Putting the “Thunder” in the Thunderbolt
The Thunderbolt has always had a following for some as their favorite fighter, the P-38 is a great and graceful fighter, the Mustang is a purebred, built for speed killer, but the Thunderbolt has heart! For me the Thunderbolt is a great example of what Americans value in a fighting machine! It was big, tough as nails, very fast, extremely well armed and very “in your face”. If flown properly it can be a very tough opponent. You can take it up get good kills and get home. If you practice good tactics and have some self control, you can generally come home without a scratch. If you do lose control and get into a dogfight, you can take a beating and still fly home.
General Kepner of 8th Fighter command said this about the P-47: “If it can be said that the P-38 struck the Luftwaffe in it’s vitals and the P-51s are giving it the Coup de Grace, it was the Thunderbolt that broke it’s back.”
47’s in general.
There are some traits that all of the models of the Thunderbolt share. They are all huge and heavy. They all carry 8 .50 Caliber M2s in their wings as a primary armament. They all guzzle gas with those 2000+ horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 18 cylinder Wasp radial engines. They are all relatively poor climbers, but being heavy they will hold momentum and zoom well. They are all very durable and soak up a lot of damage. They are all fast and improve in most respects with altitude. At 20,000 feet or above the P-47 is a match for any propeller driven aircraft in speed, and maneuverability.
Know Your Jugs!
There are five different models of the P-47 in Aces high, three “D” models, the "M" and the “N” model.
The D11 is your razorback model with limited external ordnance of a 500lb bomb or a 75 gallon drop tank. The views are not as good as the late models, but when you get used to then, they are no hindrance. The D11 is the most maneuverable of all the 47s, it being the lightest. The D11 has a following for P-47 fans who enjoy dogfighting.
The D25 is the first of the “bubbletop” jugs. It’s a little heavier than the D25 and a little less agile, but the difference is hardly noticeable. It is not quite as stable in the Y axis and will yaw at slow speeds. The views are of coarse very good. The D25 has a great many external ordnance options including multiple bombs, rockets and external fuel tanks. A word about the rockets on this model: they are the bazooka type that requires that you keep the launch tubes attached and these hinder performance by a small but noticeable amount. This is the first of the longer range Thunderbolts. It’s good for any mission, be it high alt escort, or ground support.
The D40 is the final development of the D model. It has a little more power and climbs a little better than the previous models. Let me just say, if you are relying on climb to fight in a P-47, then you are doing it wrong. It, like the D25 is a bubbletop but it also has a dorsal fillet attached to the vertical stabilizer to give it less yaw. The D40 will fight in the air like any other Thunderbolt, but it is also idealized for ground attack and can carry 2x500lbs of bombs plus rockets. It is a good late model P-47 and was used a lot for ground attack by the 9th air force.
The P-47M was a conservative attempt to come up with a higher-performance ("Sprint") version of the Thunderbolt, seeking parity with the newly introduced German jet aircraft and V-1 flying bombs. Four P-47D-27-RE airframes were modified into prototype YP-47Ms by fitting the R-2800-57(C) engine and the GE CH-5 turbo-supercharger, a combination which could produce 2,800 hp (2,089 kW) at 32,500 ft (9,900 m) when using WEP. Air brakes were added to the wing's lower surfaces to allow braking after a dive onto its prey. The YP-47M had a top speed of 473 mph (410 kn, 761 km/h) and it was put into limited production with 130 (sufficient for one group) built. The second YP-47M (of the batch of four converted P-47Ds) was later fitted with new wings and served as the prototype for the P-47N.
The P-47N is the latest addition to the line of jugs. There are quite a few differences between this model and the earlier ones. The N model carries a lot more internal fuel as it was intended for long range escort in the pacific. The wings were redesigned, fuel tanks added and the engine upgraded. This model is very fast in WEP, it gains near 40 MPH in WEP and can run down all but the fasted enemies while the WEP lasts. Without the WEP however it is more sluggish than the other models. Like the D40 it can carry truckloads of ordnance when needed. It’s very fast at altitude as well.
In the Tower
You can set yourself up for failure or success to a certain extent before you even get off the ground. The important thing is that you plan for the mission at hand.
On my first FSO mission when I flew with the 56th Fighter Group, It was a long range mission in the 47D25 and I had to ditch in the Med because I ran out of gas. This has instilled in me a mortal fear of running out of gas, If I’m in charge a mission we are taking enough gas to get there fight for a while and have plenty to get home. I hate running short on gas, I’d rather run out of ammo than gas. The P-47 burns gas faster than an Shell station on fire, so I usually take at least one drop tank for climb out and 3/4th tank of internal gas. The 47 tend to take fuel hits in it main tank, so after externals I burn Main and save my Aux tank for getting home. I like to be at altitude over the target with a 3/4th tank of gas.
