • Weight: 29,300 lbs. maximum

Kawanishi N1K2-Ja Shiden Kai (George)

The N1K2-Ja Shiden Kai (Japanese for "Violet Lightning--Improved") was the best fighter used in significant numbers by the Japanese Navy during World War II. Known by the Allies as the "George," this maneuverable, heavily-armed fighter was a formidable opponent in the closing months of the war.

The Shiden Kai was considerably better than the Japanese Navy's most common fighter, the A6M Zero. With a top speed of 369 mph, the N1K2 was about 20 mph faster than the A6M Zero. The heavier Shiden Kai also possessed surprisingly good maneuverability due to a mercury switch that automatically extended the flaps during turns. These "combat" flaps created more lift, thereby allowing tighter turns. Moreover, its four 20 mm automatic cannon provided greatly increased firepower than earlier Japanese designs. Unlike the A6M Zero, the Shiden Kai could compete against the best late-war U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Air Forces fighters.

The N1K2-Ja was developed to counter high-flying B-29s. It first entered combat early in 1945, and over 400 were produced before the war ended. The Shiden Kai primarily equipped the 343rd Kokutai, a unit composed of the Japanese Navy's best fighter pilots.

Shiden Kai pilots scored several successes against low-flying, carrier-based U.S. Navy fighters. Even so, they did little to stop high-altitude B-29 attacks because of the N1K2's insufficient climbing ability and the considerable loss of horsepower and engine reliability above 21,000 feet. These B-29 raids seriously hindered Shiden Kai production by heavily bombing the plants building the fighter.


  • Armament: Four Type 99-2 20mm cannon and four 551-lb. bombs
  • Engine: 1,990 hp Nakajima NK9H Homare
  • Maximum speed: 369 mph
  • Range: 1,488 mi
  • Ceiling: 35,500 ft
  • Span: 39 ft 4 in
  • Length: 30 ft 7 in
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in
  • Weight: 10,710 lb loaded

Grumman F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a carrier-based fighter aircraft conceived to replace the earlier F4F Wildcat. The Hellcat was a rival of the faster Vought F4U Corsair for use as a carrier based fighter. However, the Corsair had significant issues with carrier landing that the Hellcat did not, allowing the Hellcat to become Navy's dominant fighter in the second part of World War II.

The F6F resembled the Wildcat in some ways, but it was a completely new design. It was powered by a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the same engine used for the Corsair, and the P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. Military observers have tagged the Hellcat as the "Wildcat's big brother".

U.S. Navy and Marine F6F pilots flew 66,530 combat sorties and claimed 5,163 kills (56% of all U.S. Navy/Marine air victories of the war) at a recorded cost of 270 Hellcats in aerial combat. The F6F became the prime ace-maker aircraft in the American inventory, with 305 Hellcat aces.

The F6F was best known for its role as a rugged, well-designed carrier fighter which was able, after its combat debut in early 1943, to counter the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and help secure air superiority over the Pacific Theater. Over 12,200 Hellcats were built in just over two years. Hellcats were credited with destroying 5,223 aircraft while in service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, this was more than any other Allied Naval Aircraft during the entire war.


  • Armament: 6× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, and up 4,000 lbs of bombs, or rockets.
  • Engine: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-10W "Double Wasp" two-row radial engine with a two-speed two-stage supercharger, 2,200 hp
  • Maximum speed: 380 mph
  • Range: 945 mi
  • Ceiling: 37,300 ft
  • Span: 42 ft
  • Length: 33 ft 7 in
  • Height: 13 ft 1 in
  • Weight: 15,415 lb max

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

The USAAF and several Allied nations used the P-47 in nearly every combat theater. Through 1943 in Europe, the P-47C and P-47D equipped the majority of 8th Air Force fighter groups in England (and one in the 15th Air Force in Italy) as a long-range escort fighter. But since they couldn't escort USAAF heavy bombers all the way to some targets, longer-ranged P-51 Mustangs gradually replaced them in the escort role (with the sole exception of the 56th Fighter Group).

