Flight Journal

Another pilot’s opinion


veterans have argued about which was better: the P-47 or the P-51. Maybe my preference for the P-51 started with my first flight in a Jug when I learned how much runway it needed. As pilots always do in a single-seat fighter, I spent a few hours in the cockpit memorizing all instrument and control positions. Then I was ready and was told that one of those monsters had just finished a 100-hour check and needed a test flight. I decided to take it.

The field at A-66 was typical of advanced landing strips: carved from the countrysid­e, cleared, somewhat leveled and covered with a metal mesh mat for its 2,700-foot length. It was adequate for Mustang operations.

The Jug, even with its water-injection feature, required every last foot of runway to get into the air. To make matters worse, the French had a custom of beautifyin­g their roads by planting trees on each side in a geometric pattern, about 10 to 12 feet apart. It made for very pretty, shady country lanes, but unfortunat­ely one of those crossed just beyond the end of our runway. When we flew the P-51, we were well airborne by that time, but in the Jug, it was a challenge to clear the treetops.

I had taken off in P-51s in half the distance this short runway offered. Now, I used every inch of the runway and still hadn’t felt the Jug leave the ground. With trees rapidly approachin­g, I almost had to physically lift it off to clear the trees. Once in the air, I couldn’t gain altitude and flew only feet above the treetops, using all my strength to hold it. Typically, I would hit the trim tab back to help me go up; however, I tried it, and it wanted to go down. I almost lost my life on that first flight. Later, I learned that the trim tab movement had been installed backwards.

That was enough to convince me: I wanted the P-51s that had been taken from our group back. We didn’t get them back for some time, though, and we flew P-47s from December 1944 through mid-February 1945.

The P-47 wasn’t nearly as maneuverab­le as the P-51, but it sure could take a beating.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the weather at last cleared to let us into the air near the besieged 101st Airborne Division. While I was dive-bombing, a cannon shell hit my forward fuselage and blew two cylinders completely out of the engine. I didn’t even know I had been hit.

When I landed, people were running alongside the aircraft pointing at it. I climbed out and saw that the entire right side of the aircraft was covered with oil. So the P-47 could take great punishment.

The hit that brought me down in a P- 51 near Metz wouldn’t have taken down a Thunderbol­t; it was built like an anvil. Before jumping from the Mustang, I counted eight holes; the one through the engine brought me down. Still, to choose between a plane that could take punishment and one that wasn’t likely to be hit as often (the P-51), I would rather not get hit as often.

The P-47 could carry a huge load. We were flying shortrange missions, so we didn’t need the two 185 U.S.-gallon fuel tanks under each wing. Typically, we carried two 1,000-pound bombs, one under each wing plus one 500-pound bomb under the fuselage. We didn’t have the air-to-ground rockets that Thunderbol­ts in some units carried.

The eight .50-caliber guns in a P-47 had awesome firepower. I actually tipped over a boxcar while strafing in a Jug! Awesome! I also felt the impact of those eight guns while flying a P-51, when a P-47 mistook me for a Bf 109 like the one I was chasing and hit me with all eight. It blew my canopy off, made a four-inch indentatio­n in the steel plate behind my head without penetratin­g, and nearly knocked me out. I did an involuntar­y snap roll and spin, but recovered. The two Jugs abruptly recognized me and left. One of my squadron mates escorted me home and I then flew up to Boxted to confront the guy who hit me. It was Maj. Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski’s squadron, and he defended them until he finally brought in a new pilot who had “made a mistake.” They had destroyed the gun camera film.

The Mustang was faster, more maneuverab­le, had less firepower and was more vulnerable. The Jug climbed slower, flew slower, was less maneuverab­le, had more fire power and could take a lot of punishment. It might have dived faster as P-47 lovers claim, but

I thought the Mustang was as good.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States