Posted by: blogengeezer | June 29, 2011

WWII Aircraft facts

Images may be lost, but facts are verified by credits:

Below is an excellent summary of the effort required in WWII. It focuses on the American side of things, but the British, Germans and Japanese expended comparable energy and experienced similar costs. Just one example for the Luftwaffe; about 1/3 of the Bf109s built were lost in non-combat crashes. After Midway, the Japanese experience level declined markedly, with the loss of so many higher-time naval pilots. This piece is worth saving in hard copy.
I didn’t put it together. Someone else did lots of hard work. 

Amazing WWII Aircraft Facts
– – – – – –
Most Americans who were not adults during WWII have no understanding of the magnitude of it.
This listing of some of the aircraft facts gives a bit of insight to it.

276,000 aircraft manufactured in the US .
43,000 planes lost overseas, including 23,000 in combat.
14,000 lost in the continental U.S.

The US civilian population maintained a dedicated effort for four years, many working long hours seven days per week and often also volunteering for other work.  WWII was the largest human effort in history.
Statistics from Flight Journal magazine.
—- The staggering cost of war.
THE PRICE OF VICTORY (cost of an aircraft in WWII dollars)
B-17       $204,370.     P-40       $44,892.
B-24       $215,516.     P-47       $85,578.
B-25       $142,194.     P-51       $51,572.
B-26       $192,426.     C-47       $88,574.
B-29       $605,360.     PT-17     $15,052.
P-38         $97,147.     AT-6       $22,952.

From Germany’s invasion of Poland Sept. 1, 1939 and ending with Japan ‘s surrender Sept. 2, 1945 — 2,433 days
From 1942 onward, America averaged 170 planes lost a day.

How many is a 1,000  planes?  B-17 production (12,731) wingtip to wingtip would extend 250 miles.  1,000 B-17s carried
2.5 million gallons of high octane fuel and required 10,000 airmen to fly and fight them. THE NUMBERS GAME
9.7 billion gallons of gasoline consumed, 1942-1945.
107.8 million hours flown, 1943-1945.
459.7 billion rounds of aircraft ammo fired overseas, 1942-1945.
7.9 million bombs dropped  overseas, 1943-1945.
2.3 million combat sorties, 1941-1945 (one sortie = one takeoff).
299,230 aircraft accepted, 1940-1945.
808,471 aircraft engines accepted, 1940-1945.
799,972 propellers accepted, 1940-1945.

Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik                                  36,183


Yakolev Yak-1,-3,-7, -9                               31,000+

Messerschmitt Bf-109                                  30,480
Focke-Wulf Fw-190                                      29,001
Supermarine Spitfire/Seafire                        20,351
Convair B-24/PB4Y Liberator/Privateer       18,482
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt                          15,686
North American P-51 Mustang                     15,875
Junkers Ju-88                                              15,000
Hawker Hurricane                                        14,533
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk                                 13,738
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress                         12,731
Vought F4U Corsair                                      12,571
Grumman F6F Hellcat                                  12,275
Petlyakov Pe-2                                             11,400
Lockheed P-38 Lightning                              10,037
Mitsubishi A6M Zero                                    10,449
North American B-25 Mitchell                        9,984
Lavochkin LaGG-5                                         9,920
Note: The LaGG-5 was produced with both water-cooled (top) and air-cooled (bottom) engines.
Grumman TBM Avenger                                9,837
Bell P-39 Airacobra                                        9,584
Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar                                    5,919
DeHavilland Mosquito                                   7,780
Avro Lancaster                                              7,377
Heinkel He-111                                              6,508
Handley-Page Halifax                                    6,176
Messerschmitt Bf-110                                    6,150
Lavochkin LaGG-7                                         5,753
Boeing B-29 Superfortress                            3,970
Short Stirling                                                  2,383
Sources:  Rene Francillon,  Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific war; Cajus Bekker, The Luftwaffe Diaries;  Ray Wagner, American Combat Planes; Wikipedia.
According to the AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945), the US Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes — inside the continental United States.  They were the result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45 months.

Think about those numbers. They average 1,170 aircraft accidents per month—- nearly 40 a day.  (Less than one accident in four resulted in totaled aircraft, however.)
It gets worse…..
Almost 1,000 Army planes disappeared en route from the US to foreign climes.  But an eye-watering 43,581 aircraft were lost overseas including 22,948 on combat missions (18,418 against the Western Axis) and 20,633 attributed to non-combat causes overseas.

