World War II Aviation

Facing a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific, the United States mobilized its vast human and industrial resources to achieve victory—a strategy that required the systematic use of air power. World War II became the global arena for a titanic struggle for control of the air. U.S. factories produced overwhelming numbers of fighter and bombers, and in both Europe and the Pacific, aviation proved crucial in tactical and strategic roles.

War-induced technological leaps in aircraft design and performance recast the nature of air warfare. Streamlined, all-metal fighters replaced wood and fabric biplanes. With remote-controlled guns, pressurized cabins, and powerful engines, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress became the most advanced bomber of its day. Late in the war, the relentless process of technical refinement culminated with the debut of jet aircraft.


<em>Enola Gay </em> at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay
Boeing's B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons.

On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.

More information: Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay

Lockheed P-38 at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning
In the P-38, Lockheed engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and his team of designers created one of the most successful twin-engine fighters ever flown by any nation. From 1942 to 1945, U. S. Army Air Forces pilots flew P-38s over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific, and from the frozen Aleutian Islands to the sun-baked deserts of North Africa. Lightning pilots in the Pacific theater downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other Army Air Forces warplane.

Maj. Richard I. Bong, America's leading fighter ace, flew this P-38J-10-LO on April 16, 1945, at Wright Field, Ohio, to evaluate an experimental method of interconnecting the movement of the throttle and propeller control levers. However, his right engine exploded in flight before he could conduct the experiment.

More information: Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning

Aichi M6A1 Seiran at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Aichi M6A1 Seiran (Clear Sky Storm)
Aichi chief engineer, Toshio Ozaki, designed the M6A1 Seiran to fulfill the requirement for a bomber that could operate exclusively from a submarine. Japanese war planners devised the idea as a means for striking directly at the United States mainland and other important strategic targets, like the Panama Canal, that lay thousands of kilometers from Japan. To support Seiran operations, the Japanese developed a fleet of submarine aircraft carriers to bring the aircraft within striking distance. No Seiran ever saw combat, but the Seiran/submarine weapons system represents an ingenious blend of aviation and marine technology.

This M6A1 was the last airframe built (serial number 28) and the only surviving example of the Seiran in the world. Imperial Japanese Navy Lt. Kazuo Akatsuka ferried this Seiran from Fukuyama to Yokosuka where he surrendered it to an American occupation contingent.

More information: Aichi M6A1 Seiran (Clear Sky Storm)

Stinson L-5 Sentinel at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Stinson L-5 Sentinel
Versatile, durable, and an important aircraft of World War II, the L-5 flew a wide variety of missions: photo reconnaissance, resupply, evacuation of wounded, message courier, VIP transport, and artillery spotting. Its design was roughly derived from the pre-war Stinson Model 105 Voyager. The Army Air Corps purchased six Voyagers from Vultee Aircraft (which had acquired Stinson) in 1941 for testing. Refitted with the Lycoming O-435-1 engine, the aircraft was designated the Model 75. While it had features and components of the Voyager series, it was fundamentally a new design.

The Army ordered this model in quantity, designating it first as the O-62 ("O" for observation), then as the L-5 ("L" for liaison) when the type designation was changed in 1942. This aircraft was the first O-62/L-5 produced.

More information: Stinson L-5 Sentinel