Losses and Aviation Safety

During World War II many P-47 pilots were lost in accidents while learning to fly the mighty Jug, here’s why

No P-47 dual-seat trainers were ever built, and some pilots found the step up in performance from the Texan to the Thunderbolt too much to handle.

Renowned for its ruggedness, firepower and speed, the massive Republic P-47 was one of the most famous and important USAAF fighters during World War II. Produced in larger numbers than any other U.S. fighter, the Thunderbolt — affectionately nicknamed the “Jug” — served as a bomber escort and as a very effective ground attack fighter. 

With over 12,500 built, the P-47D became the most-produced and widely-used model of the Thunderbolt. The USAAF and several Allied nations used the P-47 in nearly every combat theater. Through 1943 in Europe, the P-47C and P-47D equipped the majority of 8th Air Force fighter groups in England (and one in the 15th Air Force in Italy) as a long-range escort fighter

In the Pacific, several 5th Air Force fighter groups flew the P-47D against Japanese air and ground forces in New Guinea and the Philippines in 1943-1944.

As Michael John Claringbould in his book P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar NEW GUINEA 1943–44, during the first 18 months of the war the USAAF was under great strain. The demand for pilots in 1942–43 forced the system to place an emphasis on “quantity rather than quality,” and it was not until the early part of 1943 that Allied training surpassed German and Japanese training in terms of its length and overall quality.

The majority of the P-47 pilots that went into combat over New Guinea from mid-1943 were products of the USAAF’s pilot training program carried out by Technical Training Command and Flying Training Command.

Tuition was undertaken in four stages, starting with Primary Flight Training, which saw students accrue 65 hours in trainers such as the 200hp PT-19 Cornell monoplane or 220hp PT-13 Stearman biplane.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. P-47D Thunderbolt “Dottie Mae” – 4229150 / K4-S, 405th FG, 511th FS – 1944

The standard primary school flight training was divided into four phases, with the pre-solo phase including general operation of a light aircraft, proficiency in landing techniques and recovery from stalls and spins. The second phase involved pre-solo flying, working on patterns such as “elementary 8s,” “lazy 8s,” “pylon 8s,” and “chandelles.” The third phase was dedicated to developing a high proficiency in landing approaches and landings. The fourth phase dealt with aerobatics. Each cadet had to make at least 175 landings before moving on. This was followed by 70 hours of Basic Flight Training in a 450hp BT-13/15 Valiant basic trainer.

The next stage was Advanced Flight Training, which took the form of a ten-week course involving 75 hours of flying, 60 hours of ground schools and 19 hours of military training. Flying was done using the most powerful aircraft in the training syllabus, the 600hp AT-6 Texan. After successfully completing Advanced Flight Training the student would be awarded his silver pilot’s wings and given the rank of flight officer, or commissioned as a second lieutenant.

From December 1942 pilots then experienced transition flying training for two months with a Fighter Replacement Training Unit. Here, they learned to fly early versions of the frontline fighter type they would operate in combat. It was a major, and frightening, leap for a young pilot to move from the 600hp AT-6 to a beast like the 2,000hp P-47 Thunderbolt. Dual trainers were non-existent and crashes were far too common. By today’s safety standards the training was harsh and unforgiving, and in some ways it had to be. The price paid proved devastating, as thousands were lost learning to fly some of the world’s most dangerous and potent fighters – the USAAF recorded 52,651 training accidents resulting in 14,903 fatalities and 13,873 aircraft written off.

Having survived nine months of flying training, and with 200 hours of flight time in their logbooks, pilots were then assigned to unit training groups or designated as replacements for squadrons already in the frontline.

P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar NEW GUINEA 1943–44 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: IWM and U.S. Army Air Forces

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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