|Original Industrial Aviation image drawn by Reynold Brown and hosted by Randy Wilson.|
The chief technical designer at Republic Aviation, Nicholas Mastrangelo (and there's a name that would tell a story if Google would only yield to it) described the Republic P-47 as "[the] culmination of the knowledge gained by years of high speed airplane design." Someone else, who talks like a mid-century ad man (or comic book writer, the difference is moot) put it less modestly:
Introduced as a high altitude, offensive fighter, the P-47 with eight .50 cal machine guns, was later equipped with supports for rocket tubes and a cluster of demolition bombs. It can also function as a ground strafer, tank buster, tunnel buster, hedge hopper, and dive bomber. With a bomb load of 2000 lb. capacity, its weight is more than 7 tons. Powered by a 2000 hp, 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engine, its speed is in excess of 425 mph; range more than 1000 miles; ceiling about 40,000 ft. Wing span is 41 ft.; lenght 36 ft., 1 ¾". Propeller may be either Curtiss-Wright electric or Hamilton Standard, hydraulically controlled, constant-speed, four-blade assemblies. (Hamilton Standard type shown here).
Just so you know that the USAAF had a plane to fill the vital "hedge hopper" and "tunnel buster" roles.
If you're struck by the idea of hedge-hopping in an aeroplane with a wing loading of 58.3 lb/sq. foot (compare 49.4 for a fully tricked out FW190 or 39.9 for a De Havilland Mosquito),* I assume it's because you're some girly-man European. Ask yourself: am I a cheese-eating surrender monkey, or do I like cal .50s? I think the answer will fall out of the exercise quite neatly.
And now I am done being unfair to Mastrangelo and Republic Aviation. Alexander Seversky at the height of the Depression, won a fighter contract with the P-35, went on to get the P-43 flying, and was well into seeing it developed into the P-47 Thunderbolt, a plane that was only freakishly gargantuan because nothing smaller could support the engine and supercharging configuration into which Wright Field had locked America's domestically-designed pursuit force. At which point he was forced out of his own company by "financier Paul Moore," to quote Wikipedia.
It could have been worse. The P-47's rival was an "air superiority" type that had to form up in defensive circles when intercepted by enemy pursuit:
And when the iron requirements of thrust-to-weight ratio were relaxed by the addition of "night fighter" to the specification, the West Coast decided that the futuristic looks of the Lockheed Lightning were so cool that they justified a fighter that was bigger than a medium bomber. What must have been especially aggravating for Seversky is the planes that the War Department ordered in preference to the P-43. The Curtiss P-40 at least extended an existing line of pursuit fighters, capitalising on existing expertise, but only at the expense of accepting a GM engine with an obsolescent single-speed supercharger. The other winner was by a first-time entrant that combined the same engine choice with a freakish, doomed configuration.***
So I've said "freakish" several times. That brings me to the actual topic of this post, to wrap around eventually to War Department procurement policy.