January/February Dakota Territory Air Museum P-47 Update

P-47: Jan/Feb Dakota Territory Air Museum’s P-47 Update
Aaron and Ester drove down to pick up a P-47 cowl. In a kind of symbolic homecoming, they stopped on the way back in Evansville and took a photo with the cowling outside the building that was the Republic factory.


This has been an exciting month in the P-47 restoration. The R-2800 has been mounted and work continues on control surfaces, gear doors, and the cockpit enclosure.

Engine and Accessories

The work on installing and connecting all the engine accessories and controls took up a great deal of time in the restoration shop this month.

If that company name sounds familiar, you may be a fisherperson. This Shakespeare is the familiar fishing tackle company – Shakespeare rods and reels are still a major brand in the fishing tackle industry. Below is a description of some of their activities during the war from online company history.1  It is yet another fine example of American industrial support for the war effort.

1 D. Stewart, A HISTORY OF THE SHAKESPEARE COMPANY – https://cache.kzoo.edu/bitstream/handle/10920/19180/Steward-Douglas.pdf?sequence=1accessed 2-23-2022


AirCorps was generously loaned a cowl from a P-47. It was used to mock up the fit of the new cowl.

Cockpit Enclosure

While the majority of work was dedicated to the mounting of the engine and accessories, work also continued on the cockpit enclosure as the time for its installation is coming up soon.

Wings and Control Linkages

3,400 rounds is the maximum ammo load. It was often reduced to as little as 267 rounds per gun to compensate for the additional weight when a heavy load of fuel and /or bombs was carried.

Like the Shakespeare label that was shown earlier, it is a physical demonstration of the all-out American industrial mobilization that was a huge part of our victory in WWII.

Tough Riveting

There are many spots on the P-47 where rivets must be driven in very tight places. The restoration guys needed to get creative with making special bucking bars, and working together to get those tough rivets driven.

Accidental Losses

In any discussion of WWII fighters, combat losses are usually noted. But accidental losses aren’t as frequently chronicled. While losing one’s life in combat is more newsworthy than in training, the sacrifice is the same. Although they may have never faced flak, Zeros, or Messerschmitts, the sacrifice of pilots involved in training or non combat operational accidents was as real as those shot down in combat. A pilot who lost his life in a training accident did not qualify for a Purple Heart award because their death was not the result of enemy action. 

Various sources differ slightly as to numbers, but Anthony J. Mireles’ research for his book Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States indicates that from 1940-1945 13,600 USAAF personnel were killed in 6,351 accidents. Most of these were in primary, basic, and advanced trainers, but 4,553 died in 774 B-17 and B-24 bomber accidents and 1,161 met their end in fighters.2

After three nine-week phases of primary, basic and advanced training, pilots had amassed approximately 200 hours before moving on to a Fighter Replacement Training Unit. Once there, the newly minted Second Lieutenant or Flight Officer made the transition to early versions of the front line combat fighter. Sometimes that transition was to a different fighter than the one they would eventually fly in their assigned overseas unit. The number of fighter training accidents can be attributed in part to the fact that there were few, if any, two-seat variants of the major fighters available for check-out flights.

The first flight in a fighter was a major leap in aircraft performance, and could be a frightening situation for a pilot who hadn’t flown an aircraft with more speed and horsepower than the ubiquitous AT-6.


2 Anthony J. Mireles, Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States, 1941-1945 (3 Volume Set), McFarland (May 9, 2006)

P-47: Accidental Losses
19 June 1943.[then] Lt. "Hank" Mills' P-47 Thunderbolt Serial no. 41-6191 suffers only slight damage from main gear failure on landing. Photo from American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection

First, the aspiring fighter pilot would study tech orders and flight manuals for the specific aircraft they were transitioning into. They would sometimes spend several days on the ground in the cockpit, familiarizing themselves with the positions of the various flight controls and instruments until they could pass a pre-flight exam by the instructor. The exam typically required the pilot to show where all the controls and switches were while wearing a blindfold.

After passing the ground exam, pilots would be fitted for a parachute. Then the pilot trainee took off in an airplane with over twice the power and speed of anything he (or she in the case of the WASP ferry pilots) had ever flown. Jumping into a 2,000 horsepower Thunderbolt and taking off without an instructor had to be a daunting experience.

The danger of operational, non-combat flying continued after training. Green pilots at the controls of high-performance airplanes that they had little or no experience flying predictably led to accidents.

Once pilots arrived overseas they undertook operational training with their unit. At least in this case they would fly the type of fighter that they would take into combat. 

Overseas accidents losses were sobering. The U.S. suffered 52,173 aircrew combat losses. But another 25,844 died in accidents.

Approximately 2/3rds of the 15,683 P-47s built reached overseas commands. A total of 5,222 were lost, 1,723 of those in accidents not related to combat.

P-47: Accidental Losses
A P-47 (DQ-K, serial number 41-6538) of the 495th Fighter Training Group suffers a watery crash landing. Photo American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection

This particular P-47 was actually crashed 4 different times by novice pilots during 1944. Fortunately, none of these accidents were fatal.

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