In terms of technological advancement, there are few events in the 20th century as significant as World War 2. The nature of war meant that technology advanced at an unbelievably fast rate. Almost everything you can think of was improved in this war. Methods for synthesizing materials were improved and cheapened, production processes became more efficient and vehicular technology was improved drastically. And, as I am sure you have figured out by now, this post is about that last point. More specifically, I am going to be talking about each major country's most famous fighter, not most successful one. This does mean that one of the fighters on the list is not exactly comparable to the others on the list, but there really isn't much I can do about that. These things were designed and built almost 80 years ago at the time of writing this post. They are ancient, and they reflect very different design philosophies and concepts that engineers thought would be the most effective in a given war theatre.
Now first of all, let me just clarify how I selected the planes. I decided to focus only single seater and single-engine fighters, which are the most iconic type of fighters from the era. It made researching easier and understanding the advantages and disadvantages easier due to the relatively simple nature of the planes.
Supermarine Spitfire - Great Britain
Are you honestly surprised? This is one of the single most iconic fighters in history, not just in WW2. This is the legendary fighter associated with saving the UK during the Battle of Britain, despite how factually wrong that was. This plane lives long in the memory of the British public, and honestly deserves its fame. Powered by the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 inline V12 engine that powered many planes in the RAF, this 1470hp engine pushed the plane up to a maximum speed of around 600kph. But the engine was also the source of the early Spitfire's greatest flaw. It had to do with the fuel system of the engine, and how that fuel was delivered into the combustion chamber.
Look, the Spitfire used what is known as a float-carburetor to feed fuel into the engine. Most carburetors work by drawing air and fuel into a mixing chamber and then, well, mixing them before feeding them to the piston chamber. The type of carburetor (or carb for short) the Spitfire used made it completely useless in a true dogfight because the spitfire could not perform negative G maneuvers. Why? Well, it had to do with the design of the carburetor, which caused the engine to be flooded with fuel after a negative G maneuver. This happened in 3 stages, which are shown bellow.
In the first stage, the plane is flying level, and the carburetor is working in an ideal state. Air and fuel are mixed well, and the engine is getting everything it needs. The float valve is regulating the fuel flow into the mixing chamber so that the power output is consistent. This is when the plane is in anything but slightly upside down flight. When we go into a negative g maneuver (upside down flight basically), stage 2 occurs; the fuel starvation phase. The fuel in the float chamber flows to the top of the float chamber, forcing the float itself down. This means that the float valve is unable to restrict the amount of fuel flowing into the chamber. More worryingly, the fuel is forced away from the jet at the bottom of the chamber, meaning the engine gets starved of fuel. This causes it to cut out, so the pilot has to get back into level flight quickly. But when they do, stage 3 begins, and that is the really dangerous one. Now that there is excess fuel in the float chamber, all of it will flow into the mixing chamber, and an over-rich fuel-air mixture flows into the pistons. What I mean is that the fuel-air mixture flowing into the pistons has too much fuel, and it won't actually combust properly. In other words, the engine is flooded with excess fuel and can't burn it completely. This means the engine just dies midair and the plane crashes, the pilot helpless to prevent the inevitable. This was the fatal flaw of the Spitfire in the early part of the war, and it severely limited the Spitfire's dogfighting capability. This was a major issue as the Spitfire, being designated as an interceptor fighter, was supposed to engage in dogfights with enemy escort fighters or enemy interceptors. The RAF needed a solution, and fast. They were developing high-pressure carburetors that would fix this problem, but the system was imperfect and prone to failure. The RAF needed time to perfect it, so a stop-gap solution was needed. And a young female engineer by the name of Beatrice "Tilly" Shilling had just what the RAF needed.
What she did was fit a metallic O-ring in the fuel pipe that fed the float chamber, forcibly limiting the amount of fuel that could flow to the chamber. This honestly did nothing to prevent the fuel starvation phase, BUT it delayed the more serious flooding phase by quite a bit, allowing the Spitfire to hold a negative G maneuver for longer and making it more competitive in dogfights. Shilling's simple solution basically ensured England didn't immediately collapse against the Luftwaffe's might. So the pilot's lovingly named it "Miss Shilling's Orifice." ...Lets move on.
