The Second World War

Perhaps no six-year period saw such rapid progress in the development of the aircraft as 1939 to 1945.  At the outbreak of war in September 1939, the air forces of many nations were still using biplanes as front-line fighters, but by 1945, at least three of the combatants had developed jet fighters capable of speeds approaching 500 miles per hour, and fleets of bombers had devastated cities on both sides.  In Britain alone, it would take at least two years of war before supposedly obsolete biplanes such as the Gloster Gladiator and Fairey Swordfish were fully phased out.  The Gladiator was instrumental in the defense of the British-held island of Malta in the Mediterranean, and the Swordfish torpedo bomber turned out to be a vital weapon in the hunt for and ultimate destruction of the German battleship Bismarck in the Spring of 1941.

Hybrid aircraft employing both biplane and monoplane technology, such as the Hawker Hurricane, helped breach the gap between the fighters of the First World War, and those that would be dominant in the second.  Aircraft with fixed landing gear such as Germany’s Ju87 Stuka dive bomber, and Japan’s Ki-27 Nate fighter were used with devastating effect at the beginning of the war, but in time were too slow to cope with the new breed of Allied fighters.  Progress also pushed aside the parasol fighters of the 1930’s, the last of which, Poland’s PZL P.24, was still a front-line fighter in the Greek Air Force in 1941, and gave a surprisingly good account of itself against the Messerschmitt Bf109 when Germany invaded Greece in April of that year.

The war served as a catalyst for the development of piston-engined aircraft to the pinnacle of their performance, then pushed aircraft design to the point that the appearance of the jet foretold the end of the world’s propeller-driven air forces.  The speed with which the technology developed was breathtaking; the Japanese Zero, which dominated Pacific skies for the first 18 months after Pearl Harbor, met its match with the appearance of the Grumman F6F Hellcat, and later the P-38 Lightning. The story of the Zero indicated that speed and firepower were not enough; a winning fighter needed armor protection, self-sealing fuel tanks, range, maneuverability, and the ability to take a beating.  The Hellcat in particular had all these factors in its favor.  But before war’s end, Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 had already signaled that the days of the superiority of the Hellcat and Lightning were numbered.

The range and destructive power of aircraft also took giant leaps as a result of the war.  Although conventional military wisdom in the 1930’s deemed it impossible that a flimsy aircraft could pose a threat to any large naval vessel, the British aerial torpedo attack on Italian battleships docked at Taranto in 1940, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 discredited that idea forever.  In 1939, there was no aircraft capable of delivering more than a few hundred pounds of explosives and causing relatively limited damage, yet the war ended when a B-29 bomber delivered a single bomb that all but leveled two Japanese cities.



A-20B Havoc

The Douglas A-20B was one of the first American bombers into action in World War II, raiding targets in Holland in July 1942…

A-26C Invader

MPC’s 1970’s re-box of the Airfix kit bears raised rivet detail and a full cockpit and bomb bay — nose weights definitely needed for this WWII era warbird that was still flying in Vietnam.

Boeing Model 314 Clipper

The Boeing 314 was America’s answer to the luxurious British Short Empire flying boats, and saw brief commercial service in the Summer of 1939.
Minicraft’s kit is a re-issue of the Airfix mold, and features detailed engines and markings for this last of the pre-WWII Clippers.

Bristol Beaufighter

Bristol Beaufighter Mk. X by Novo/Frog 1/72 scale Cost: $12.00 Kit No. Unknown Decals: Comments: History The Bristol Beaufighter was designed from the Bristol Beaufort, a twin-engine medium bomber.  The Beaufighter prototype first flew less than two months before the...

De Havilland D.H. 100 Vampire

De Havilland D.H. 100 Vampire by Heller 1/72 scale Kit No. 221 Cost: $9.99 Decals: Two versions Comments:  Old kit, basic cockpit, raised panel lines, simple construction; minor fit issues with canopy History Originally named the “Spider Crab,” the De...

Hawker Hurricane Mk. I

Hawker Hurricanes bore the brunt of air combat in France and during the Battle of Britain, comprising two-thirds of RAF Fighter Command’s operational strength through the Fall of 1940…

Heinkel He 178 V2

Special Hobby’s kit of the world’s first jet aircraft is a re-issue of the 1994 Condor kit and features engraved panel lines and photo-etch detail parts.

Heinkel He 280

Heinkel He 280 by Eduard 1/48 scale Kit No. 8049 Cost:   $30.00 Decals: Two versions for pre-production Luftwaffe aircraft, dated 1941 and 1943 Comments: Engraved panel lines; resin wheels and pilot’s seat; photo etch details for cockpit (seat straps, instrument...

Polikarpov I-16

ICM’s I-16 features good surface detail and a complete engine that is hard to fit inside the cowling, and an inaccurate, box-like windscreen for its open cockpit that’s best replaced. Entering service in 1935, it was a state-of-the-art monoplane with fully retractable landing gear. It fought with distinction in the Spanish Civil War but was obsolete by 1939.

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