They just don't make 'em like they used to...

If you ask me, there was definitely a golden age for fun airplanes. From the Thirties through the late Forties, the world's air forces were comprised of propeller-driven aircraft. In my humble opinion, this was a pinnacle in the history of airplanes.

Supermarine Spitfire During the early days of World War II, Germany attempted to invade Britain. In order to clear the way for his ground assault, Hitler first needed to wipe out the resistance presented by the RAF. German fighters and bombers flew over British cities and industrials centers in huge numbers. The RAF responded by sending Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires to intercept Hitler's Luftwaffe. With great effort and sacrifice, the RAF repelled the German threat. Winston Churchill said about the pilots of these airplanes: "Never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".

The faster, longer-ranged Spitfire was used primarily to intercept and engage German bomber escorts. The escort fighters, which were primarily Messerschmitt BF 109's, were closely matched in perfomance to the Spitfires, and the contest was quite close.

While the Spitfires kept the German fighters busy, the Hurricanes took on the bombers themselves. Later, versions of the Hurricane specially modified to minimize exhaust flames were used as night raiders, sneaking up on German bomber formations as they attempted the highly risky technique of night bombing. The Hurricane is often considered a less glamorous airplane than the Spitfire, but nobody can deny that this proud workhorse has earned its place among the great aircraft of World War II.

In the late thirties, an engineer with the Lockheed company named Kelly Johnson was working on what was at the time considered a radical new fighter design. Using two Allison V-12 engines, a strange-looking twin tailboom design, and a tricycle landing gear, The P-38 Lightning beat the long odds to become a highly successful fighter used by the US Army Air Corps in both the European and Pacific theaters.

A gentleman named Lefty Gardner, in a modified P-38L named "White Lightning" performs an amazing aerobatic act, and has been on the airshow circuit for a number of years. Until you've seen how smoothly this airplane flies, you really haven't seen aerobatics the way they should be done.

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This page copyright 1997 by Michael Zenner, mvz@agora.rdrop.com. Last modified April 5, 1997