As for weaponry, the Spitfire actually had what I would call shit weaponry at the beginning of the war. It only had 8 Browning machine guns, and nothing else. That was horrible, as a single Spitfire could not take down an enemy fighter with its Brownings. In fact, it took over 4,500 rounds to take down an enemy fighter with that gun configuration! No fighter can carry that many rounds, meaning the Spitfire didn't spit fire, it just spat. But they addressed this quickly and the Spitfire actually lived up to its name. Depending on the variant, pilots either got 4 20mm Hispano Mk.II cannons or a combination of 2 Hispanos with 2-4 0.303in Mk.II Brownings, depending on the Spitfire variant. However, I believe the deadliest Spitfires were those armed with 2 20mm Hispano cannons and 2 0.50in M2 Browning machine guns, which are not Mk.II Brownings. All of this allowed the Spitfire to effectively engage all enemy aircraft with speed and efficiency, allowing it to earn it's legendary status. This was also helped by the plane often being flown by superb pilots, some of the best in the world, even compared to all the other nations on this list.
OK, we have gone over the RAF's most famous (and maybe slightly overhyped) interceptor fighter, now lets look at it's German equivalent.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 - Germany
This legendary German fighter made with "superior" German engineering was one of the best multi-role fighters in history. Originally conceived as an interceptor, variants of the 109 were made to suit almost any need within the Luftwaffe. There were escort variants, dogfighter variants, attack variants and even a light bomber version. But in truth, the variants of the plane were effectively the same, just had some small hard points for bombs, guns and whatever else they felt like adding.
The design philosophy made this craft very unique and under the lightweight design philosophy of the Luftwaffe. The idea was to try and minimize the number of separate pieces needed to make the plane, meaning less bolts and rivets needed to hold it together, saving weight. This also made the plane easier to fix as there were less parts to fix after combat missions. Take for example, the brackets on the firewall. These had a complex design, one so intricate they were able to integrate the engine mounts and the pivots for the landing gear into the brackets. This simplified the wing structure as the landing gear was attached to the fuselage, not the wings, but it completely destroyed the plane's stability on the ground. It became prone to rolling over when on the ground due to the short wheelbase. They attempted to fix this by splaying the wheels outwards, but it didn't do much. The 109 still suffered from instability on the ground. The only solution was to increase the size of the tail wing so that it provided a greater turning moment to counter the instability.
That is just 1 example of the 109's unique design being brilliant yet flawed. It was full of things like this, where some advantages created disadvantages that couldn't be avoided and instead had to be mitigated. But there was one thing that was nearly perfect on this fighter: the weaponry. There are many variants of the Bf109, but I'll focus on the G series, one of the latest and the greatest. Specifically, I will be focusing on the G-6 variant of the Bf109, which had extremely powerful weaponry. This aircraft had no less than 2 13mm MG 131 machine guns with 300 rounds per gun in the wings, 1 30mm MK 108 cannon with 65 rounds OR 1 20mm MG 151/20 cannon with 200 rounds, both of which were located in the center of the propeller, otherwise known as a motor-cannon. That is a lot of firepower, and that wasn't even the most armed version of the craft. No, some pilots got to fly a 109 with an additional cannon pod fitted under the fuselage that contained 2 more MG 151/20 20mm cannons, with 135 rounds each. I am fairly sure that is clearly overkill for a fighter, even for dismantling Lancaster bombers or C-47 transports. In fact, now that I think about it, this could actually be a disadvantage due to the extra weight. Think about it, this amount of weaponry and ammunition will add a significant amount of weight to the craft. That will make it harder to turn and reduce overall maneuverability, which is definitely a bad thing.
On the topic of maneuverability, we need to talk about the engine. This legendary German fighter used a similarly legendary engine: the Daimler-Benz DB605A inverted V-12 engine producing a mighty 1455 hp, giving the Bf 109 a top speed of 640 kph at just over 6000m.
Now the interesting part here was the inverted part of the name. It basically meant that the "V" opened downwards instead of upwards like normal, so the camshafts and injectors were low down in the plane, giving it a low center of gravity and slightly better maneuverability. Yes, i said injectors. The DB 605A was fuel-injected rather than carbureted. This is what allowed the engine to be inverted, as a carburetor was just too big and too unreliable when inverted, for exactly the same reasons as the Spitfire's crappy carbs. Fuel injection is, well, exactly what it says on the tin. The fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber along with the air and is then combusted. The advantage of fuel injection is that it is immune to problems that carbs face and provides more power and more complete and efficient combustion of fuel. It allowed the Messerschmitt engineers to fit the DB 605A in an inverted configuration. But why? Honestly, I'm not sure. While researching, I saw many explanations, from easier propeller configuration to easier mounting of a motor-cannon. Frankly, I don't think any of these are the sole reason, so I'll just assume that the reason why the DB 605A is inverted is that it opened up multiple improvements in the design of the 109.
