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  • Revision:1995 Edition, September 1, 1995
  • Published Date:September 1, 1995
  • Status:Active, Most Current
  • Document Language:English
  • Published By:SAE International (SAE)
  • Page Count:444
  • ANSI Approved:No
  • DoD Adopted:No

  • Introduction

    World War II was one of the most profound events in the historyof mankind. It now seems like ancient history, and yet in therelatively brief time span of 1939 to 1945 technology in allaspects of warfare advanced in leaps and bounds—none more so thanin piston engine development.

    Virtually the entire world was embroiled in a struggle of goodagainst evil. Aviation played a major part in this monumentalendeavor; indeed many major battles were fought solely in the air.Who can forget the inspiring words spoken by Winston Churchill:"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so manyto so few." The "few," of course, were the brave Royal Air Force(RAF) pilots, flying Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes,who, outnumbered, fought against Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Bf 110sas well as hordes of bombers, predominantly Heinkel He 111s andJunkers Ju87s. Victory in the Battle of Britain saved Britain frominvasion by Germany, although it was an incredibly close-run thing.Halfway across the world two years later in 1942, another pivotalbattle took place in the Pacific—the Battle of Midway—which againwas fought entirely by aircraft, although this time all theaircraft that took part were based on aircraft carriers instead ofon land. Interestingly, the ships involved never saw the opposingside, such was the scale of the battle. Historians are stillarguing about who was really the victor in the Battle of Midway. Interms of losses it was probably a stalemate; however, the fact thatthe Japanese had been stopped in their tracks represented a majorpsychological victory for the United States.

    Air battles often involved huge formations of overloaded bombersstruggling and fighting their way to the target. As the warprogressed, it was not unusual for the U.S. Eighth Air Force andBritish Royal Air Force (RAF) to attack a target with 1000 bombers,giving rise to the phrase "aluminum overcast" to describe an eventsurely never to be repeated. Even transport aircraft haulingmuchneeded equipment to battle fronts were subjected to constantharassment and attack by the opposing side. The resupply effortundertaken by the Fourteenth Air Force flew some of the mostdangerous missions of World War II, flying over such incrediblyinhospitable territory as the Himalayas in overloaded Curtiss C-46Commandos and Douglas C-47 Dakotas in poor weather, constantlyexposed to attack by Japanese fighters.

    Such was the pace of the war that it was imperative to get thefinest equipment with best performance into service as quickly aspossible. This led to some of the shortest development times everachieved for complex military hardware. On occasion thisabbreviated development and testing cost dearly, as in the case ofthe Boeing B-29, which suffered numerous problems during itsintroduction to combat service, as did the Avro Manchester with itsfailure-prone Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. Germany compromised itslong-range bombing capability because of the insurmountableproblems with the Daimler Benz DB 610 and DB 613 engines installedin the Heinkel He 177. Japan forced many underdeveloped aircraft,particularly those with poor engines, into combat during the laterstages of the war when they realized that the Zero, as fine anairplane as it was, just was not competitive after 1942.

    The struggle for air superiority by all sides focused onsqueezing the most performance out of the available technology aswell as Herculean efforts to advance technology. Although therewere many instances of aircraft with inferior performance comingout victorious, the odds were obviously stacked against thisoccurrence. Throughout the conflict a seesaw battle of technologywas waged. Part of this technological battle was in the area ofengine development, as this is the most influential aspect of theperformance of an aircraft, although it could be argued that anaircraft featuring old-technology aerodynamics but with a superiorpower plant will not outperform an aircraft with state-of-the-artaerodynamics and a mediocre engine. For example, the P-40F poweredby the single-stage Rolls-Royce Merlin was still a mediocreperformer. Conversely, the P-51A, powered by the Allison V-1710,was still a good performer; however, when the P-51 was redesignedto take the two-stage Rolls-Royce Merlin, the aircraft came aliveand was arguably the finest fighter aircraft built in World WarII.

    This book attempts to document the remarkable development thattook place with these mechanical masterpieces produced during theconflict and that often shaped the tactics and strategy of thebattles.