Missions flown: 3,706 of 10,802 missions (34.31 percent) flown by the Eighth Air Force.
Often outshone by its predecessor, the B-17, the Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” was in fact capable of longer flight ranges and had a greater bomb-carrying capacity. Some 19,000 “Liberators” were built in total, and 21 groups were outfitted with B-24s in the Eighth Air Force alone.
Republic P-47 “Thunderbolt”
Entered service: Eighth: December 1942 (4th, 56th, 78th Fighter Groups); first operational sweep by 4th Fighter Group with 14 P-47s on March 10, 1943.
Known for: ground strafing, dive bombing, escorting bombers, and drinking fuel quickly (the first models had big R-2800 Pratt & Whitney engines). The Thunderbolt could take damage and continue to fly (unlike the Mustang with its liquid-cooled engine). A total of 15,683 were made between May 1941 and December 1945, the largest production run ever for an American-built fighter aircraft. Early prototypes of what would later become the infamous “Bazooka” gun began as launching tubes under the wings of P-47 planes.
North American P-51 Mustang
Entered service: First Mustang to a Royal Air Force squadron in January 1942; First sortie around Berck-sur-Mer (French Coast) on May 10, 1942; Eighth: November 11, 1943; Eighth first operational: December 1, 1943; First escort: Dec 5, 1943.
Known for: glamour and range. The Allison and later Rolls-Royce Merlin in-line engines gave the P-51 a sleeker look than the radial-powered fighters in WWII; Mustangs accompanied Eighth Air Force bombers all the way to Berlin.
The P-51 Mustang first took the aviation world by storm when it proved able to handle longer flights than its predecessor, the P-47 Thunderbolt. Later model Mustangs were equipped with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, increasing escort distance. The P-51 was a popular choice among contractors because it was relatively cheap (around $50,000) to build. The P-47 cost about $83,000 a plane, while each B-17 “Flying Fortress” cost roughly $187,742. The Eighth Air Force had P-51s in its possession beginning on November 11, 1943, and conducted its first operational mission with Mustangs on December 1 of that same year.