I generally take the max ammo load of 1700 rounds so I can keep that trigger down just a bit more. This is especially useful when you are strafing, 450 rounds per gun is a lot of firepower. You can get buy with the 1048 round loadout just fine for air to air stuff, but I don’t like to run out, and the weight difference is negligible.
As far as ordnance goes, take what you need for the particular mission. If it’s tank busting in a D40 or N then I take 2x 1000lb eggs under the wings, a 500lb egg on the centerline rack and rockets on the wings. Remember to take enough gas to loiter a bit to give those friendly ground pounders some good support.
Climb speed is defaulted at 160 MPH which is historic for the P-47. This gets you about 2,000 to 2,500 feet per minute at non-WEP full throttle and clean. If you are fully loaded with fuel and bombs it’s going to be about 1000 feet a minute at full throttle.
If I’m climbing out and conserving fuel in my drop tanks I’ll back the throttle down to normal power or so and climb a little slower. It really depends on how far you are going and what amount of room you need to climb. The real guys in Europe used full throttle for take-off, got formed up and climbed slowly at low throttle settings to conserve fuel so they could have more to fight over Germany. If given room, I’ll do it the same way. Just as a general rule, I’ll try and do things the way the real guys did it in almost every case.
I try to climb to very minimum of 10,000 feet before engaging lower or co-alt cons at speed. I prefer 15k or 20k or 25k or 30k much more. I guess what ‘m saying is that you cannot have enough altitude or potential energy if you will. If I’m going in co-alt at a good altitude I want to be at or close to full speed. So level off a little early and build some speed going in.
This may not seem very important in some of the arena’s we play in, but it may be the difference between life and death. Fuel is blood up there in the skies, you run out and you don’t live to get home. Here’s the rub, at full throttle you get max speed while using a great amount of gas. On the other hand if you are running with the throttle back a bit you can keep good speed and save a lot of gas in the process. Cruise speed is around 180-200 at max fuel conservation, you can still save a lot of fuel while running around 225-250 indicated. You can run full about somewhere around 300 indicated and blow a full tank of gas in 30 minutes. Sometimes you don’t need the gas, sometime you really need to conserve. I always try to come home and like the real guys I worry a great amount over fuel. Cruising is also subject to the mission at hand. A good high speed general setting that will conserve some gas is 40 manifold and 22 RPM’s.
Speed & Turning
Speed is life, this is never so true as when you are in the cockpit of a Thunderbolt. Low and slow gets you pretty defenseless, pretty fast. Contrary to popular opinion the 47 turns very well at high speeds (225+) and will not compress until well over 500. One thing that really shines and puts the jug in the top few plane in the game is the roll rate. It’s very quick at speed and can be used to change attitude very fast. One rule of thumb is the faster you and your enemy goes, the more advantages you have over him. There are a few exceptions in general, but none in a dive.
Don’t be too timid and afraid to try and make a few turns in a high speed fight, you will dump you speed fast, but with 8 .50’s you don’t need to get guns on them for long and they are in pieces. I try not to stay in the fight under 200 miles an hour so I do not get caught in a disadvantageous position.
More speed = More advantages for the Thunderbolt!
There are three basic modes of Thunderbolt combat and multitudes of variations and combination of the three. The three basics are Boom and Zoom, Slashing and to a lesser extent Turning. The main idea is to get guns on them without letting them return the favor to you. In the P-47 the best way to do this is to use your energy advantage (You did get one before engaging didn’t you?) and your superior firepower to destroy the enemy. This is the way the great groups in WW2 killed the Luftwaffe on many occasions.
Boom and Zoom is the quintessential jug tactic, come in high dive down on the bad guy’s tail (unbeknownst if possible) hammer them with your 8 guns and use your momentum to zoom back above the fight, leaving yourself with enough vertical and horizontal separation to not get fire upon. I use BnZ most of the time I am engaging a single target one to one. The classic attach profile is to dive to the bogey’s altitude about 1-1.5k back and close really fast opening up in range and then turning slightly and zooming back up after firing. If the enemy is dead the zoom can be in any direction, but if you miss or he breaks, you want to zoom away for maximum separation from his flight direction.
For multiple target I use a slightly different method to engage. As you may have guessed this one also begins with me having a good speed and/or altitude advantage. (notice the theme here?) This is a great place for the slashing type of attack. The way this works is pretty simple. The goal is to get some shots in without giving up your speed and safe exit. You start out like a BnZ and build speed diving to the attack of your selected target. You make a pass on him and hit or miss you move on to another target in your general flight path. I will make small turns to get lead on these passes, but I try to really keep my speed up so as not to get vulnerable. Low and slow = Dead and Dead. So I’ll blow through the group and if I’m in good shape E wise zoom out and extend for another run. If a little slow from too much turning, I’ll dive to pick up air speed and extend that way. Sometimes, depending on the opponent I’ll stay in and go for the kill a little harder, but that is a decision you can only really make with some experience.
