Be it for humans, aliens, birds, or otherwise, the skies have always been the frontier to conquer and fear. In times of war, generally speaking, most people feared the skies, which were a place reserved for a select few, and with that exclusivity also came a new set of codes. Throughout WWI and WWII numerous accounts from diaries and first-hand interviews have recounted the high respect and honor pilots would show each other. Enemy pilots who managed to bring the fight to the ground were recorded as shooting at their own soldiers if they set to aid them in killing off the enemy pilot!
In 1943 WWII pilot Charlie Brown encountered firsthand the honor of the sky when he and his crew in their B-17 bomber had just completed a mission over German territory but had taken heavy fire in their survival against 15 enemy planes! Unfortunately, that hard-won survival cost them the death of one crew member and six heavily wounded. And worst yet, the tail-gun compartment was lost.
On their flight path home, a German plane suddenly flew up right next to them, saluted the pilot, and flew away without firing a shot. Later on, history revealed that the pilot was Franz Stigler, a 26-year-old ace fighter pilot with 22 victories! One more victory would have awarded him the Knight’s Cross. But on that day, he said that when he noticed the plane was not engaging him in battle, he flew close enough to see the gunner badly bleeding and other airmen quickly trying to patch each other up.
Words from his training under Lt Gustav Roedel rang in his ears: “Honor is everything here. If I ever see or hear you shooting a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself. You follow the rules of war for you - not for the enemy - you fight by rules to keep your humanity.”
With those words, Stigler said he simply could not shoot down the B-17 bomber. They weren’t able to fight back, and there was no honor in shooting them down.
Now it's your turn to show off how much you know about the planes and the pilots that dominated the skies!
While the British flew over 50 models of fighter plane in WWII, the first name that comes to mind when you say British fighters of WWII is the Spitfire.
The kamikaze (meaning "divine wind") pilots flew the Zero fighter planes, among others. The Zero was the main fighter plane of Japan and was the superior fighter at the beginning of the war. But by 1942-43, the allied forces had developed better planes to take on the Zero.
The ball turret (AKA belly gunner), was the most dangerous position on a bomber. The machine gunner hung from the bottom of the plane, in plain sight of the enemy, in an unarmored rotating Plexiglas ball with twin .50 caliber machine guns. The belly gunner had to be a very small person to fit in the ball turret.
A common image that adorned the noses of American bombers was the famous pin-up girl. Betty Grable was a popular choice.
The Red Tails were the first African-American aviators in the U.S. military. Nicknamed for the red tails of their aircraft, they were known as fearless fighters and were well-respected pilots, during a time of segregation and severe racial prejudice in America.
The Yak-3, or Yakovlev 3, was not only the best fighter in the Russian military, but also the best fighter of WWII, some would argue. Others are still partial to the P-51.
Early bombers had men stuffed into turrets to fire machine guns at attacking planes; later models had electronically controlled defensive weapons.
The Flying Dutchman was the name of a mythological ghost ship, while the Flying Circus was a nickname given to the fighter group led by the Red Baron in WWI. The Flying Tigers was a fighter group of the Chinese military made up of volunteers from the U.S. armed forces. The Flying Tigers saw combat 12 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their iconic shark mouth design on their fighter planes is still in use on military craft today. All of them were indeed flying heroes.
While all of the potential answers were real bombs, even the bat bombs, the incendiary bombs dealt the most damage to the wooden structures of Japanese cities, although the atomic bomb did the most damage of a single bomb.
The Hercules H-4 is a massive flying boat, built entirely of wood and glue, due to wartime restrictions on aluminum. It was glued and nailed together until the glue dried, then every nail was pulled back out to save weight. It was not completed in time to see service in WWII, as was intended, and only flew one short maiden flight, piloted by Hughes himself. The news media nicknamed it the Spruce Goose, although it was actually built from birch wood.
Generally it was agreed among the Allied forces that five kills in-flight were required to earn the unofficial title of "ace." However, the method of counting kills varied from country to country, some even allowed for planes destroyed on the ground to be counted.
The P-51 Mustang was introduced in 1940 and by 1944 had ensured air superiority for the Allies. The Mustang saw service in the Korean War, even after jets came onto the scene. The Mustang continued in service on some level until the early 1980s. The Mustang remains a favorite plane in air shows and for racing teams today.
