The Thunderbolt was the brainchild of Republic Aircraft’s chief designer, Alexander Kartveli. His challenge was to meet a 1940 Army Air Corps demand for a high speed, high altitude fighter with immense firepower. Republic had been developing the P-44, follow-on to its P-43 Lancer, but Kartveli realized it would fall far short of Army requirements. Kartveli molded the P-43’s lines into a new design patterned around the V-block Allison V-1710 engine. It later became clear that the new fighter, designated P-47, would never reach its potential with the under-powered Allison and it was replaced with a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial mated to a turbocharger for high altitude performance. To take advantage of the powerful R-2800, Republic fitted an immense four-bladed propeller. With an armament consisting of eight .50-inch machine guns, maximum speed of well over 400 mph, and a maximum ceiling of 40,000 feet, the Thunderbolt was just what the Air Corps was looking for in a fighter.
One of the deadliest ground-attack platforms of World War II, the P-47 Thunderbolt saw extensive action in the European, Pacific and China-Burma-India theaters of operation. With the addition of long-range drop tanks, it proved to be a successful escort fighter for American B-17s and B-24s flying deep into Nazi Germany. With an empty weight of nearly 10,000 pounds, the P-47 was the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter of World War II. The aircraft’s weight, combined with its mighty 2,000 hp engine, gave the P-47 an extraordinary dive speed exceeding 525 mph. Its robust construction and lethal firepower made it not only a devastating ground-attack platform, but also a superb fighter.
The Thunderbolt saw action in nearly every theater of World War II, serving as the mount of numerous American aces, including Francis Gabreski and Robert Johnson. Two Texans were the only P-47 pilots to receive the Medal of Honor as Raymond Knight, from Houston and Neel Kearby from Wichita Falls received the award posthumously. Other nations that used the P-47 were the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Brazil, Mexico, the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force, and Free France. After the War, P-47s continued to serve in the Air National Guards, with France in Indo-China, and throughout Central and South America.
The LSFM Thunderbolt, specifically a P-47D-RA-40, was manufactured by the Indiana division of Republic Aviation in Evansville, Indiana and accepted by the Army Air Force on 7 May 1945. On 28 August 1947, the aircraft was sold to the Venezuelan Air Force. Returning to the US in the early 1990s, it underwent a two-stage restoration to mint condition with the assistance of the US Air Force, which supplied the propeller, engine, tires, wheels and instruments. The P-47 was painted in the markings of Tarheel Hal, an aircraft assigned to the 366th Fighter Squadron, 358th Fighter Group based in Toul, France in 1944. After briefly flying on the air show circuit, it was acquired by the LSFM in June 1998 and has maintained an active flying schedule. Tarheel Hal is a regular performer with the United States Air Force Heritage Flight Demonstration Team where it performs with many of the latest generation fighter jets such as the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and the F-16 Fighting Falcon.