Overall, I'd say the Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a great plane, but not perfect. In pursuit of designing the ultimate fighter, German designers were forced to make some compromises that may have slightly hurt the plane. But in truth, the plane was nowhere near as flawed as its Soviet counterpart.
Yakovlev Yak-9 - Soviet Union
I have no damn clue what to think about this multi-purpose fighter. Yes, it was effective, but it was also an engineering dumpster fire. This was a development of the Yakovlev Yak-7, which was the mainline Soviet fighter at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa; the massive invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler in 1942. German 109s and 110s tore through the relatively archaic Yak-7s and the Soviets were only really saved in 1942 by the winter. The halted German invasion meant that the Soviets had time to upgrade their planes to be more effective against the Germans, and that resulted in the Yakovlev Yak-9, a very flawed fighter.
In my opinion, this fighter's biggest flaw was the engine: the Klimov VK-105PF or M-107A depending on the Yak-9 variant. These engines were actual pieces of shit. These damn things shook themselves to pieces after 25 hours of flight time. For context, a non-combat sortie would take 6-8 hours of flight time. These engines died after 4 or 5 of them!!
And that 25 hours was excluding war emergency power! War emergency power, or WEP for short, was an engine setting where the engine would, for brief periods of time, produce more than 100% power for increased performance. The way the system worked was different for each country; for example, the Germans used either water injection systems or nitrous oxide systems to increase that power threshold. The Americans had a mechanical stop that could be broken to allow for the use of WEP. The British system would increase the supercharger boost pressure to increase power. As for the Soviet system? I am not sure because, well, I couldn't find a definitive source that actually explained how it worked. However, we do know that they existed, as there are multiple references to a Forsazh boost system used by some other Soviet fighters, so we can assume that this was a system that boosted power output somehow... which apparently only worked at altitudes bellow 2000m making it effectively useless, as the planes operated at 6000m normally. Even if the Yak-9's shitty engines did not suffer from this flaw, they were so bad that they would probably need to rebuild the engine after using WEP in a couple of sorties, when compared to the American and British systems lasting hundreds of sorties before needing an engine rebuild. I'm telling you, the VK-105PF and M-107A were actual pieces of shit. I mean, yes they had 1500 hp, which was enough to get the fighter up to 676 kph at around 5900m, allowing it to compete with the Bf109, but they was plagued by so many reliability problems so numerous, I can't forgive it's existence.
I will however admit that it had super maneuverability at low to medium altitudes, superior to the 109 actually. It had very good aileron authority at those altitudes, making it extremely maneuverable at low to medium altitudes. It was also a very easy to fly plane, which was a very good thing. This simplicity meant that pilots did not have to be super skilled, so more competent pilots could be produced quickly, allowing the Soviets to have a numbers advantage in the sky. Yea, this plane was very easy to produce, and by the end of the war, this was one of if not the most produced fighters in the war; the Soviet production capabilities were that insane. This ease of production, combined with the armament, made it a deadly fighter. Speaking of which:
The guns on this Soviet warcraft were... pretty powerful, but there were the engineering disasters as well. Now the thing is, there were hundreds of Yak-9 variants, so I'll just hit the noteworthy variants. The definitive Yak-9 variant was the Yak-9U variant, armed with 2 12.7mm UBS machine guns(340 rounds per gun) and 1 20 mm Shpitalnyi-Vladimirov Aviatsionnyi Krupnokalibernyi (or ShVAK) cannon(120 rounds) that fired through the hollow propellor. This was actually pretty heavy, enough power to destroy all Luftwaffe craft with a couple of salvos. But someone thought no. NOT ENOUGH. So the Soviets went and developed a much heavier and less workable version of the Yak-9U labelled the Yak-9UT. This was an experimental version of the Yak-9U that I think saw service with it's overpowered armament: 1 N-37 37mm cannon(30 rounds) and 2 Berezin B-20 20mm cannons(120 rounds each). The 37mm cannon, while seriously limited in terms of ammo, could destroy anything and everything, even tanks. I mean it, because the cannon could go through 30mm of armor at a 60 degree angle 500m away. That is insane!
