The P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the most successful American fighters of World War II. The initial concept for the Thunderbolt was as a light weight interceptor, but the aircraft that eventually came out of the Republic factories was the largest and heaviest single-seat fighter ever accepted by the Army Air Forces.
The Thunderbolt made its debut as a long-range escort fighter, but the plane really made its name as a fighter-bomber. The P-47’s heavy armor and 8 machine gun armament made it perfect for strafing and rocket attacks near the front lines.
The P-47D is the most built version of the Thunderbolt with over 12,000 constructed. Unusually, the P-47D underwent a major design change mid-way through the production run without a corresponding change in the letter designation. The early D models had a high rear deck that came up behind the pilot’s head. This caused a significant blind spot to the rear. In late 1943, the design was modified to lower the rear deck and incorporate a bubble canopy that effectively eliminated the blind spot.
The aircraft now in the American Heritage Museum collection is a P-47D-40 (S/N 45-49167), built at the Republic plant in Evansville, Indiana in 1944. In the mid 1950’s, it was transferred to the Peruvian Air Force where it flew as a fighter until 1969 when it was brought back to the U.S. and passed through several private owners, even being raced at the 1974 Reno Air Races. It was transferred to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in 1981 and was repainted as the P-47D-30 “Five by Five” flown by Col. Joseph Laughlin, commander of the 362nd Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, in early 1945. In 2023 the P-47 was part of a trade and was transferred to the Collings Foundation, Inc. to become a part of the American Heritage Museum collection.
The P-47 Thunderbolt is currently undergoing restoration at American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, FL and is not on public display at this time.