History of the American Aviator – Part 5 – The Deadliest War

Though civil and military investment was the driving force in the United States during aviation’s golden age leading up to WWII, Hitler’s war machine would take a resounding lead on air power over Europe. Throughout the war Germany’s Luftwaffe dominated the “score card,” with most pilot’s kills in the triple digits. The highest scoring U.S. ace was dare-devil and Medal of Honor recipient Richard “Dick” Bong, a farm boy from Poplar, Wisconsin. Bong served exclusively in the Pacific Theatre (PTO) whilst marking up a modest 40 aerial victories against the Japanese. Other notables include Thomas McGuire, David McCampbell, Robert Johnson, Robin Olds, and Marion Carl.

Dick Bong in a P-38

Dick Bong in a P38

(See the Armed Forces History Museum’s list of Top US Fighter Aces.)

The WWII era fighter pilot’s engagements where split between air, ground, and sea targets. A common objective of a fighter pilot was to escort larger bombers during bombing runs. While WWII saw aviation established as a critical component of modern warfare, bombing in particular became a key strategic, as well as tactical force in the Allied victory, in spite of German air-to-air dominance. Bombers and the pilots and crew who flew them became the real kings of the air.

Because of the legions of airmen and women who served alongside other allied personnel, the names and their significance to the war effort have faded a bit faster when compared to the amazing missions they undertook and the impressive machines they flew. Notable WWII era bomber manufactures include Bell, Boeing, Brewster, Douglas, Consolidated, Curtiss, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, North American, and Vought.

B-17 in flight

B-17 in flight

The legendary Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” was one of the most successful systems in play during this conflict. It flew over 290,000 sorties and effectively delivered well over half a million tons of ordnance to its targets. A typical B-17 crew consisted of the pilot and co-pilot, bombardier and navigator, various gunners, and a radio operator. Other notable aircraft include the P-51 Mustang, the P-38 Lightning, the F4U Corsair (fighter), and the infamous B-29 Superfortress.

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