Learn about the major World War 2 fighter planes and aircrafts that played a pivotal role in American military history. Meet the T-6 Texan, J-3 Cub/L-4 Grasshopper, PT-17/N2S Stearman, AT-11 Kansan, P-40 Warhawk, B-25 Mitchell, P-39 Airacobra, P-63 Kingcobra, PBY Catalina, F4F Wildcat, TBD Devastator, SBD Dauntless, P-38 Lightning, B-24 Liberator, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress, C-47/R4D Skytrain, B-26 Marauder, A-26 Invader, F6F Hellcat, TBM Avenger, SB2C Helldiver, P-47 Thunderbolt, F4U/FG-1D Corsair, and the B-29 Superfortress in this post.
Read below for a description of the World War 2 fighter planes and aircrafts that were used in the mid 20th century wartime efforts.
The T-6 is known as the Texan, Harvard, Yale, J-Bird or Mosquito. More importantly, it is recognized as the “Pilot Maker.”
The T-6 trainer, designed by North American Aviation, was one of the most significant aircraft designs of the Second World War. North American Aviation and foreign companies that built the T-6 under license built 17,096 Texans.
The T-6 was designed as a basic flight training aircraft. The aircraft was used to prepare advanced student pilots for more advanced fighter and bomber aircraft. The T-6 filled many other important military roles. The T-6 was used as an advanced trainer, fighter, interceptor, fighter-bomber, forward air controller, and counter insurgency.
The Texan was exported widely and served with at least 55 air forces throughout the world. The T-6 Texan served in World War II, and the Korean Conflict. The Texan saw combat service throughout the world including, Algeria, the Congo, Biafra, the Middle East, and in South and Latin America.
In the civilian world, the T-6 has been an air racer, air show performer, mail carrier, and tour aircraft. Today, the T-6 Texan is still one of the most popular warbirds, and it’s what we fly on our Pearl Harbor Warbirds Admiral’s Warbird Adventure.
Learn more about the T-6 Texan.
J-3 Cub/L-4 Grasshopper
The Piper J-3 Cub is a small, simple, light aircraft that was built between 1937 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. With tandem (fore and aft) seating, it was intended for flight training but became one of the most popular and best-known light aircraft of all time. The Cub’s simplicity, affordability and popularity — as well as its large production numbers, with nearly 20,000 built in the United States — invokes comparisons to the Ford Model T automobile.
The aircraft’s standard chrome yellow paint has come to be known as “Cub Yellow” or “Lock Haven Yellow”.
Biplane used as a military trainer aircraft, of which at least 10,626 were built in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. It served as a primary trainer for the USAAF, the USN (as the NS & N2S), and with the RCAF as the Kaydet throughout World War II. After the conflict was over, thousands of surplus aircraft were sold on the civilian market. In the immediate postwar years they became popular as crop dusters, sports planes, and for aerobatic and wing walking use in airshows.
Bombing and gunnery trainer for USAAF derived from AT-7, fuselage had small, circular cabin windows, bombardier position in nose, and bomb bay; gunnery trainers were also fitted with two or three .30-caliber machine guns, early models (the first 150 built) had a single .30-cal AN-M2 in a Beechcraft-manufactured top turret, later models used a Crocker Wheeler twin .30-cal top turret, a bottom tunnel gun was used for tail gunner training, 1,582 built for USAAF orders, with 24 ordered by Netherlands repossessed by USAAF and used by the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School at Jackson, Mississippi.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service. The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in frontline service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47; by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s main production facilities at Buffalo, New York.
The North American B-25 Mitchell is an American twin-engine, medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation. It was named in honor of Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. Used by many Allied air forces, the B-25 served in every theater of World War II and after the war ended many remained in service, operating across four decades. Produced in numerous variants, nearly 10,000 Mitchells rolled from NAA factories. These included a few limited models, such as the United States Marine Corps’ PBJ-1 patrol bomber and the United States Army Air Forces’ F-10 reconnaissance aircraft and AT-24 trainers.
The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service when the United States entered World War II. The P-39 was used with great success by the Soviet Air Force, which scored the highest number of individual kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type. Other major users of the type included the Free French, the Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Forces, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force.
Designed by Bell Aircraft, it had an innovative layout, with the engine installed in the center fuselage, behind the pilot, and driving a tractor propeller via a long shaft. It was also the first fighter fitted with a tricycle undercarriage. Although its mid-engine placement was innovative, the P-39 design was handicapped by the absence of an efficient turbo-supercharger, limiting it to low-altitude work. As such it was rejected by the RAF for use over western Europe and passed over to the USSR where performance at high altitude was less important.
The Bell P-63 Kingcobra is a United States fighter aircraft developed by Bell in World War II from the Bell P-39 Airacobra in an attempt to correct that aircraft’s deficiencies. Although the aircraft was not accepted for combat use by the United States Army Air Forces, it was successfully adopted by the Soviet Air Force.
