On June 6, 1944, Allied forces begin the D-Day invasion of Normandy to liberate Europe from the Nazis. Fighter pilot Archie Maltbie provides cover for Allied troops in his Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a tough American plane known for its innovative turbo supercharger. "Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation" is a co-production of Vulcan Productions and NBC Learn.
Chronicles of Courage -- P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger
KATE SNOW, reporting:
Allied forces launch an audacious plan to liberate Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. The D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the largest seaborne invasion in history, begins with an intense bombardment of the French coastline by air and sea. Above the rain-soaked beaches, fighter pilot Archie Maltbie provides cover for Allied troops as they begin to confront the enemy.
ARCHIE MALTBIE (Pilot, U.S. Army Air Forces): We took off just right at dawn, so they were landing when we got over there. You couldn’t help but bleed a little bit for the guys that were down there.
SNOW: Along 50 miles of heavily mined shoreline, more than 160,000 Allied troops struggle through a gauntlet of exploding artillery and machine gun fire from German strongholds.
MALTBIE: The water was already red around the edges. It looked like a mixture of hell down there.
SNOW: Maltbie is a member of the 365th Fighter Group - nicknamed the "Hell Hawks." He spends D-Day in his Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, attacking Nazi planes in the air and bombing targets on the ground.
MALTBIE: Gee whiz, we could carry a thousand pounder on each wing, four .50 caliber machine guns in each wing. A lot of fire power.
SNOW: Nicknamed the "Jug" for its milk jug shape, the P-47 is a relatively new plane, designed in the early years of the war to take on Germany's best fighter planes, such as the deadly Messerschmitt Bf 109, also called the Me 109. Known for its superiority in climbing and diving, the Me 109's weaponry is a dominant force.
MALTBIE: The Me 109 they had a 20 millimeter canon on it that was pretty effective, so you didn’t want to get lined up with that too well if you could help it.
SNOW: The P-47 needs to be nimble enough to out maneuver the Me 109s' cannons, but it also has a second objective - to escort Allied bombers into Europe at high altitude - creating a daunting technical challenge for engineers. When a P-47 climbs to 20,000 feet or higher, the altitude of many bomber escort missions, the air contains about 10-percent less oxygen, decreasing its density, or thickness. The P-47, like any plane, cannot perform as well in thin air. Its induction system- which measures and directs the flow of air into the engine-- is less efficient in the thin air found at high altitude.
JASON MUSZALA (Flying Heritage Collection): That’s why airplanes are always faster and you get more horsepower at sea level than way up high.
SNOW: Engineers solve this problem by adding an innovative power booster called a turbo supercharger. Through a complex system of ducts, both the exhaust from the engine and outside air are channeled to the wheel-shaped turbo supercharger behind the cockpit. Inside, the air is tightly compressed, boosting the percentage of oxygen before sending it to the engine.
MUSZALA: The end is you get cool, compressed air at a high altitude, which typically isn’t attainable, but is, because of the turbo supercharger.
SNOW: With denser air pumping through its engine, the P-47 is now capable of high performance and maneuverability at low or high altitude, making it an ideal patrol plane for the D-Day landings and more than a match for the German Me 109. In the weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy, Maltbie and his P-47's turbo supercharger face a test from a group of Me 109s.
MALTBIE: We just came off the run, and the top flight was being attacked by 109s. So, I turned into them and I closed too quickly, and I fired, and this guy blew up right in front of me. It was amazing that the P-47 could actually turn just about as well as the Me109.
SNOW: For Maltbie and the Hell Hawks, the turbo supercharger transforms the P-47 into one of the deadliest combat planes of World War II, demonstrating how technology and innovation will help the Allies during their push toward victory.
MALTBIE: The feeling that I have for the P-47 is very simple. I owe my life to it.
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Gone are the screaming shells, seasick soldiers and bloodied waters of 1944. On Friday, a sun-splattered Normandy celebrated peace, with silent salutes, tears and international friendship marking 70 years since the D-Day invasion helped change the course of World War II and modern history.
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