Again, you don’t need a lot of time on target in order to destroy them. You are throwing over 100 rounds of .50 cal for every second of fire. That is almost an unrivaled concentration of firepower. If you are making a pass and it is ends up being a head on, then I generally consider that the enemies mistake and give them a nice burst in the teeth. If you are on target you should hear them detonate as you pass over or under them. I generally try not to HO the machines with four or more cannon however.
The third mode of fighting is either out of desperation because you’ve made a mistake or because you are fighting an equal or lesser maneuverable machine. This is the dreaded turn fight. The Jug can do ok, but not for an extended period of time. Mostly this happens after a fight or at the tail end of one that you’ve stayed engaged for too long. Sometimes you just can’t help it and are stuck fighting it out low and slow. There are some tips that I can give that will help increase your survival, but can’t really be relied upon if you are facing a good stick. The first thing I do is to turn in to whoever is making a pass at me if I can, about half will break and half will HO. The smart ones break realizing you used a lot of E to turn into them. The ones that HO often get hammered with your guns and learn not to do that gain. You can use flaps a few notches to help bring it around, but don’t leave them out as it will kill your speed even more. The other trick I can offer is the E-Dump forcing an overshoot. This is a truly desperate move because it leaves you totally vulnerable, but in this situation it may save your life. Dump your flaps throttle all the way back and break, be careful not to stall in the break and you will slow down like your wearing a parachute. If the bad guy is a veteran he will go vertical and come back to kill you, if not he will over shoot and possibly give you a snap shot. Again the jug is a death star with wings with those eight .50’s, so you know the rest. The Jug can fly very slow and not stall, so some inexperienced pilots may auger. I will usually try to extend before resulting to these defensive measures.
All the maneuvering and planning are for nothing if you don’t do some shooting and put lead on target! Fortunately the Thunderbolt lives up to it’s name and has a lot of lead to go around. I don’t think it’s an underestimate when I say that the P-47 has one of the most powerful gun packages in Aces High. As I said before you don’t need a lot of time on target to make the bad guys go boom. It took me about six months until I started to shoot better and get kills and I still have nights where I can’t hit anything. (too many nights) So what I’m saying is keep practicing your aim and don’t get discouraged.
Truth be told the Jug is probably not a good one to learn accurate shooting and ammo conservation on. When I fly the P-51B (Probably my second favorite ride) I must be very careful not to run out of ammo, it has half the guns and a lot less ammo than the P-47.
With the jug you are much more prone to fire streams of ammo downrange try to get hits and kills. This is a fine way to fight, I do it all the time. Lead the enemy enough that he flies right through your stream of .50 calibers and he will likely go down and hard. If these guns will take out a locomotive then the will destroy anything that can fly. I will pull what I think is good lead and sometimes adjust it mid-stream to get on target, just like pissing on a bug when your camping. Just don’t lead too long and keep trying to turn to stay on target losing all your E. Don’t be afraid to us up a lot of ammo to get that kill at a high deflection angle or pass, you should have plenty to go around.
A word about the gun loadouts may be in order here as well. The six gun package may appeal to you in a weak moment, but don’t be tempted! The jug is not an extended turn fighter and you are never going to save enough weight to make it one. If you take all the guns and fuel out it still weighs something near 12,000 pounds which is twice what a spit weighs. It will surprise you sometimes, but generally you are relying more on power then maneuver. The same can be said of the ammo loadout for the eight gun package. Take the maximum and do not put yourself in a position where the extra weight will be a hindrance. Besides, if you are doing it right, your ammo supply will trim itself down soon enough
Convergence is another area of confusion for folks. I keep my outer guns at 400 and my inners at 425 to get a good group in the killing zone and still be able to make some long range shots. I learned this from Bluekitty from the old 56th She is one of the best jug pilots ever to play Aces High, so I never really looked back. It is my feeling that fast planes like the Thunderbolt and Mustang do well with a 400ish setting and slower planes that fight more up close like the P-40 do well at about 300 convergence. It’s really a personal preference as to what you can hit and kill with. I read one account of a pilot in the 325th Fighter Group setting his eight .50’s at 100 yards so he would not miss.
Good deflection shooting takes practice, practice and more practice. There is no shame in practicing offline either.
Ground attack is an important mission for the P-47 that was increasingly flown as the war progressed. The D25, D40 and N model excel at this role. A flight of four P-47’s can carry more ords than a B-17 or B-24. It’s pretty easy for them to knock out airfields, Ground bases or towns. The heavy bombs can take down the hangers and hard targets and the rockets and 3400 rounds of .50 cals can work over the soft targets in a real hurry. On one mission the 56th Fighter Group expended 78,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition strafing an airfield in Germany.
For hitting targets with bombs I usually dive bomb. A good altitude to start at is about 7,000 feet. I come over the target, roll over and dive in at a 15 degree or less angle. Let the stick center and settle down making sure that your pipper is centered on the target in as much of a hands free attitude as possible. Release those bombs around 2,000-4,000 feet leaving plenty of time to pull out. I usually salvo both my wing mounted bombs at once, mainly because that is the way the real guys did it.
Strafing is something that the jug naturally excels at. High speed and heavy firepower as well as the ability to take some hits make it a ground attack fighter-bomber almost without equal. I like to come in fast and relatively shallow angle of 30 degrees or less. The faster you come in the less chance the AA has to get you. The accounts I’ve seen put it about 400 to 450 MPH. I have a mortal fear of AA guns and don’t want to hang around getting hit a long way from home if I can help it. De-acking is a much easier job if you stay fast and do it in a group.
This is one of the most important parts of getting that immersion that makes this game so great. I always plan on coming home and do my darndest to make it happen. A lot of times I will throttle way back to get home because of fuel constraints. Make sure you disengage with enough fuel to get home, and perhaps with a little extra reserve in case you get into trouble on the way home. It’s no good killing the bad guys if you don’t live to tell about it. Your AUX fuel tank is a great reserve if you save it will give you a good bit of fuel to get home on.
Situations to avoid
There are some times that you get caught and killed and can’t do a whole lot about it. The best thing to do is avoid these situations. Don’t get caught at a lower altitude than a good energy fighter as you will be left with few options to fight or run. I dread a high P-51 or P-38. Better to dive away and live then engage on the enemies terms.
This may seem obvious, but don’t go chasing enemies through their own flak, no kill is worth the risk and even if you do get your man, you probably will sustain enough damage to knock you out of the fight.
Don’t get drawn in to the enemies style of fight, set up the fight to suit your strong points and don’t engage at a disadvantage. At time this takes more self control than I have, but I usually pay for the mistake when I’m low, slow and potentially dead.
Well, I’m a bit typed out for now, I hope this will help some of you guys who are new to the jug and as always I’m open to suggestions and advice. One last note: these tactics while optimized for the Thunderbolt will work very well for any number of fighters including the P-51 and P-38, they just don’t quite have the heart the 47 does.
The following is an addendum written by Stoney. I thought is was good enough to include here.
Personally, I like to arrive over the target with 50% in any Jug. Depending on the model you use, this can result in a different configuration for all of them at takeoff. Remember that the parasitic drag of the drop tanks is greater than the induced drag of the extra internal weight, so, for the same gallons, I'll fill the internal tanks before taking drops. This means, in the D11 for example, I'd rather have 100% internal at takeoff than 75% and the drop tank.
Also, if you want to conform with history, take the lighter 8-gun ammo load. The max ammo load was rarely used in the war from what I've read, and will make a noticeable difference in performance. For example, it costs you about 2" of manifold pressure, in that a plane with the lighter load can climb as fast at 50" as a plane with the heavy load at 52". Roll rate is also better, and overall, it saves you almost 500 lbs which, IMO, makes the plane a bit more maneuverable. Furthermore, unless you're doing some heavy bomber banging, the lighter package is still enough to take out 6-8 aircraft in one sortie, with proper marksmanship. Even when I take 100% internal fuel, I still run out of gas before I run out of ammo, even with the lighter load. The only exception is when I'm specifically launching to take on bombers. Most of the time I still take the lighter load, but sometimes I'll take the heavier. I have landed 6 B-17/B-24 kills with simply the light ammo load.
Second, climb on full power always. You don't save any fuel by climbing on reduced power--matter of fact, you'll burn more gas doing that. I use WEP for climb out after takeoff in all of the P-47 models, at least until I hit the redline on the oil temperature gauge. It may be non-historic, but the engine management in AH2 does not even attempt to replicate that which you would find in the cockpit of any of the aircraft in-game, so, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Third, maximize the capability of the planes when they're at 25% fuel. A P-47N at 25% and half of the light ammo load begins to approach wing-loading levels of much smaller aircraft, and performance overall approaches that which is almost "Spit-like" Smiley. Seriously though, all the P-47's become much more capable at lighter weights--I don't think there's another aircraft that is affected by its gross more than the Jug. Learn how to sip fuel at 1700 RPM and 30" of MP and you can cover 2-3 sectors on an 1/8th to a 1/4 tank of fuel, depending on model. That will really maximize your effectiveness over the objective with longer loiter and much greater maneuverability.
Last, you can reach compression speed in a dive from as low as 7-8,000 feet, so that's your minimum safe escape altitude. If you have that much altitude, you can get away from almost anything if you so desire.