Now, I did say less workable. The reason why I said that is the recoil from the N-37 was ridiculous, and it actually damaged the shitty engines even more than normal, leading to more reliability problems. But it didn't really matter when you could simply delete everything in your sights with a single bullet. Now, there were other issues with the N-37 cannon that led it to be considered a non-viable weapon, so the production version of the Yak-9UT carried a N-23 23mm cannon with slightly more rounds, and a little bit less power, but still enough to devastate most enemies
So, this Soviet craft was confusing. There were some very good aspects to it, but it had some serious flaws as well. What annoys me most about this is that these problems should have been easy to fix. I mean, how hard would it be for the Soviets to simply commission their engineers to build an engine that, well, wasn't shit? But at the same time, the Yak-9 had amazing maneuverability and very respectable firepower, so I can't say it's a bad plane. It was, at the very least, effective. But now, let us move on to another fighter, one that is an actual masterpiece so that I don't have to confuse myself deciding if it's good or not.
Fiat G.55 Centauro - Italy
Now yes, Italy was the laughing stock of all the axis powers in WWII. But I seriously doubt that had to do with the technology Italy could bring to bear. I think that Italy was the laughing stock of WWII simply because they had shitty military strategy and only really had success because they had the help of their ally, Germany. With that said, let's admire the design of this fighter.
Now, The G.55 was just an all around excellent fighter, a near perfect mix of speed, firepower, maneuverability and even armor. This plane actually had some serious armor around the cockpit and engine, meaning the plane could actually take quite a few hits before going down. What amazes me is that the plane had this armor (which obviously made it heavy) yet it had maneuverability comparable to all the other fighters on this list, and even bettered a few of them. This plane was a seriously well designed fighter, as there didn't seem to be any obvious design flaws.
The engine for the plane was labeled the Fiat RA.1050 R.C.58 Tifone, a massive inverted V-12. In truth, this wasn't actually an Italian engine, as this was actually a license built Daimler Benz DB 605A-1 inverted V-12, the same engine as in the Messerschmitt Bf109. It produced the same 1455 hp and got the G.55 up to a maximum speed of 623 kph, on par with its competition. In terms of flight performance, this plane was almost unmatched overall. Individual aspects of the performance could be matched, but no other plane on this list got a better combination of acceleration, maneuverability and top speed than the G.55.
Now, this plane wasn't as common as others on this list, but it was unbelievably powerful in all its configurations. The Luftwaffe compared it to their Bf109 and the Focke-Wulf 190, and the G.55 was said to be the better fighter overall. That is high praise, and probably had something to do with the armament of the plane. The plane only had 2 different variants, so only 2 different weapon arrangements. First was the Series 0. The Series 0 had 1 20mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannon mounted in the center of the propellor with 250 rounds and 4 Breda-SAFAT 12.7mm machine guns, with 300 rounds. The SAFAT machine guns were mounted in the upper and lower engine cowling, and this was actually advantageous, because all the guns are closer to the centerline of the plane, meaning that the weapons are more likely to hit their target and deal more damage to the enemy. But the disadvantage is the same as the one on the Yak-9. Because the 20mm cannon fired through the propellor and the SAFATs were mounted around the engine, it was actually difficult to service and rearm all of them, particularly the 2 in the lower cowling. As a result, they changed the configuration in the second, and only other version of this plane, the almighty Series 1.
The Series 1 had 3 20mm Mauser 151/20 cannons with 200 rounds each and 2 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns, each with 300 rounds. Now, 2 of the MG 151/20s were mounted in the wings, coming with a host of advantages and disadvantages, but none worth mentioning here. The 2 SAFATs were in the upper engine cowling, like the Series 0, but there were none in the lower cowling, for servicing ease. This was incredibly destructive armament for a fighter of its size, but the engineers thought that wasn't enough. They thought that the Centauro needed more than just guns to destroy their enemies, so there were hard points on the plane that allowed it to carry bombs or 1 giant torpedo into battle. What impresses me more than the fact it can carry that much ordinance is the fact that it can carry the ordinance while maintaining extreme maneuverability, something even the amazing Bf109 couldn't achieve. This is a truly amazing fighter, so why is it all but forgotten to history?
