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A Beginner’s Guide to Warbirds

What is a warbird? At first glance, you might think that the term warbird refers to any military plane that was designed specifically for war. You would be wrong to assume that.

Since we began having manned flights, there have been dozens of different types and designs of airplanes explicitly produced for war. From bombers to fighters to transports, the machines of war are a diverse group of flying machines.

However, not just the planes designed specifically for war fall into the category of warbirds. A warbird is any vintage military aircraft or civilian aircraft that was used during wartime.

Thankfully there are individuals and groups around the country that have been restoring, displaying, and flying vintage warplanes all around the world. Airshows have given enthusiasts of all ages the chance to see these magnificent aircraft both in flight and up close.

At Stockton Propeller, we love all propeller-driven planes. Whether you need total blade overhaul and reconditioning, or you are looking to repair and restore, we can meet your needs. Contact us for all your propeller repair and restoration needs. We have free mobile pick-up and delivery in our service areas.

In this brief examination of vintage warbirds, we will focus on three propeller-driven planes from World War II.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk on a grass strip
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

The P-40 Warhawk was first built in 1941 by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. It was powered by the 1,360 horsepower Allison V-1717-81 inline piston engine, driving a three-bladed propeller on the nose.

The most famous flyers that took to the air in the P-40 Warhawk were the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group, also known as the AVG. This iconic plane from World War II is quite easily recognized. The wide-open mouth, and piercing eyes of a shark, painted on the nose of the aircraft, just beneath the propeller.

The Flying Tigers operated with less than half the personnel typically assigned to a squadron of this size. Despite the uneven odds and thanks to the skilled pilots and the performance of the P-40, the Flying Tigers maintained a kill ratio much superior to other combat groups scattered around the Pacific theatre.

As of October 1997, there are only 19 airworthy P-40s left in operation, according to Warbirds Worldwide. Also, there are 25 P-40’s under restoration. It is unknown how many more P-40s have become airworthy since 1997.

There is one particular Warhawk in operation currently touring and performing in air shows around the country. Unlike the P-40s of the day, this one has a name, “American Dream.”

What makes this particular Warhawk so special is that it is an extremely rare two-seater! If you have ever wanted to fly in a vintage warbird, and are willing to pay the price, this plane could be your dream come true!

Grumman TBM Avenger coming for a landing
Grumman TBM Avenger

91 Grumman TBM Avenger

The Grumman TBM Avenger is powered by a 1,900 horsepower Wright T-2600-8 Cyclone 14 engine that drives a Hamilton-Standard variable pitch propeller, making this bird capable of reaching speeds of up to 271 MPH.

The TBM Avenger was designed as a torpedo bomber but had other capabilities in addition to torpedo bombing. Wing-mounted rockets, high explosive bombs, and the ability to strafe ground targets were all part of the Avengers arsenal.

Unlike most of its predecessors, whose torpedoes hung below the plane, the Avengers Mark 13 torpedos were stowed internally. This design innovation greatly reduced drag on the Avenger and significantly increased speed and range. In place of torpedoes, the Avenger could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs.

The Grumman 91 TBM Avenger first saw service in 1942 at the Battle of Midway. Sadly, out of a section of 6 Avengers sent from VT-8 in Hawaii, 5 of the Avengers were lost.

However, despite its inauspicious start in the fighting, the TBM Avenger proved to be a crucial asset to the air/sea war in the Pacific.

Along with its stellar war record, the Avenger is also famous for being the aircraft flown by the 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush. As a 19 -year-old naval aviator, George Bush was forced to bail out of his crippled plane near the island of Chichi-jima. Lieutenant Bush was later rescued by a submarine.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Perhaps the most famous heavy bomber of World War II was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. This four-engine propeller-driven war machine took its first flight on July 28, 1935.

A crowd of eager reporters anxious to get a first-hand viewing of Boeing’s newest bomber witnessed the event.

Eight years later, in 1943, the B-17 G model entered the war. Able to carry up to an 8,000-pound bomb load internally, and even more carried on external racks beneath the wings for shorter distance missions. Typically the B-17 carried about 4,000 pounds of ordinance on longer missions.

In addition to a very significant bomb load, this bomber had an impressive array of armaments, including 13 – 0.50 caliber machine guns! Two of the fifty caliber machine guns are mounted in a “chin” turret.

This innovation made it possible to fend off and defend against a head-on attack by enemy fighters. The bomber was operated by a crew of 10 and had a service ceiling of roughly 25,000 to 35,000 feet, depending on the weight of the payload.

As you can see, we’ve barely touched the surface on the subject of warbirds. These three planes are just a small sample of the kinds and types of warbirds currently in operation, and that you can witness at air shows all around the country.

At Stockton Propeller, we take propellers seriously. We work with the major propeller manufacturers and have the in-house expertise to repair and restore propellers to specification. Consider Stockton Propeller for all your propeller needs. Contact us for a free quote or to discuss your specific propeller needs.