posted on Oct, 16 2006 @ 09:38 AM
MY 10 BEST COMBAT PLANES
I got to thinking about what the ten most important combat planes in history should be. Actually ten is a hard number to pare down to. You might
disagree with some and have other candidates but this is my reasoning for the best of the best in no particular order.
Produced in huge numbers the Douglas DC-3 airliner went to war and became the C-47. It was soon affectionately labeled “Gooney Bird.” Rock
solid, stable, and honest-flying were the trademarks of the DC-3 and C-47. As the DC-3 the ship pioneered relatively comfortable, fast and safe air
travel. As the C-47 a cargo door and beefed up floor allowed the plane to haul anything that could be passed through the door. C-47s were the
backbone of the Normandy invasion carrying vast numbers of airborne troops that parachuted into the France and even towed gliders. The rugged
airframe construction and reliable engines could absorb damage to a substantial degree and keep flying.
Supply is the lifeblood of any army and the C-47 did a magnificent job hauling parts, ammo and other equipment to every third-rate airstrip of the
world. Numbers made the difference and with over 10,000 built there was never a shortage factor. After the war many C-47s were converted back to
passenger configuration and served into the 1970s. With many warehouse full of spares for them they soldiered on. Cost per mile and operating
expenses were so low coupled with high reliability that small airlines and cargo companies couldn’t replace the venerable planes with anything else.
The C-47 finally got its guns in Vietnam armed with a trio of 7.62 mm mini guns that produced a violet waterfall of fire when seen at night. Banking
over the target aimed the side-pointed weapons that saturated a given area in lethal projectiles.
There are other famous WW II America fighters like the P-40 of the Flying Tigers. Some will say the P-47 Thunderbolt should make the list and there
are no Navy planes either. But the true turning point of WW II came with the debut of the P-51 Mustang in that its long-range escort ability saved
the Allied bomber offensive from obliteration. As things were going about the time of the Schweinfurt Raids in mid-to-late 1943, the US was seriously
considering ceasing large daylight bombing operations due to extensive losses.
P-51s truly brought the war to Germany like the bomber alone could not do. Before it the Luftwaffe knew exactly when the P-47s and or Spitfires had
to turn back and were waiting to intercept the bombers. As mentioned, losses were high. The Mustangs were able to tag along to any European or
Pacific target, no matter how distant, giving the protection of their guns to their “Big Friends” as they stuck close. Once the tide was turning
the P-51s were unleashed to pursue enemy fighters on any terms encountered.
Mustangs were as maneuverable or more so than FW 190s or Bf 109s they met in most circumstances. While the Bs and Cs had four .50s with a total of
1,260 rounds, the D and later models had six guns with 1,880 rounds of API- armor-piercing incendiary ammo. Plus with the Merlin that replaced the
original Allison V-12, the planes were faster with a 437-MPH top speed than most German planes but for a handful. The late-war P-51H seen in the
closing stages of the Pacific could manage 487 MPH.
After WW II they served in Air National Guard units and bore much of the ground attack war in Korea. Many saw use in small air forces around the
world and some were even revamped in the 1980s for counter insurgency roles. All models’ production totaled around 14,000 aircraft.
When one thinks of the word “bomber” the Boeing B-17 springs to mind. Described as a “flying fortress” by a news writer the name stuck and
became its official moniker. There were more B-24s built- about 16,000- than B-17s- about 12,000- but the forgiving nature of the Boeing airframe
absorbed damage that would have made other planes coffins. There are countless stories of Forts returning their crews to England safely after
suffering massive structural damage and loss of engines. Missing complete vertical or horizontal stabilizers or the loss of several feet of wing,
they flew on. Gaping holes or mangled noses that dragged them down to near stall speed didn’t deter the big planes’ ability to function as an
airborne lifesaver to the thankful crew that would have been dead or at least POWs in lesser craft. As a B-24 gunner I know stated, “When an engine
quit on the B-24 it was really time to sweat since it didn’t fly on two.”
A bomb load of 4-5,000 lbs. was the usual long-range payload. Ten crewmen were aboard and had as many as thirteen .50 caliber guns for defense. But
such was the technology and thought of the time to build a big plane to carry bombs a long way. Looking at a small, single-seat fighter today that
can carry 6,000 lbs. or more and refuel in flight it seems the B-17 was almost feeble in comparison. They did the job they were built for at the time
they were needed.
The F-4 Phantom II was the first fighter built to “expand” with future equipment. Ultimately over 5,000 were manufactured. For a brief time it
was known as the F-110 in its Air Force niche before the move to single designation for all services came about. McDonnell left plenty of room for
future, unknown “add-on” equipment that might be developed in the foreseeable future making the F-4 longer-lived in theory.
It was huge compared to its Soviet opponents. Maneuverability was not of paramount concern. Electronic equipment and advanced weaponry was deemed
more important. Like the F-86 before it, the F-4’s opponents in Vietnam had advantages. But like all planes in all situations before pilots used
the plane to its best advantage and made kills. The Air Force in its infinite wisdom opted for missile-only armament believing the forecast of the
Cold War thinking where fighters would be primarily intercepting Soviet heavy bombers like the F-86D.