Well, the simple fact is that not many were built. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, production only started in 1943. That is quite a ways into the war, and in that year, the Allies invaded Italy. They bombed the crap out of Fiat factories until the invasion was over, which meant that during the war, less than 300 G.55s were built. For comparison, over 35,000 Bf109s were made, over 110 times more!!!! I suppose if production had begun earlier, this plane would be better remembered, but the simple fact is that it wasn't, and therefore isn't. But enough about the Europeans, how about something a little more Asian?
Mitsubishi A6M Zero - Japan
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was the most famous Japanese fighter of the war. It is unique in this list because it was designed as a carrier-based fighter, not as a normal ground fighter like every other plane on the list. I chose it over other Japanese fighters like the Ki-84 and Ki-44 because the A6M is more well known of the bunch. Also, the fact that it was a carrier based fighter makes it a more interesting plane to talk about, as the engineering challenges the engineers faced were unlike anything before.
So, the plane was commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy, as they needed some sort of superiority fighter to have total air superiority for the invasion of the Pacific. The plane needed to have a top speed of 500kph at 4000m and be able to climb 3000m in 9.5 minutes. With drop tanks attached, it needed to be able to fly for 2 hours at normal power levels and 6-8 hours at economic cruising speeds. It was also supposed to be equipped with 2 20mm cannons and 2 7.7mm machine guns, along with hard points for 2 60 kg bombs and have maneuverability comparable to the A5M (Japan's mainline fighter at the time). Because the plane was commissioned by the IJN, and not the army, it was to be a carrier-based fighter. This limited the wingspan to 12m. For comparison, all the other planes in this list had a wingspan ranging from 16 to 18m depending on the configuration. The engineering challenge here was absurd! The amount of requirements for the plane as well as the restrictions imposed due to the fact it was a carrier based plane made the engineering of this plane almost impossible. The project was given to two companies: Nakajima Aircraft Company and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, both of whom supplied the IJN with admirable planes throughout the war and before it. To give you an idea of just how difficult it was, the Nakajima Aircraft Company pulled their bid from the project. Yes, Nakajima just gave up on the project, deeming it too difficult. But the Mitsubishi team, lead by Jiro Horikoshi, persevered, and they came up with a brilliant design, but one that was full of inherent flaws.
Horikoshi's design philosophy focused on making the plane as light and as efficient as was possible, and the plane is therefore a designers wet dream. In order to meet the weight limit, they needed a new type of alloy for the body. This was developed by Sumitomo Metal Industries and was given the name of "Extra Super Duralumin." This was a very strong but very light alloy that was developed exclusively for the plane. It made it very light, but Horikoshi didn't think it was enough.
So wherever he could, he cut holes into the plane's skeleton, ensuring they were in positions so as not to compromise the structural integrity of the plane. Another thing Horikoshi did was design everything so that it could be flush with the plane's surface. By this, I mean that the all weapons were placed in a way such that they didn't protrude out of the plane, but they created a smooth aerodynamic surface. Even the landing gears, when fully retracted, fit into a slot that ensured nothing protruded outwards, creating a smooth aerodynamic surface. The plane also had retractable footholds which sat flush with the plane's body when not in use. They were installed to make it easier to get into the smaller than average cockpit. Yes, the plane actually had a smaller cockpit than the other planes on this list, simply because Japanese pilots were smaller on average when compared to their American counterparts. Horikoshi exploited almost any method of reducing the weight of the plane he could, and the resulting aircraft was an amazing feat of engineering, meeting all of the IJN's requirements, but also had major design flaws that simply couldn't be worked around.
The first major weakness was the lack of any sort of protection. The plane had no armor, and the skin of the plane was abnormally thin. The skin of the plane is basically the layer of metal that surrounds the plane's skeleton and makes it look less like a skeleton. This is not armor, it's just there to give the plane a body. The skin on the Zero was so thin, it was near impossible to get into the plane without damaging it. If you did damage it, well, the plane was affected quite badly. This also meant the plane was also extremely prone to catching fire, due to the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks. Self sealing fuel tanks were made out of a special rubber that expanded on contact with aviation fuel. To prevent the tanks from expanding all the time, they were coated on both the inside and outside with a polymer that prevented the fuel from having direct contact with the rubber tank, at least until a hole was formed. They were standard issue on all the other aircraft on the list, so their omission on the Zero is almost unforgiveable. Their omission was again a measure taken in the pursuit of lightness, meaning that after a couple of shots, the Zero was leaking fuel and was in danger of catching fire. In fact, American pilots found that one burst of ammo was more than enough to completely disable the Zero in any engagement even with very weak armament, the problem was getting into a position to kill the Zero, and now we can get to the good points about the plane.