In a single 376 plane raid in August 1943, 60 B-17s were shot down. That was a 16 percent loss rate and meant 600 empty bunks in England.  In 1942-43 it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in Europe.
Pacific theatre losses were far less (4,530 in combat) owing to smaller forces committed.  The worst B-29 mission, against Tokyo on May 25, 1945, cost 26 Superfortresses, 5.6 percent of the 464 dispatched from the Marianas.
On  average, 6,600 American servicemen died per month during WWII, about 220 a day. By the end of the war, over 40,000 airmen were killed in combat theatres and another 18,000 wounded.  Some 12,000 missing men were declared dead, including a number “liberated” by the Soviets but never returned.  More than 41,000 were captured, half of the 5,400 held by the Japanese died in captivity, compared with one-tenth in German hands.   Total combat casualties were pegged at 121,867.

US manpower made up the deficit.  The AAF’s peak strength was reached in 1944 with 2,372,000 personnel, nearly twice the previous year’s figure.
The losses were huge—but so were production totals.  From 1941 through 1945, American industry delivered more than 276,000 military aircraft. That number was enough not only for US Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but for allies as diverse as Britain, Australia, China and Russia.  In fact, from 1943 onward, America produced more planes than Britain and Russia combined.  And more than Germany and Japan together 1941-45.
However, our enemies took massive losses.  Through much of 1944, the Luftwaffe sustained uncontrolled hemorrhaging, reaching 25 percent of aircrews and 40 planes a month.  And in late 1944 into 1945, nearly half the pilots in Japanese squadrons had flown fewer than 200 hours.  The disparity of two years before had been completely reversed.
Experience Level:
Uncle Sam sent many of his sons to war with absolute minimums of training. Some fighter pilots entered combat in 1942 with less than one hour in their assigned aircraft.
The 357th Fighter Group (often known as The Yoxford Boys) went to England in late 1943 having trained on P-39s. 
 The group never saw a Mustang until shortly before its first combat mission.
A high-time P-51 pilot had 30 hours in type.  Many had fewer than five hours.  Some had one hour.
With arrival of new aircraft, many combat units transitioned in combat.  The attitude was, “They all have a stick and a throttle.  Go fly `em.” When the famed 4th Fighter Group converted from P-47s to P-51s in February 1944, there was no time to stand down for an orderly transition.   The Group commander, Col. Donald Blakeslee, said, “You can learn to fly `51s on the way to the target
A future P-47 ace said,
“I was sent to England to die.”  He was not alone.   Some fighter pilots tucked their wheels in the well on their first combat mission with one previous flight in the aircraft.  Meanwhile, many bomber crews were still learning their trade:  of Jimmy Doolittle’s 15 pilots on the April 1942 Tokyo raid, only five had won their wings before 1941.   All but one of the 16 copilots were less than a year out of flight school.
In WWII flying safety took a back seat to combat.  The AAF’s worst accident rate was recorded by the A-36 Invader version of the P-51: a staggering 274 accidents per 100,000 flying hours. 
 Next worst were the P-39 at 245, the P-40 at 188, and the P-38 at 139.  All were Allison powered.
Bomber wrecks were fewer but more expensive.  The B-17 and B-24 averaged 30 and 35 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, respectively–
 a horrific figure considering that from 1980 to 2000 the Air Force’s major mishap rate was less than 2.
The B-29 was even worse at 40; the world’s most sophisticated, most capable and most expensive bomber was too urgently needed to stand down for mere safety reasons. The AAF set a reasonably high standard for B-29 pilots, but the desired figures were seldom attained.
The original cadre of the 58th Bomb Wing was to have 400 hours of multi-engine time, but there were not enough experienced pilots to meet the criterion.  Only ten percent had overseas experience.  Conversely, when a $2.1 billion B-2 crashed in 2008, the Air Force initiated a two-month “safety pause” rather than declare a “stand down”, let alone grounding.

