Designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor, the Spitfire would become a symbol for British resistance against the Germans during the Battle of Britain. The impact it had on morale, and its performance in combat have led some to call it “The Airplane that Saved the World.”
Arguably the most iconic American fighter of WWII, the Mustang is a testament to American ingenuity and industrial capability. The Mustang was designed in 1940, with the first flying prototype built in just 120 days.
A long-range patrol aircraft designed in the 1930s, the PBY would become one of the most important aircraft in the war. From spotting the Bismarck, to locating the Japanese fleet off Midway, to its vital role in air-sea rescue missions, the PBY was the war’s most successful flying boat.
Nicknamed the Wooden Wonder, the Mosquito, built primarily out of wood, was among the fastest aircraft in the world when it was introduced in 1941, capable of reaching speeds over 400 mph while carrying up to 4,000 lbs of bombs.
Instantly recognizable for its inverted gull-wing, the Corsair was among the most powerful and unique fighter aircraft of the war. Capable of outfighting even the best Japanese aircraft, the Corsair is certainly a crowd favorite.
The best fighter the US Army had to offer on the eve of WWII, the P-40, though outmatched by many adversaries, held the line while faster and more capable aircraft were produced. It made up more than half of US Army Air Forces fighter strength until July 1943.
The Wildcat was America’s front-line, carrier based, fighter at the start of the war. Although the airplane was outmatched by its adversaries, superior tactics developed by US Navy pilots would allow Wildcat squadrons to hold back the Japanese advance.
Originally designed as a Torpedo Bomber, the Avenger would move past an inauspicious debut at the Battle of Midway to become the most effective and widely used Torpedo Bomber of the war. They would also see service as carrier-based conventional bombers and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
The Nose Art “Wild Cargo,” although done in a style common during the war, is based on a name the airplane earned post-war, when it crash landed carrying a cargo of exotic reptiles.
Although its role in the Battle of Britain is often overshadowed by the Spitfire, the Hurricane accounted for 60 percent of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe. The Hurricane was the more stable gun platform and would see service in all the major theaters of WWII.
The most ubiquitous of the US military’s primary trainers, the Stearman could accommodate a student and an instructor in its open cockpits. While it was easy to fly, it was a challenge to fly well, making it an excellent training platform.
Designed by Bell Aircraft, the unusual mid-engine P-39 has the highest number of enemy kills attributed to any U.S.-built fighter in history. The lack of an efficient turbo-supercharger meant that the airplane did not perform well at high altitude, but in the hands of Soviet pilots at low altitude over the Eastern Front, the P-39 made a massive contribution to the war effort.
The Curtiss C-46 was an unsung hero of WWII. It served in every theatre of the conflict, connecting far-flung garrisons across the globe as part of Air Transport Command. It also played a crucial role in keeping China in the war at a time when Japan had severed all other supply routes into that nation….
One of the smallest and lightest combat fighters of the war, the Yak-3 was easy to maintain and had an impressive power-to-weight ratio. When it entered service in July 1943 it was superior to both the Fw 190 and Bf 109G at altitudes below 16,000 feet.
Liaison Aircraft like the L-5 filled many of the roles played by helicopters in the modern military. Casualty evacuation, artillery and close air support spotting, reconnaissance, delivery of urgent supplies, aerial direction of ground convoys and even the laying of communication wires from the air were all roles regularly filled by the L-5.
A trainer for the Soviet Air Force and the most produced biplane in history, with over 30,000 estimated to have been built, the Po-2 would become famous for its role in night bombing missions on the Eastern Front.
Soviet tactical doctrine for air combat was based on the use of high performance monoplanes, and maneuverable biplanes. These mixed units would have the ability to leverage either strength as needed, or so it was thought.
The I-16 was a revolutionary fighter. In an era of biplanes, it was the first low wing monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear in the world. Introduced in the mid-1930s, it was still a mainstay in the Soviet Air Force on the eve of war.
Originally intended as a trainer and sport plane for the civilian market, the Cub placed aviation within reach of thousands through the Civilian Pilot Training Program. With relatively few modifications, the cub was militarized as the L-4 in Army service, and the NE-1 in Navy service.
With a range of designations for the aircraft based on its branch of service and configuration, the Texan played a vital role as an advanced trainer, providing would-be fighter pilots a final stepping stone before flying single-seat combat aircraft types.