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    World War II Aviation

Beyond the Cold War Aviation gallery is an area dedicated to World War II aviation. A subsection here includes German aviation, with a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, one of Germany’s fighter mainstays, and a Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, a rocket-powered fighter prototype that actually included a pilot. It was able to fly at more than 600 MPH, far faster than Allied aircraft. Unfortunately, the plane could only store enough fuel for eight or nine minutes of flight, after which it landed unpowered and unable to evade American fighters. That made it impractical as a mass-produced attack aircraft, but it’s still an interesting design.

The Allies’ World War II aircraft includes:

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt - The Thunderbolt was the most-produced American fighter of World War II. It was well armored, had eight .50-caliber machine guns, and excelled at ground support. It wasn’t as fast as the P-51, and didn’t have the Mustang’s range in Europe, so its role as a bomber escort fighter was limited.

Northrop P-61C Black Widow - The P-61 was designed to be a nighttime fighter, using radar to find and target enemy bombers and their escorts. It had a large fuel capacity, allowing it to stay airborne for long patrols. However, it was introduced in 1944, and only served for about a year until the war ended.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning - A two-engine fighter designed by the same Lockheed group that later designed the SR-71, the Lightning excelled in the Pacific theater. Certain models had a range of 2,000 miles, and it could reach speeds over 420 MPH, more than enough for Japanese fighters of the time.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay displayed here deserves special mention, as it dropped the world’s second atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. It also flew on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki three days later, performing weather reconnaissance before the bombing.

The B-29 was considered the most advanced piston-engine bomber of World War II. It featured four engines, and a heated, pressurized cabin, allowing the bomber to fly at high altitudes. It also had eight gun turrets, some of which could be controlled remotely by one gunner, and the B-29 could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs more than 4,000 miles. It was introduced in mid-1944, relatively late in the war.

Other Lands at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center