This thing had almost god-like maneuverability, pretty much the best of all the planes on this list. Especially at low speeds, the Zero could out-turn any other fighter and just be impossible to hit. Pilots could easily make use of combat maneuvers in a dogfight to make the Zero impossible to destroy.
During a dogfight, the 940hp Nakajima NK1C Sakae-12 14 cylinder radial engine allowed it to out-maneuver all the fighters it would encounter, and the armament of 2 Type 97 7.7mm machine guns and 2 Type 99 Mk.3 20mm cannons allowed the Zero to destroy the enemy planes very efficiently. While the engine seems a little underpowered compared to the other engines on this list, it was still able to push the Zero up to a respectable speed of 533 kph. Yes, it might not have had the best straight line speed here, but this was inline with the Japanese ethos of favoring maneuverability over straight line performance. Why should the plane need to outrun an opponent who couldn't hit it?? It was basically impossible to hit a Zero when in a dogfight, the plane was able to make ridiculously tight turns very quickly, only hampered by the fact that it used a float carburetor, giving it the same issues as the Spitfire of being unable to perform negative g maneuvers. While the issue wasn't addressed, the plane could turn so hard without needing to roll over, it honestly didn't matter; the plane was untouchable in a dogfight. This was also helped by the fact that Japanese pilots were all elite pilots. They received training completely unmatched by any other nation in the war. The Japanese ensured that all their pilots were of top quality before entering service, and the same could be said of the planes. The planes were perfect before entering service, every rivet and screw perfect before being approved for service. This was the main reason why the Japanese lost the war, as losses were not being replaced in a timely fashion. As the US began to push closer to the Japanese mainland, Japanese losses mounted but weren't replaced in a timely manner. This only got worse for the Japanese thanks to an extraordinary turn of luck in favor of the US.
During a dogfight between USN and IJN forces, a A6M was disabled and the pilot was forced to ditch the aircraft in the sea. A USN aircraft carrier was able to recover the Zero before the IJN could, and the US military spent a while tearing it down and testing it, discovering its strengths and weaknesses before formulating a counter strategy; fly fast. Seems simple, but let me explain. The Zero's massive problem was the lack of hydraulic actuators for all control surfaces. Every other plane on this list, including the following one, used hydraulics to move all the control surfaces on the plane, things like flaps, ailerons and the tail. The Zero didn't, instead relying on a more traditional series of basic levers and pulleys, exploiting the basic principles of mechanical advantage to move the control surfaces. This saved weight and allowed the plane to be maneuverable... at low speeds. The problem was, as speed built, the airflow over the wings increased, meaning the forces exerted on the surfaces was much higher. The simple lever and pulley system magnified the force to and from the pilots. This meant that the stronger the force on the control surfaces, the more force the pilot had to exert to move the surfaces. Above speeds of 320kph, the pilot needed to exert incredible force on the control stick to get the plane to maneuver, significantly reducing the effectiveness of the aircraft. This was worsened by the fact that the Zero was very difficult to fly at any speed, further reducing the aircraft's effectiveness. All of this allowed American pilots to easily destroy Zeros by simply flying at high speeds and using their hydraulically actuated control surfaces to their advantage, taking away the tactical advantage of the Zero overnight.
The A6M Zero is an example of how pursuing a certain idea or philosophy comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The plane can be amazing in certain areas, but specializing in some areas to severely sacrifice performance in others is never a good idea, as if there are disadvantages in a design, well, they will be exploited majorly. I think of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero as a warning from history about the dangers of designing a specialty plane. The designer can loose sight of the important things in the pursuit of perfection, and the object being designed can be flawed without the designers ever being aware.
North American P-51 Mustang - USA
Possibly the most prolific plane on this list, the USAF's P-51 Mustang was the legendary Multi-role fighter used by basically all the allied forces during the course of WWII, but primarily used by the United States. The interesting thing was that the P-51 was actually not designed for the USAF's needs, the plane was designed for the RAF. Let me explain.
