Monday, December 1, 2003

The World War II years and beyond


By Mardell Haskins

Air warfare was the most important factor in World War II -- whether it was in Germany, Russia, England, Japan, the U.S or any other country involved in the war. A country's air strength and losses had a direct outcome on the war. When a country's air power was high, they were winning the war; when it was low, they were losing the war. As the tide of aircraft changed with the eb and flow of the loses and the manufacture of aircraft, so did the fate of that particular nation.

Until late in the 1930s aircraft had not changed very much. They were, for the most part, still open-cockpit airplanes made of wood and cloth. With the addition of tubular frames, designs began to change quickly and significantly. Probably the primary reason that airplane designs changed so rapidly was the demand of several governments around the world for bigger, better, and faster airplanes to be used as war machines. This was followed by opposing governments request for bigger, better, and faster airplanes to counter these new fighting machines.

There were so many different aircraft used during WWII that it is difficult to know just where to start or where to look. To begin with, there were a very large number of different types and models of aircraft used, in an array of areas. Spread among the Navy, Marines, and Army Air Force, almost every type of aircraft available was used in every theater of war. However, a few were unique, and were used for such things as coastal defense and training.

The two types of aircraft most widely used were, of course, fighters and bombers. Fighters were used as pursuits planes, attack planes, and chase planes. There was also an extensive array of bombers. There were light bombers, medium bombers, heavy bombers, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers. Not to mention reconnaissance planes, observation planes, and laison planes. There were cargo and troop transports, seaplanes, submarine chasers, and airboats. Finally there were gliders, blimps, and helicopters.

All together the U.S. had almost 100 different types of airplanes in their inventory during World War II. Beside the primary duties of bombing, defending and transporting, the secondary duties of aircraft were to support the ground troops.

But, most basic of all were the training airplanes. To fly all of these new airplanes, the war effort required pilots. Somewhere in the life of a pilot, he had to learn how to fly those big, bad, fast airplanes. Most pilots of WWII began pilot training in either a Boeing PT-17 Stearman "Kaydet", a Fairchild PT-19 "Cornell", or a Fairchild PT-11 "Recruit". They were all open cockpit airplanes where the instructor yelled at the trainee through a rubber tube "intercom" from the back seat.