This is an overview of the most important aircraft of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during World War II.
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was used throughout the USA’s involvement in WWII. While it was used in the Mediterranean and Europe, even as fighter bomber, it was most successful in the Pacific theatre. Armed with a 20mm cannon and four 12.7mm MGs, it was the plane flown by the two highest-ranking US aces, Dick Bong and Tommy McGuire. The P-38 was also used for recconaissance.
Early in the war, the Bell P-39 Airacobra was the one of the most numerous fighters. A strange design with the engine mounted behind the cockpit, armed with a 37mm cannon and four 12.7mm MGs, it wasn’t a very good fighter compared to contemporary aircraft.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was the main fighter during 1941 and 1942. It was armed with six 12.7mm MGs, and used by many other countries as well.
The P-40 was replaced by the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt starting in late 1942. Though not a very beautiful aircraft, it was heavily armed with eight 12.7mm MGs and a good fighter. It was also extensively used for ground attacks.
The most iconic USAAF fighter is without doubt the North American P-51 Mustang. It was initally developed for the British, which found the Allison engine lacking, replacing it with the Rolls Royce Merlin.
The early B and C models, armed with four 12.7mm MGs, arrived in Europe in October 1943. The improved D model with bubble canopy and six MGs was used from mid-1944 on. Smaller numbers of P-51Ds were also used for escorting B-29 raids against Japan.
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was used as nightfighter in Europe starting in August 1944. They were also used in the Pacific, but scored few kills.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was used throughout the war, mostly in Europe. It could carry almost 8,000kg of bombs, but only at greatly reduced range.
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator entered combat in 1942. Similar in bomb load to the B-17, but faster and with longer range, it was not liked as much as the B-17, but nonetheless used in large numbers.
The North American B-25 Mitchell became famous for the 1942 Doolittle raid against Japan. It was a medium bomber with a maximum load of 2,700kg.
The Martin B-26 Marauder was a medium bomber used mostly in Europe, with a bomb load of 1,800kg.
The Douglas A-26 Invader was introduced as light bomber, first seeing action in mid-1944. It remained in use for a long time after WWII.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the most advanced bomber of WWII. It was introduced in mid-1944, being used against Japan and dropping the first atomic bombs.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was the premier transport aircraft used by the USAAF.
Aircraft were often left unpainted to save weight, or painted olive drab.