As I'm sure you are aware, the US did not enter WWII immediately, as Congress was heavily against war. At the same time, they didn't want to see Nazi Germany take over Europe, and were therefore left in a compromising position. In order to work around the limitations Congress imposed on him, President Roosevelt was forced to use the Lend Lease act, allowing him to donate massive amounts of war material to the UK to help them defend the country against the Nazis. Among the material donated was the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, a pre-war fighter.
This was a decent piece of kit, but compared to the Bf109s and Bf110s, the P-40 was just completely outclassed. This lead to the RAF searching for something better, as the RAF struggled to hold back the waves of German bombers and fighters invading their skies on a nightly basis. This lead to the RAF reaching out to North American Aviation and commissioning them to improve the designs of the P-40. North American bought the blueprints of the Curtiss-Wright P-40 from Curtiss-Wright, and began to make some modifications to the blueprints.
The major changes included a redesigned airfoil shape to manage the airflow more efficiently, a repositioned cooling system to better manage engine temperature and increased armament. North American also purchased wind tunnel data of a prototype XP-46 fighter from Curtiss-Wright, allowing the new P-51 to benefit from the knowledge gained from the Curtiss-Wright prototype. All of this meant that the P-51 Mustang was a massive improvement over the P-40 Warhawk the British were using, but it still wasn't enough for the British. This was because the P-51 still used the same engine as the P-40 Warhawk: the Allison V-1710 V-12.
The Allison V-1710 V-12 engine was one of the most common engines in fighters for the time, famed for its reliability and decent overall performance. However, the V-1710 had a known flaw: pathetic high-altitude performance. The V-1710 experienced a significant drop-off of power at higher altitudes, compromising the performance of any plane which used it. This meant that the P-51A variants of the Mustang was heavily limited in their effectiveness, wasting what was otherwise a very good airframe. As a result, subsequent variants of the Mustang used the Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 V-12 that powered the Spitfire, allowing the Mustang to shine. Thanks to having similar dimensions to the Allison the P-51A used, it wasn't hard to fit a Merlin engine into the P-51, but what made the Merlin so much better than the Allison??? The main reason was the fact that the Merlin used a 2-stage supercharger which the Allison didn't have. A supercharger force feeds the engine air as I explained in a previous post, which becomes more important the higher the altitude. This is because the higher the altitude, the thinner the air gets, meaning that the engine can't properly burn the fuel it's fed, reducing power massively. Superchargers solve the issue by forcing more air into the engine allowing all the fuel to be properly combusted. The Allison V-1710 didn't have one, and suffered as a result. While later versions of the V-1710 had a turbocharger, the versions put in the Mustang never had a turbocharger fitted to them. This meant that all allied powers quickly began favoring P-51Bs and Cs, before North American created the latest and greatest variant: the P-51D; the Mustang IV.
Now the Mustang was never under-armed or underpowered. I mean, P-51As were armed with 4 .30 caliber (7.62mm) Brownings and 2 .50 (12.7 mm) caliber Brownings. That is a lot of firepower, but that obviously wasn't enough for someone. So the P-51D Mustang went into battle with 6 .50 caliber AN/M2 Browning machine guns, an insane amount of weapons for a fighter of it's time and type. The Mustang IV also had hard points for bombs and rockets if needed, just to add to it's destructive potential. To carry all of this into the air, the P-51D was powered by a Packard V-1650-7 V-12 engine; a license built version of the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 fitted into the P-51B and P-51C variants of the aircraft, giving the Mustang IV 1490 hp and a top speed of 710 kph. The combination of sheer speed and weaponry made the Mustang IV a devastating weapon that could shatter anything thrown at it, giving the plane a truly legendary status in the history of aviation.
You know, this post ballooned out far more than I ever thought it would. I was expecting the discussion of each plane to not exceed more than a paragraph, but all of them had their own unique quirks so different from the others I just had to do more research, making this post longer both in terms of the time I took to write it and the amount I had to write. It also took longer because I entered college, so I had to deal with moving to college and the aftermath of high school. So thank you for staying patient and waiting for my new post, I will start adding more posts more frequently now, and maybe let others add some posts as well. Who knows?? But for now, I thank you all and I will see you all in my next post!