While three of these saw action in WWII, the B-52 wasn’t even designed yet. The B-52 started flying in the 1950s. The Enola Gay, named after pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets' mother, was the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
The Allies dropped nearly 28,000 tons of bombs monthly, totaling an astounding 3.4 million tons of bombs between 1939 and 1945. By comparison, the U.S. dropped about 2.5 million tons of munitions from 1964 to 1973 on Laos, consisting of 260 million cluster bombs over 580,000 bombing runs conducted.
Yes, there were dozens of helicopter designs in WWII, mostly prototypes. A few were used mostly for reconnaissance and rescue, although there were submarine hunters too.
The Junkers JU-87, also known as the Stuka, made its signature sound due to wind passing through sirens mounted on the wings. This was a form of psychological warfare, intended to instill fear.
The B-29 could carry 20,000 pounds (10 tons) of bombs, along with its ten .50 caliber machine guns and their ammunition, and flight crew of 11.
Many planes had a pilot and co-pilot, but the more distinctive feature was the double fuselage. The North American XP-82 Twin Mustang, for example, actually had two complete fuselages, but went into production too late for WWII.
While all of these planes were massive, the Messerschmitt 323 Gigant (Giant) was the largest land-based transport plane in WWII.
The Waco CG-4A combat glider was a no-frills troop transport plane. Due to its canvas skin and no defensive weapons, the troops and pilots inside were sitting ducks if they were shot at, and they often were.
The P-51 Mustang was typically armed with six .50 caliber machine guns, with 1,840 rounds of ammunition. It also carried up to 2,000 pounds of bombs or up to ten 5-inch rockets.
Amazingly, the U.S. lost an average of 170 planes per day during WWII. Some pilots received a mere one to five hours of training before taking off.
The Russian 588th was an all-female night bombing regiment. They flew wood and canvas biplanes that had been used as training planes and crop dusters. The women coasted in silently, with idling engines or sometimes stalled engines, dropping their payload with hardly a sound before lifting back into the night sky.
The Lancaster had a crew of seven: the pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer/nose gunner, wireless operator, mid-upper gunner and rear gunner.
The B-17 had a crew of ten: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier/nose gunner, flight engineer, radio operator and gunners. The B-17 training manual referred to the plane as a "10-man weapon."
The maximum normal load of the Lancaster bomber was 7 tons, but with modification to the bomb bay it was capable of hauling 11 tons, the largest payload of any Allied bomber in WWII. That's one ton more than the B-29’s maximum load.
With a payload of just over 6.5 tons, the He-177 was Germany’s largest bomber, paling in comparison to the heavy bombers of the Allies and the Japanese.
The Nakajima G10N would have been one of the largest bombers in WWII. However, this plane was never completed and never flew in wartime.
The largest of the two heavy bombers the Russians had was the Petlyakov Pe-8. The production run ended in 1944.
The B-29 Superfortress was an innovative design in many aspects, one being that it was the first combat aircraft to have a pressurized cabin, eliminating the need for the oxygen masks worn by the pilots of other high-flying planes of WWII.
Most of the aircraft that attacked the Japanese mainland were based off of aircraft carriers, although later in the war, recaptured islands became more of an option. Otherwise, planes couldn't have carried enough fuel to complete their missions.
The main reason the mainland United States was never attacked was that the Axis bombers didn’t have the range to fly across the ocean and virtually no carriers could launch bombers. Germany was attempting to make a long range bomber, the “Amerika-Bomber,” to reach us, but it was never finished. The only bombers launched from a carrier in WWII were when the Doolittle Raid launched carrier-based bombers against Japan, using specially developed techniques. Most of the planes were crash-landed in China after the bombing raids because they couldn’t land on any carrier.
Although it is reported that only a small number of V-1 missiles were stopped by this method, pilots would fly their wing tips to within mere inches of the V-1 wing tip and the turbulence from the airflow would knock the V-1 off target, disrupting the gyro controls of the missile and sending it off course. V-1 missiles were known to Londoners as "buzz bombs" or "doodlebugs."
The C-108 was converted from the B-17 bomber to be an aircraft transport plane. There were several variations built, including the XC-108, which was converted to VIP transport for General Douglas MacArthur in 1943.