Duxford Building 7 - American Air Museum - Page 2

LINKS BELOW are to pages in the IWM Duxford site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

     1 : IWM History
     2 : IWM Duxford History
     3 : Indoor Displays
    4 : Outdoor Displays

HOME PAGE : Imperial War Museum Duxford

HOME PAGE : Colin Day's Links



Since being opened, the museum has had its glass front removed, and then reinstalled, to allow the bringing-in of an SR-71 Blackbird and B-24 Liberator.

In 1958 the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects 'Skunk Works' began work on a successor to the U-2 spy plane. It had to fly higher and faster to evade improved Soviet air defence missiles. The aim was to achieve a speed of Mach 3 with long range, great height and low radar visibility. The result was the Blackbird which made its maiden flight in 1962.

The SR-71A two-seat version became operational in the US Air Force in 1968. Two squadrons of SR-71s formed the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. They were based at Beale Air Force Base in California, although detachments were sent all over the world to undertake specific operations.

The aircraft on display first flew in April 1966 and was delivered to the USAF in May 1966. It operated from Beale Air Force Base, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and RAF Mildenhall in the UK during its service career. It made its last flight in February 1990.

The SR-71, serial number 61-7962 is the only Blackbird on show outside the USA. It set a flight altitude record of 85,069 feet in July 1976. It came to Duxford in 2001 from the USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California and is on loan from the US Air Force Museum.


The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single piston engine.It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to eight tons, and in the fighter-bomber ground-attack roles could carry five-inch rockets or a significant bomb load of 2,500 pounds.

The P-47, based on the powerful Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, was to be very effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat and as a fighter-bomber. It proved especially adept at ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific Theatres. The P-47 served with other Allied air forces, notably those of France, Britain, and Russia. Mexican and Brazilian squadrons fighting alongside the U.S..

The P-47 Thunderbolt was a design of Georgian immigrant Alexander Kartveli, and was to replace the Seversky P-35 that was developed earlier by another Russian immigrant, Alexander P. de Seversky. Both had left their homeland to escape the Bolsheviks. All the early P-47s had a "razorback" canopy configuration with a tall fuselage spine behind the pilot, which resulted in poor visibility to the rear. The British also had this problem with their fighter aircraft, and had devised the bulged "Malcolm hood" canopy for the Spitfire as an initial solution. This type of canopy was fitted in the field to many North American P-51 Mustangs, and to a handful of P-47Ds.

However, the British then came up with a much better solution, devising an all-round vision "bubble canopy" for the Hawker Typhoon. USAAF officials liked the bubble canopy, and quickly adapted it to American fighters, including the P-51 and the Thunderbolt. The first P-47 with a bubble canopy was a modified P-47D-5 completed in the summer of 1943. This and other refinements of the Thunderbolt led to the P-47D, which was the most produced version with 12,602 built.

The P-47's initial success in combat was primarily due to tactics, using rolls (the P-47 had an excellent roll rate) and energy-saving dive and zoom climbs from high altitude to outmanoeuver German fighters.

But both the Bf 109 and Fw 190 could, like the Spitfire, out-turn and out-climb the early model P-47s at low altitude, although at altitudes above 15,000 ft the P-47 could turn inside both the German planes. Once paddle blade propellers were added to the P-47 in early 1944, climb performance improved significantly. However, no German piston-engined aircraft could out-dive the Thunderbolt.

The Thunderbolt was the fastest-diving American aircraft of the war and could reach speeds of 550 mph (480 kn, 885 km/h). Some P-47 pilots claimed to have broken the sound barrier, but later research revealed that because of the pressure build up inside the pitot tube at high speeds, airspeed readings became unpredictably exaggerated. But German pilots gradually learned to avoid diving away from a Thunderbolt.

Kurt Bühligen, a high-scoring German fighter ace with 112 victories, recalled:
'The P-47 was very heavy, too heavy for some maneouvers. We would see it coming from behind, and pull up fast and the P-47 couldn't follow and we came around and got on its tail in this way'


The Dodge WC54 ton truck, catalog designation G502, was a WC series 4x4 light truck developed in 1942. The vehicle served as the main ambulance used by the US army from 1942 to 1945, with some used as late as 1953 during the Korean War by the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Others served as late as the 1960s in the armies of some European countries. At times, several were also used by the US Signal Corps as radio vans.

The WC54 was designed to replace the WC9, WC18 and the WC27 Truck.

Based on the 3/4 ton 'Beep' Dodge chassis the ambulance featured a longer wheelbase and adjusted suspension to make its ride softer.

The closed sheet-metal body was made by Wayne Body works. It had room for a driver and four to seven patients plus a medic. If the fold-away bunk stretchers were used four patients could be transported lying down.

Because of its intended role, the WC54 featured a large matrix cab heater fitted on the firewall, providing comfort for patients and crew. It was fitted with a foldaway step to its rear to allow easier access for stretcher bearers and injured personnel.

Early models featured a stuck out fuel filler cap which was changed to a recessed one in the later model.

Between 1942 and 1945 total production of the 3/4 ton WC-series T214 was 255,173. Of these, 22,857 were ambulances. Virtually unchanged throughout its life, apart from minor technical tweaks, it was later turned into a knockdown version, known as WC64, to allow larger quantities to be shipped at the same time. Only 3,500 were made between the beginning of 1945 and the end of the war.

The picture below (in the public domain) shows Omaha Beach after the D-Day landings. A WC54 ambulance is visible in the left foreground.

Landing ships are putting cargo ashore on Omaha Beach at low tide during the early days of the operation i.e. mid-June, 1944. Note the barrage balloons overhead and Army "half-track" convoy forming up on the beach.

buttongo.jpg - 7212 Bytes
buttonnext.jpg - 5586 Bytes