The Consolidated PBY Catalina, also known as the Canso, was an American flying boat, and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. Catalinas served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other nations.
During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. In 2014, nearly 80 years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber (or airtanker) in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.
The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy (as the Martlet) in 1940. First used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II in 1941 and 1942; the disappointing Brewster Buffalo was withdrawn in favor of the Wildcat and replaced as units became available. With a top speed of 318 mph (512 km/h), the Wildcat was still outperformed by the faster 331 mph (533 km/h), more maneuverable, and longer ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But the F4F’s ruggedness, coupled with tactics such as the Thach Weave, resulted in an air combat kill-to-loss ratio of 5.9:1 in 1942 and 6.9:1 for the entire war.
The Douglas TBD Devastator was a torpedo bomber of the United States Navy, ordered in 1934, it first flew in 1935 and entered service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced aircraft flying for the Navy and possibly for any navy in the world. However, the fast pace of aircraft development quickly caught up with it, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the TBD was already outdated.
The Devastator performed well in some early battles, but earned notoriety for its catastrophically poor performance in the Battle of Midway, in which the 41 Devastators launched during the battle produced zero successful torpedo hits and only 6 survived to return to their carriers. Vastly outclassed in both speed and maneuverability by the Mitsubishi Zero fighters they faced, the vast majority of the force was wiped out with little consequence except to distract the Zeros from the much more capable (and survivable) SBD Dauntless dive bombers that eventually sank 4 Japanese carriers and a heavy cruiser. Although a small portion of the Devastator’s dismal performance was later attributed to the many well-documented defects in the US Mark 13 torpedo, the aircraft was immediately withdrawn from frontline service after Midway, being replaced by the Grumman TBF Avenger.
The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a World War II American naval scout plane and dive bomber that was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft from 1940 through 1944. The SBD (“Scout Bomber Douglas”) was the U.S. Navy’s main carrier-borne scout plane and dive bomber from mid-1940 through mid-1944. The SBD was also flown by the U.S. Marine Corps, both from land air bases and aircraft carriers. The SBD is best remembered as the bomber that delivered the fatal blows to the Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
During its combat service, the SBD was an excellent naval scout plane and dive bomber. It possessed long range, good handling characteristics, maneuverability, potent bomb load capacity, great diving characteristics, defensive armament and ruggedness. One land-based variant of the SBD — in omitting the arrestor hook — was purpose-built for the U.S. Army Air Forces, as the A-24 Banshee.
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning is a World War II American fighter aircraft. Developed to a United States Army Air Corps requirement, the P-38 had distinctive twin booms and a single, central nacelle containing the cockpit and armament. Named “fork-tailed devil” by the Luftwaffe and “two planes, one pilot” by the Japanese, the P-38 was used in a number of roles, including interception, dive bombing, level bombing, ground-attack, night fighting, photo reconnaissance, radar and visual pathfinding for bombers, and evacuation missions, and extensively as a long-range escort fighter when equipped with drop tanks under its wings.
The P-38 was unusually quiet for a fighter, the exhaust muffled by the turbo-superchargers. It was extremely forgiving, and could be mishandled in many ways, but the rate of roll in the early versions was too slow for it to excel as a dogfighter. The P-38 was the only American fighter aircraft in production throughout American involvement in the war, from Pearl Harbor to Victory over Japan Day. At the end of the war, orders for 1,887 were cancelled.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and some initial models were laid down as export models designated as various LB-30s, in the Land Bomber design category. The B-24 was used in World War II by every branch of the American armed forces, as well as by several Allied air forces and navies, attaining a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters and in antisubmarine warfare.
In comparison to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design, with a higher top speed, greater range, and heavier bomb load. However, it had a lower operational ceiling and was also more difficult to fly in formation at higher altitude due to heavy control forces. The shoulder placement of the B-24’s high aspect ratio wing made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage and in water landings. The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire. Its shoulder-mounted “Davis wing” did not provide a broad surface for emergency landings, therefore an impact on the fuselage tended to crush it and dislodge turrets. Nevertheless, the B-24 provided excellent service in a variety of roles due to its large payload and very long range. Among its varied uses, it was deployed as the carrier for the 1,000 lb Azon guided bomb.
The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II, the Korean War and other conflicts.
From late 1943, P-51Bs (supplemented by P-51Ds from mid-1944) were used by the USAAF’s Eighth Air Force to escort bombers in raids over Germany, while the RAF’s 2 TAF and the USAAF’s Ninth Air Force used the Merlin-powered Mustangs as fighter-bombers, roles in which the Mustang helped ensure Allied air superiority in 1944. The P-51 was also in service with Allied air forces in the North African, Mediterranean and Italian theaters, and saw limited service against the Japanese in the Pacific War. During World War II, Mustang pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down.
B-17 Flying Fortress
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps’ expectations. Although Boeing lost the contract because the prototype crashed, the air corps was so impressed with Boeing’s design that it ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances.