The rugged and heavily-armed P-47D proved to be ideal for ground attack, though, and it became the backbone of the fighter-bomber force in the 9th Air Force in western Europe and the 12th Air Force in southern Europe. In the Pacific, several 5th Air Force fighter groups flew the P-47D against Japanese air and ground forces in New Guinea and the Philippines in 1943-1944.

Later, five groups in the 7th Air Force (and, in the closing weeks of the war, the 20th Air Force) flew the much longer-ranged P-47N as an escort fighter for B-29s against the Japanese homeland. Many Allied countries also flew the P-47D in combat in WWII, including Brazil, Free France, Great Britain, Mexico and the Soviet Union.

Renowned for its ruggedness, firepower and speed, the massive Republic P-47 was one of the most famous and important USAAF fighters during World War II. Produced in larger numbers than any other U.S. fighter, the Thunderbolt -- affectionately nicknamed the "Jug" -- served as a bomber escort and as a very effective ground attack fighter.


  • Armament: Eight .50-cal machine guns and 2,500 lbs. of bombs or rockets
  • Engine: One Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial of 2,430 hp
  • Maximum speed: 433 mph
  • Cruising speed: 350 mph
  • Range: Approx. 1,100 miles with drop tanks
  • Ceiling: 42,000 ft.
  • Span: 40 ft. 9 in.
  • Length: 36 ft. 2 in.
  • Height: 14 ft. 8 in.
  • Weight: 17,500 lbs. maximum

Yakovlev Yak-3

The origins of the Yak-3 went back to 1941 when the I-30 prototype was offered along with the I-26 Yak-1 as an alternative design. It was lighter and smaller than Yak-9 but powered by the same engine. The Yak-3 was a forgiving, easy-to-handle aircraft loved by both rookie and veteran pilots and ground crew as well. It was robust, easy to maintain, and a highly successful dog-fighter.It was used mostly as a tactical fighter, flying low over battlefields and engaging in dogfights below 13,000 ft.

The new aircraft began to reach front line units during summer 1944. Yak-3 service tests were conducted by 91st IAP of the 2nd Air Army, commanded by Lt Colonel Kovalyov, in June–July 1944. The regiment had the task of gaining air superiority. During 431 missions, 20 Luftwaffe fighters and three Ju 87s were shot down while Soviet losses amounted to two Yak-3s shot down. The new fighter's production accelerated so rapid, that by mid-1946, 4,848 had been built.

It was one of the smallest and lightest major combat fighters fielded by any combatant during the war, and its high power-to-weight ratio gave it excellent performance.It proved a formidable dog fighter. Marcel Albert, World War II French ace, who flew the Yak in USSR with the Normandie-Niémen Group, considered it a superior aircraft to the P-51D Mustang and the Supermarine Spitfire.After the war ended, it flew with the Yugoslav and Polish Air Forces.


  • Armament: 1 × 20 mm ShVAK cannon, with 150 rounds, 2 × 12.7 mm Berezin UBS machine guns with 170 rpg
  • Engine: 1 × Klimov VK-105PF-2 V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine 1,300 hp
  • Maximum speed: 407 mph
  • Range: 405 miles
  • Ceiling: 35,000 ft
  • Span: 30 ft 2 in
  • Length: 27 ft 10 in
  • Height: 7 ft 11 in
  • Weight: 5,864 lb loaded

© 2015 nolamaddog


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    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 

      2 years ago from Sittingbourne

      An excellent informative article. There is so much to study and write about this subject.

      kind regards Peter

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 years ago

      Thank you, a good list. Is there any reason why you left the Lancaster, Mosquito, & Tempest off the list?

    • nolamaddog profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from New Orleans, Louisiana

      Thank you Kathleen, I appreciate it!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This is excellent work and a fascinating read. I'm sharing it on Facebook because I have several military friends who will be interested. Up and Sharing


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