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Birds of Prey

By Charles AppleThe Spokesman-Review

Three-quarters of a century ago, Americans rose to the challenge of World War II by filling the skies with fearsome – yet beautiful – birds of steel.

World War II wasn’t won in battle alone. The engineering know-how and industrial might of the United States was a big key to the Allied victory.

That’s particularly evident in the thousands of aircraft the U.S. produced in the walk up to and during the war itself. While quality vehicles were produced by other nations – Britain’s Supermarine Spitfire, German Messerchmitts and Foke-Wulfs and Japanese Zeroes – America’s aviation industry churned out one superior design after another, from heavy bombers to long-range bombers to agile fighters to durable carrier-based aircraft.

One such example is the P-51 Mustang.

the P-51 Mustang

The plane was originally designed for use by Britain’s Royal Air Force, which had an urgent need for fighters during the Blitz on London. The U.S. Army Air Corps had to be sweet-talked into taking delivery of the Mustang.

Once it was in the air, however, the P-51 proved to be an outstanding machine. The aircraft was fast, agile, capable of taking enemy fire and – best of all – had a long range, which increased their value as escorts to vulnerable bomber runs deep in German territory.

By the end of the war, the P-51 Mustang had become the second most-commonly built aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.

the P-51 Mustang

B-17 Flying Fortress

Type: Bomber

Manufacturer: Boeing

First flight: July 28, 1935

Cost per plane: $238,329

Number manufactured:

12,731

P-39 AIRACOBRA

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft

First flight: April 6, 1938

Cost per plane: $50,666

Number manufactured:

9,584

P-40 WARHAWK

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: Curtiss-Wright

First flight: Oct. 17, 1938

Cost per plane: $11,892

Number manufactured:

13,738

P-38 LIGHTNING

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: Lockheed

First flight: Jan. 27, 1939

Cost per plane: $97,147

Number manufactured:

10,037

B-24 LIBERATOR

Type: Bomber

Manufacturer: Consolidated Aircraft

First flight: Dec. 29, 1939

Cost per plane: $297,627

Number manufactured:

18,482

F4U CORSAIR

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

First flight: Aug. 19, 1940

Cost per plane: $109,670

Number manufactured:

12,571

B-25 MITCHELL

Type: Bomber

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

First flight: Aug. 19, 1940

Cost per plane: $109,670

Number manufactured:

9,984

P-51 MUSTANG

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

First flight: Oct. 26, 1940

Cost per plane: $50,985

Number manufactured:

15,875

P-47 THUNDERBOLT

Type: Fighter/bomber

Manufacturer: Republic Aviation

First flight: May 6, 1941

Cost per plane: $85,000

Number manufactured:

15,686

TBF/TBM AVENGER

Type: Torpedo Bomber

Manufacturer: Grumman and General Motors

First flight: Aug. 1, 1941

Cost per plane: n/a

Number manufactured:

9,835

F6F HELLCAT

Type: Fighter

Manufacturer: Grumman

First flight: June 26, 1942

Cost per plane: $35,000

Number manufactured:

12,275

B-29 SUPERFORTRESS

Type: Strategic bomber

Manufacturer: Boeing

First flight: Sept. 21, 1942

Cost per plane: $639,188

Number manufactured:

3,970

Sources: World War II Foundation, Armed Forces History Museum, National Museum of Naval Aviation, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft, MilitaryFactory.com, World War II Database

Photo Sources: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Air Force, U.S. Navy, Library of Congress, Lockheed Martin, Royal Air Force