March 2009



Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - Washington D.C.




(All pictures by  EAF51_Bear)







Macchi C.202 Folgore, 4░ Stormo CT








Virtually unknown outside Italy, the C.202 Folgore was the best fighter airplane fielded in significant numbers by the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force or RA) during World War II. This airplane demonstrated that Italy could design and build fighter aircraft to world-class standards. Aeronautica Macchi S. p. A. designed and built the Folgore (Lightning), which was based on an earlier Macchi design powered by a radial engine, the C.200 Saetta (Thunderbolt). To create the Folgore, Macchi's chief of design, Mario Castoldi, adapted the C.200 Saetta airframe to the German Daimler-Benz DB 601 liquid-cooled engine. Italy was a significant air-faring nation during the mid-1930s but its aviation industry began to lag late in the decade, particularly in engine development. No indigenous, in-line powerplant of sufficient power was available when the war started so early in 1940 Macchi had to import the German engine as a private venture. The results were impressive. Flat out, the Folgore was almost 97 kph (60 mph) faster than the Saeta's speed of 502 kph (312 mph).




Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6








The world became aware of the Messerschmitt Bf. 109 during the Battle of Britain, and it is to this day Germany's best known aircraft. Its success lay in its maneuverability and its accurate and stable handling. Throughout World War II, new models were developed; the Bf. 109G-6 "Gustav" was among the best.  The first G-6s were delivered to fighter units in 1942 and saw extensive service on the Eastern Front. This Bf. 109G-6 is shown in the markings of a fighter of the 7th Squadron, 3rd Group, 27th Wing, which operated over the Eastern Mediterranean.




Mitsubishi A6M Reisen (Zero)




No other aircraft surpasses the Mitsubishi A6M Reisen ("ree-sin," Japanese for Zero Fighter) as the symbol of Japanese air power during World War II. Mitsubishi designed the Zero fighter but co-produced the airplane with Nakajima. The two companies built more than 10,000 Zeros between March 1939 and August 1945. Design work began in 1937 when the Japanese Navy staff directed Mitsubishi and Nakajima to submit proposals for a new aircraft to replace the Mitsubishi A5M carrier fighter (Allied codename CLAUDE). Combat trials began in China during July 1940 and by fall, Zero pilots felled nearly 100 Chinese aircraft for the loss of only two Zeros to friendly fire. The A6M5 Zero Model 52 on display in the National Air and Space Museum came from a group of Japanese aircraft captured on Saipan Island in April 1944. Navy personnel removed 12 late-model Zeros from the island and sent them to the United States for evaluation. The earliest records pertaining to the Museum's Zero show that it was evaluated in 1944 at Wright Field, Ohio, and the following year at Eglin Field, Florida.




Martin B-26 Marauder




Martin B-26B Marauders saw action throughout World War II in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe. These high-performance medium bombers were employed successfully against bridges, airfields, railroad yards, V-1 "buzz bomb" launch sites, and other tactical targets. Flak Bait served with the 449th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bombardment Group, Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. This famous B-26 flew from bases in England and, after D-Day (on which it flew two missions), from bases in France and Belgium. In 21 months, Flak Bait acquired more than 1,000 holes, had its hydraulic system shot out twice and its electrical system once, returned twice on one engine, and came back once with an engine on fire. By war's end, it had flown 202 bombing missions, more than any other American bomber over Europe. The remaining fuselage of the "Flak Bait" is currently in storage at the Museum's Paul E. Garber




Boeing F4B-4



The Boeing F4B/P-12 series served as the primary fighter of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Air Corps in the early 1930s, and it remained in service in numerous roles until the early 1940s. It was the last wooden-winged, biplane fighter produced by Boeing and used by the U.S. military. The large quantity of F4B/P-12s built and purchased helped to establish Boeing as an important aircraft manufacturer and to sustain the firm through the economic hardships of the Great Depression. Total production of the F4B/P-12 series reached 586. The fourth and final version of the design was the F4B-4, 92 of which were built. Twenty-one were assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. The NASM F4B-4 is one of these. It was assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 10, and served there until July 1933. It was then transferred to VF-9M at Quantico, Virginia, where it flew until 1939.





Grumman F4-F Wildcat







Leroy Grumman's F4F Wildcat was not the fastest or most advanced fighter aircraft of World War II, but during the dark months after Pearl Harbor, Wildcat pilots stood firm, held the line, and stopped the Imperial Japanese military air forces when they seemed invincible. After war erupted in the Pacific, the Grumman F4F Wildcat was the primary fighter aircraft operated by the United States Navy and the Marine Corps. By 1942 every American Navy fighter squadron flew the F4F. Wildcat pilots encountered Japanese pilots flying the Mitsubishi A6M Zero (see NASM collection) more than any other enemy aircraft. The Zero could outmaneuver the F4F, but the Wildcat's heavy armament and solid construction gave it an advantage when flown by skilled pilots.





Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless







The Douglas SBD Dauntless was one of the truly great aircraft of World War II. It played a major role throughout the Pacific. On June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway, SBDs destroyed four Japanese carriers, dramatically altering the course of the war. The SBD's design was based on the Northrop BT-1, but with engine and structural changes. Production orders were placed in April 1939, with all SBD-1s going to U.S. Marine Corps units. Subsequent models were sent to Navy squadrons, with each succeeding model carrying such improvements as increased fuel capacity, illuminated gunsights, and armor plates for the crew. England, New Zealand, and France also used SBDs. The SBD-6 was the last production model, with 450 built.  This SBD-6 carries the markings of VS-51 (Navy scout squadron), which operated in the Pacific during World War II.



Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe



The Messerschmitt Me 262, nicknamed Schwalbe, or Swallow, surpassed the performance of every other World War II fighter. This was remarkable, considering the very early state of development of the Junkers Jumo 004B axial flow jet engines that powered it. Faster than the opposing North American P-51 Mustang by 190 kilometers (120 miles) per hour, the Schwalbe restored to the faltering German Luftwaffe a qualitative superiority that it had not enjoyed for years. Fortunately for the Allies, the Me 262 appeared in only relatively small numbers in the closing year of World War II, and the almost absolute Allied dominance of the air was not greatly disturbed. Although 1443 Me 262s were produced, it is estimated that only about 300 saw combat; the others were destroyed in Allied bombing attacks or in training accidents.




Lockeed XP-80 Lulu Belle






The XP-80 was the prototype of the P-80 Shooting Star, the first operational turbojet fighter committed to full production in the United States. Designed by Lockheed's chief research engineer, Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, in response to an urgent wartime requirement for a high-performance fighter aircraft to maintain control of the sky over Europe, the XP-80 was built in record time and first flew on January 8, 1944.

Germany and Great Britain went to war in 1939 with jet aircraft programs well underway, but the United States took longer to appreciate and develop the new technology. By 1943, mounting combat losses of American strategic bombers to German propeller-driven interceptors, and the knowledge that Germany was preparing to field the potent Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, encouraged the United States Army Air Forces (AAF) to push for a new combat jet. AAF leaders asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to develop the aircraft. Lockheed's most capable engineer, Clarence Johnson, and a team of designers began work on a prototype, designated the XP-80 but nicknamed "Lulu-Belle," on June 21, 1943. To keep the work secret, Johnson walled off the production area with discarded engine crates and a circus tent. Someone nicknamed this site the "Skunk Works" after the still that made moonshine, hidden deep in the cartoon backwoods of Al Capp's "Lil' Abner." "Lulu-Belle" flew on January 8, 1944, and later starred in a series of exercises conducted to develop tactics that American heavy bomber crews could use against attacks by jet fighters. The trials showed that enemy jet fighter pilots would much prefer rear aspect attacks. Based on these findings, AAF planners moved the formations of American fighters protecting the bombers to higher altitudes. These tactics proved effective in fending off Me 262 attacks during the last months of the war and undoubtedly saved the lives of many American bomber crewmen. By the end of 1945, the XP-80 had proved to be one of the most significant aeronautical designs in U.S. history, and was a resounding success for "Kelly" Johnson and his team of designers and engineers. After two years of extensive flight testing, Lulu-Belle, as the aircraft was affectionately called, was placed in inactive status in November 1946. It was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in May 1949 and was restored by the National Air and Space Museum in 1978.








The V-1 (Vergeltungswaffe Eins, or Vengeance Weapon One), was the world's first operational cruise missile. This name was given to it by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, but the original Air Ministry designation was Fi 103, after its airframe designer, the Fieseler company. Powered by a simple but noisy pulsejet that earned it the Allied nicknames of "buzz bomb" and "doodle bug," more than 20,000 were launched at British and continental targets, mostly London and Antwerp, from June 1944 to March 1945. It carried a one-ton, high-explosive warhead and had a range of about 240 km (150 miles) but was very inaccurate.  The Smithsonian acquired this V-1 on 1 May 1949 from the U.S. Air Force. It was moved to the National Air Museum's storage facility in Suitland, Maryland in January 1955 and was restored in 1975-76.



V-2 e V-1




The German V-2 rocket was the world's first large-scale liquid-propellant rocket vehicle, the first long-range ballistic missile, and the ancestor of today's large rockets and launch vehicles. Called the A-4 (Aggregat 4) by German Army Ordnance, the rocket was dubbed V-2, or Vergeltungswaffe Zwei ("Vengeance Weapon Two"), by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry when its existence was publicly announced in November 1944, two months after first deployment as a weapon. Launched from mobile platforms, the missile had a maximum range of about 320 km (200 miles) and a one-ton warhead. At least 10,000 concentration camp workers died in the process of manufacturing it. The U.S. Air Force officially transferred this V-2 to the Smithsonian on May 1, 1949. The National Air Museum moved it to its storage facility in Maryland in 1954 and, as the National Air and Space Museum, restored it in 1975-1976.






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