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Thunderbolt Holds Court

Frederick A. Johnsen

July 29, 2016 - A hulking Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter provided a striking backdrop to the Friday morning Warbirds in Review session where Bob Hoover and John Penney talked about their experiences with the machine.

The Thunderbolt fighter was a World War II ace-maker. Sometimes overshadowed by the sleek P-51 Mustang, big Thunderbolts earned a reputation for durability. The record shows they could hold their own in combat around the world. With peace in 1945, fewer P-47s were retained in the U.S. military inventory than their P-51 counterparts, making the P-47 scarcer when the warbird movement wanted to embrace the Thunderbolt.  Fortunately, foreign air forces, including those of several Latin American countries, received surplus P-47s that bypassed the efficient American smelters. The P-47 at AirVenture 2016 Came from Bolivia.

The P-47D, like the model on display, could fly faster than 440 mph at 29,000 feet. A whirling turbosupercharger helps the big R-2800 radial engine achieve this at altitude. John Penney, who flew the P-47 to AirVenture, said the turbo equipment adds 2,500 pounds to the weight of the Thunderbolt.

Penney said the robust air-cooled radial engine in the P-47 could absorb battle damage and still function. He said a P-47 is known to have returned to base with the engine running, but missing a cylinder that was shot off in combat.

The P-47 packed a wallop with a total of eight .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing. Other American single-engine fighters carried six or fewer machine guns. The Thunderbolt could also launch 10 High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVARs), deadly against ground targets.

Asked about the markings on the Thunderbolt at AirVenture, depicting a charging bull, Penney told the crowd, “We do have a historical picture of the pilot standing next to this” in World War II. Penney said “It’s an honor to bring this airplane to events like this,” where veterans can see the machine again. The P-47 is part of the Lewis Air Legends collection from Texas. Owner Rod Lewis frequently supports EAA AirVenture warbird displays.

The silver Thunderbolt is in the Warbirds area. Its bulk provides a stark contrast to nearby diminutive fighters like the Bell P-39 Airacobra.
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