Yep, that’s right. We thought we’d take a break from the fighter action and do a few things that are totally different—maybe even unexpected. For instance, when was the last time you read a learned discourse on the Ilyushin Il-2? Or devoured a photo essay on the Stinson L-1 Vigilant? In both cases, you would be warranted in saying, “What? Never heard of ’em!” If this issue has a theme, that’s it: talking about airplanes that aren’t often talked about.
One of the airplanes that dances around the edges of aviation’s consciousness is the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik. People know it was around, but it’s one of those planes that not many know anything about. For that reason, it plays dual roles in this issue. First, it’s the featured player on our “The Most Produced: Icons in Big Numbers.” Why only a featured player? While it was the most produced military airplane of all time, to put it in context, the article runs down the entrants, and you may find it surprising what is—and what isn’t—on that list. The takeaway from this piece is the amazing amount of energy and intellect that went into aircraft production (among other things) during wartime.
Since the Il-2 was the most produced, we thought it only right that we devote an entire story to it, and George Millenger was the man to write it. More than that, we wanted to be among the first publications to show off John Dibbs’s photos of the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum’s (FHCAM) Shturmovik restoration that began flying a year or so ago. Incidentally, FHCAM is Paul Allan’s well-known Flying
Heritage Collection, now renamed to recognize its expansion into armored vehicles. In fact, as you read the article, you’ll see that the Shturmovik itself could easily be considered a form of combat armor due to the amount of steel plate it included.
At the opposite end of the mechanical scale from the Il-2— which essentially had the delicate nature of an anvil—were the L-birds of WW II. Here, their fragility (meaning “light weight”) was one of their strong points. Most were dragged around by no more than 65hp, which still let them go places reserved only for helicopters in this day and age. The L-birds and their pilots are largely unrecognized today, but their contributions to battle via artillery spotting, recon, rescue, and hauling wounded were invaluable. For that reason, we decided to have contributor Jim Busha, himself an L-bird owner, run down the list and, using a parade of grasshoppers, educate the rest of us as to the types of the breed that bear mentioning.
It wouldn’t be Flight Journal without at least one combat tale, and this issue’s is an unusual one, if nothing else because it dispels the legend of George Gay being the lone survivor of Torpedo Squadron Eight during the battle of Midway. What has evaded common public knowledge for generations is that VT-8’s thennew TBF “Avengers” (a name they picked up after the battle) flew directly to Midway and launched off the atoll’s Eastern Island to join the attack. Only one Avenger, although badly mauled by Japanese gunfire, staggered back to base, its pilot and one gunner the “other” lone survivors of Midway. It is a gripping tale.
Park yourself in your favorite chair. Crack open a cool something. Lean back and enjoy.
VT-8 (Torpedo Eight) had started to exchange its TBD Devastators for TBF Avengers, but hadn’t finished the transition, when their carrier left for Midway. The Avengers were vastly superior to the Devastators and were based on Midway Island for the battle. Only one survived.
The Ilyushin Il-2 was the most produced airplane of WW II, with 36,183 rolling off of their beleaguered production lines. (Photo by John Dibbs/Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum)