This is a letter exchange between me and Robert Grant.

This is the A-36A I crashed in February 1944 at Pomigliano Italy.
I had a mild concussion and don't remember landing the airplane. Very lucky.

That's Mount Vesuvius in the background.
It erupted a month later! We had a ringside view!

     On 2005.0710, at 10:25 AM, Charles Dills answered an inquiry by Robert Grant.

     What's your web site address? I'll check it out. [RG]
=========== specifically,
     Really interested in your P-47D comment. [RG]
      Did you fly the P-47? In combat?
      The P-47D was not a combat airplane. And neither was any Navy fighter!
      To explain, I flew the A-36A for 39 missions. It was a P-51A w/divebrakes. It had a 12 cyl Allison engine. I believe it was a 1710 but I do know the numbers of the P-51D which I flew later in Louisiana. It would cruise at 290 ind (395 corr) at 10,000' and 255 ind (380 corr) (at 25,000) [2%/1000']. At 10,000 the P-40 cruised at 220 (264 corr) and the P-47D at 245 ind (294 corr).
      The fuel consumption of a P-51D25 (w/ Packard built Rolls Royce Merlin, 1503 HP) at cruise was 70 gph. At high power, combat settings it rose to about 90 gph. But the P-47D (much heavier plane) had a cruise consumption, an acceptable 120 gph. But at combat settings the RATE of consumption would rise to 370 gph (from the tech orders, Part 4 Pilot Operating Instructions). This was because the cylinder fins were not adequate to cool the engine and instead it was cooled by dumping extra gas into the cylinder to go out the stacks unburned but carrying heat with it (Heat of Evaporation). This meant that if one were in a dust-up that lasted five minutes longer than planned, the planned for reserve fuel would be exhausted and the plane would not make it back to the base. I know, as sure as I'm writing this, that there are many Navy pilots sitting in the bottom of the Pacific (and elsewhere) that never made it back to the carrier. I will never forgive the Navy brass that distrusted the coolant engines enough to kill thousands of their own pilots. We had one mission in Italy where none of the eight P-47's made it back to base. We were close to the lines but a number of them made it to other airfields and several bellied in on our side of the lines. I have between 600 and 800 hours in a P-40 (E, F, K, L, M and N models) and never had a problem with coolant. (I did abort one mission in Italy in an A-36A because of a pinhole leak that fogged the canopy!)

      And secondly, they capped the peacetime wonderful engine with a peacetime wonderful Hamilton Standard oil operated propellor. The oil was in the spinner and any penetration of the spinner by metal, gravel etc would cause a loss of oil, the blades would go flat and you wouldn't go far in a gliding brick! One of our pilots had that happen up around Pisa. He stayed with it till he got down to the clouds, around 4500', and then he stepped out and walked back. You didn't go into clouds in Italy, too many big rocks (mountains). The Allison engine had a Curtiss Electric combat propellor. The motor was in the spinner but if it got damaged, automatic locks fixed the propellor in its last position and you could at least fly it home. One of our pilots took a hit on the spinner of a P-40 that blew the motor off. He was able to fly it back to base.

      And thirdly, maneuverability of the P-47 at low altitude was bad, We did a lot of very low altitude straffing. The A-36A could be flown at 200' and when you saw a target, you could dip the nose, give a short burst and recover with minimum loss of altitude. The first week we had eight P-47's return with grape vines, fences etc because their planes almost mushed into the ground. We had to abandon that kind of straffing and strafe from 7-8000 feet, look for a target and then dive, fully visible to the enemy and shoot, remembering to leave plenty of room to pull out. The P-40 and A-36A could both be flown under 300', then dip the nose and strafe. The A-36A tech orders said (if I remember correctly) that 5% flap could be used at 350 mph and 10% at 300 mph. This would tip the nose down just a trifle but would minimize the loss of altitude. I'm not sure anyone ever did it but it was possible.

      And fourthly, the P-47 could never be used in a true dive bombing run. We didn't dare. We probably never exceeded a 60 degree dive. But with both the A-36A and the P-40 we could approach the target at 13 - 15000', extend the divebrakes (A-36A) fly upside down till vertically over the target and then pull straight down and drop the bombs from 4000 to 6000 feet and pull out. Vertical bombing is far more accurate. Glide bombing is not!

      Fifth, the P-47 could take a lot more punishment. But then again, you had to fly it in a way that it got more punishment. The A-36A and the P-40 both at 300' was on target and gone in seconds, they did not have time to react and shoot back. Furthermore, the A-36A's divebrakes had slots that created an eery whistling whine that seemed to come from everywhere. It would unnerve the gunners and then we were there and gone before they could do anything. The Germans were said to call us "the Screaming Devils". One German surrendered (we were told) because he was so unnerved when we attacked from directly above and his friend was killed and he never even saw us, just heard us. The A-36/P-51 had an almost invisible frontal view, particularly when coming down vertically!.

      Sixth, maneuverability! The P-47 probably could out-turn a Navy cruiser but neither a P-40 or any P-51. Look on my page. After combat, my last station was at Alexandria AAB. We flew P-40's and "attacked" B-17s so the crews could get camera gunnery training. It was probably the most fun duty in the Army Air Force. Then we got brand new shiny P-51D25's. Mine had 7h 28m flight time from Inglewood. We continued to do "attack" duty. Then we got some TDY (temporary duty) at Ardmore OK to do the same with their B-17 crews. One day nothing was happening and two of our pilots took off, just to fly! After they were gone, I got the itch so I took off to look for them. Finally I saw two shiny airplanes at some distance. I got higher and up-sun and then made a pass at them. I was closing awfully fast and I passed them with the throttle back at idle and as I passed I saw the were P-47's. I was going to off and look for my friends when the P-47's made a half hearted break toward me. Aha! So I engaged them. I probably could have shot them both down in a minute. Admittedly I was probably a great deal more experienced than they were. So it got boring and we leveled out and I tried to join formation on the right. Cruise in a P-51 was 38-42 inches Hg and 2450 rpm. I had to throttle back to 28 inches and put down some flap to slow down to stay in formation. I was surprised. But I got a little worried. The P-51 has very sensitive spark plugs. Two very small platinum plated electrodes that could foul easily if run under idle to low power for a more extended period. And if they fouled, you might have to walk home. So I decided to quit the formation. But I wanted it to show the contrast so I moved out to the right. I put the RPM up to 3000, pulled up the flaps and pushed it to 61 inches Hg. I leapt out in front. I let it roll for a minute or so and then pulled up into an Immelmann out of straight and level flight. I passed over them in the other direction, 1500 feet above them.

      I don't think I knew how great the contrast was. I once looped a P-51 out of a climb. I was going at 210 mph, 2600 Rpm and 46 inches Hg and I just pulled back on the stick and went over the top in a smooth beautiful loop. I was down to probably 70 mph at the top but if the ball is in the center, no problem. I did feel the torque try to twist it at the top but I corrected. Yes, it was a bit stupid but the Mustang is so beautiful to fly.
      I went down to Orlando in 1990 and flew in Crazy Horse! The pilot knew why I was there. I wasn't there for instruction. I wanted to see if I had any of IT left. He took off and when he got 500' in the air he said, "It's all yours!". I did not fly straight and level, ever. Back and forth, back and forth and then I did a barrel roll. More back and forth, getting the kinks out of my shoulders, and then another barrel roll. More back and forth and then a loop. He gave me the speeds which were far higher than necessary and so I cast a wide loop and repeated the other loop I just referred to. I just flew it in a wide and high loop and again felt the torque at the top. it was wonderful. Then some grass cutting and a low pass at Kissimmee and then back to Orlando. He told me the speeds and I made a beautiful landing, got it under control, and he told me to go around. I made a second beautiful landing to show that the first one wasn't an accident. It was marvelous. It was great to find out that after 45 years I could still do it! After he parked it and got out he said, "You have a nice feel for where the ground is!" I suspect he didn't know what a compliment I thought that was. I think you can detect my enthusiasm even fifteen years after!

      I can understand why a Jug pilot would treasure the memory. It probably was the only plane of this class that he flew. It took him on umpty ump missions and brought him back. There were many of them, only a few A-36's. They had nothing to compare it to. Of course, it would seem like the greatest plane in the world. But after a P-51, nothing else will do. There are one or two of most WWII planes still flying. When did a P-47 win an air race? How many are still flying? How many P-51's are still flying. Over 200 I believe. I believe some of them have even been built from scratch!!! What other WWII plane was brought back in the Korean War?
      What greater compliment can there be. I pity any WWII fighter pilot that never got a chance to fly the greatest propellor driven aircraft ever built.

      And there's the gospel from Saint Charles!

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