The B-17 was primarily employed by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command’s nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota (RAF designation) is a military transport aircraft developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. It was used extensively by the Allies during World War II and remains in front line service with various military operators to the present day.
The Martin B-26 Marauder is a World War II twin-engined medium bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company from 1941 to 1945. First used in the Pacific Theater in early 1942, it was also used in the Mediterranean Theater and in Western Europe.
After entering service with the U.S. Army, the aircraft received the reputation of a “Widowmaker” due to the early models’ high accident rate during takeoffs and landings. The Marauder had to be flown at exact airspeeds, particularly on final runway approach and when one engine was out. The 150 mph (241 km/h) speed on short final runway approach was intimidating to pilots who were used to much slower speeds, and whenever they slowed down below what the manual stated, the aircraft would stall and crash.
The B-26 became a safer aircraft once crews were re-trained, and after aerodynamics modifications (an increase of wingspan and wing angle-of-incidence to give better takeoff performance, and a larger vertical stabilizer and rudder). After aerodynamic and design changes, the aircraft distinguished itself as “the chief bombardment weapon on the Western Front” according to a United States Army Air Forces dispatch from 1946. The Marauder ended World War II with the lowest loss rate of any USAAF bomber.
The Douglas A-26 Invader (designated B-26 between 1948 and 1965) is a twin-engined light bomber and attack aircraft built by Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II which also saw service during several major Cold War conflicts. A limited number of highly modified United States Air Force aircraft served in Southeast Asia until 1969.
It was found to be a fast aircraft capable of carrying twice its specified bomb load. A range of guns could be fitted to produce a formidable ground-attack aircraft.
The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a carrier-based fighter aircraft designed to replace the earlier F4F Wildcat in United States Navy (USN) service. The Hellcat competed with the faster Vought F4U Corsair for use as a carrier based fighter. However, the Corsair had significant issues with carrier landings which the Hellcat did not, allowing the Hellcat to become the Navy’s dominant fighter in the second part of World War II, a position the Hellcat did not relinquish. The Corsair instead was primarily deployed to great effect in land-based use by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Hellcats were credited with destroying 5,223 aircraft while in service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. This was more than any other Allied naval aircraft. Postwar, the Hellcat was phased out of frontline service, but remained in service as late as 1954 as a night fighter.
The Grumman TBF Avenger (designated TBM for aircraft manufactured by General Motors) was a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and eventually used by several air and naval aviation services around the world.
The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite the loss of five of the six Avengers on its combat debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was a carrier-based dive bomber aircraft produced for the United States Navy during World War II. It replaced the Douglas SBD Dauntless in US Navy service. The SB2C was much faster than the SBD it replaced.
Delays marred its production—by the time the A-25 Shrike variant for the USAAF was deployed in late 1943, the Army Air Forces no longer had a need for a thoroughbred dive bomber.
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt is one of the largest and heaviest fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single piston engine. It was built from 1941-1945. It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to eight tons, and in the fighter-bomber ground-attack roles could carry five-inch rockets or a significant bomb load of 2,500 pounds; it could carry more than half the payload of the B-17 bomber on long-range missions (although the B-17 had a far greater range). The P-47 was designed around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine—the same engine used by two very successful U.S. Navy fighters, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, itself the first to fly with Double Wasp power in late May 1940—and was to be very effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat. When deployed as a fighter-bomber with its usual “double quartet” of heavy-calibre M2 Browning machine guns, it proved especially adept at ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific Theaters.
The P-47 was one of the main United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters of World War II, and served with other Allied air forces, notably those of France, Britain, and Russia. Mexican and Brazilian squadrons fighting alongside the U.S. were equipped with the P-47.
The Chance Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter aircraft that saw service primarily in World War II and the Korean War. Demand for the aircraft soon overwhelmed Vought’s manufacturing capability, resulting in production by Goodyear and Brewster: Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured by Vought, in 16 separate models, in the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in U.S. history (1942–53).
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and very advanced for its time. It featured a pressurized cabin, all dual wheeled, tricycle landing gears, and a remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets. A manned tail gun installation was semi-remote. The name “Superfortress” continued the pattern Boeing started with its well-known predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress. Designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role, the B-29 also excelled in low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing missions. One of the B-29’s final roles during World War II was carrying out the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers the best Hawai‘i flight adventure tours available. Be immersed in the details of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor and soar above the important sites that played a part in the “Day of Infamy.” Relive history as you retrace the steps of the Army and Navy airmen in the days following the bombing. Fly on some of the same routes the Japanese attackers used into the airfields at Wheeler, Kāne‘ohe and Bellows. There are many air tours in Hawai‘i, but only one warbird airplane flight. Located in Honolulu, Hawai‘i Pearl Harbor Warbirds provides a personal historical experience making it one of the best O‘ahu attractions.
Experience an immersive two hour adventure that allows you to relive history as a Naval Aviator and fly Pearl Harbor like it was on December 10th, 1941. Learn more about the Admiral’s Warbird Adventure.