The B-29 was no better for maintenance. Though the R3350 was known as a complicated, troublesome power-plant, no more than half the mechanics had previous experience with the Duplex Cyclone. 
 But they made it work.
Perhaps the greatest unsung success story of AAF training was Navigators.  The Army graduated some 50,000 during the War.  And many had never flown out of sight of land before leaving “Uncle Sugar” for a war zone.  Yet the huge majority found their way across oceans and continents without getting lost or running out of fuel — a stirring tribute to the AAF’s educational establishments.
Cadet To Colonel:
 It was possible for a flying cadet at the time of Pearl Harbor to finish the war with eagles on his shoulders.  That was the record of John D. Landers, a 21-year-old Texan, who was commissioned a second lieutenant on December 12, 1941.  He joined his combat squadron with 209 hours total flight time, including 20 in P-40s.  He finished the war as a full colonel, commanding an 8th Air Force Group — at age 24.
As the training pipeline filled up, however those low figures became exceptions. 
By early 1944, the average AAF fighter pilot entering combat had logged at least 450 hours, usually including 250 hours in training.  At the same time, many captains and first lieutenants claimed over 600 hours.
At its height in mid-1944, the Army Air Forces had 2.6 million people and nearly 80,000 aircraft of all types. 
Today the US Air Force employs 327,000 active personnel (plus 170,000 civilians) with 5,500+ manned and perhaps 200 unmanned aircraft. 
The 2009 figures represent about 12 percent of the manpower and 7 percent of the airplanes of the WWII peak.

Whether there will ever be another war like that experienced in 1940-45 is doubtful, as fighters and bombers have given way to helicopters and remotely-controlled drones over Afghanistan and Iraq.  But within living memory, men left the earth
in 1,000-plane formations and fought major battles five miles high, leaving a legacy that remains timeless.

According to the AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945), the US Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes —

inside the continental United States.  They were the result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45 months.



  1. My father was a maintenance officer of a Spitfire/P-51 squadron, (67 TRS) in ETO.
    They were able to operate with few losses to pilot error, enemy action, or mechanical failure. However he had a friend who had a similar position in a B-29
    squadron. That airplane was so advanced and complex that the maintenance officer
    experienced what we would now call PTSD due to aircraft losses due to mechanical failure of systems right on the cutting edge of 1940s technology.

  2. The Allison engine used on early P-51s had a weak oil system. On the throttle of the P-51s with the Allison there was a wire tell-tale which would be broken if the throttle was advanced too far. My father remarked that there was no sense checking the engine oil filter screens when that wire was broken because they were inevitably full of metal. A broken throttle wire and even minimal over boost of the engine was an automatic engine change on an Allison engined airplane

  3. Thank you Gordon for your contribution of the detailed and interesting facts on the P-51 and B-29.

    I spent my very early years fascinated by the big sweeping beams of light from the air terminals miles away. They lit the night sky over our fields with an eerie repeating glow that I found intrigueing. Soon began the many years of Navy training flights over our farm. The US Navy out of Great Lakes training Center, had constructed large red and white wooden structures across the pastures, for many countless miles of Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin. The young pilots flew from one to another, in navigation and other flying skill enhancements.

    When we heard the sound of those big radial engines over the farmhouse, it was a race to the pastures. We had two big pylons nearby.
    My (young leggy girl :>) cousins and I climbed the big pylons (pyramid shaped, 1×6 slats) to watch the pilots prove their skills. It really attracted their attention. Of course the girls in their shorts were the reason. We looked right into their smiling young boy faces as they turned and wheeled, pass after pass, waving on each swing within 100 feet of us. Each exciting vertical wing cutting edge pass was made with those powerful engines roaring. Fortunately we all survived.

    Not long before that, we had all been called into the house to sit silently on the floor in front of the big round black dial, short wave Zenith Radio. Our women folk were all crying quietly. My young uncle listened intently as the stern sounding President Roosevelt announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. My young uncle quietly but angrily left, to go to his room where his intricately handmade, stick and paper model, blue Navy fighter plane was hanging from the ceiling. He immediately quit HS, and joined the US Navy…at 16 years of age.

    Flying had been his dream, but his mission entailed the beaches of the Pacific. His skills during WWII were put to use as Bos’n, landing the boys on the beaches. Gabriel Heater’s stern voice on the big radio informed us on the progress day by day.

    As the years of Willow Run (and other factories) productivity became more obvious in the early 1940’s. I watched daily as waves of bombers flew over the farm. They stretched by the hundreds in formation, from horizon to horizon in a radial engined drone that was unmistakeable.

    I have flashbacks today as the radial engined Fire Bombers are flying over my home in NM. Today the pilots and crews have a different enemy, as the fires engulf the largest acreage in our (short) history.

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