’Last kill’ P-47 to fly again

The Commemorative Air Force’s P-47N 44-89136/N47TB in the CAF hangar at Dallas, Texas. CAF
Georgia Air National Guard P-47Ns taxiing out. The longer-span clipped wings and wider-track undercarriage make this ultimate service variant of the ‘Jug’ look even more pugnacious than its predecessors.

On 23 March the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Southern California Wing at Camarillo announced that CAF HQ at Midland, Texas had decided to entrust it with completing the restoration to airworthiness of Republic P-47N Thunderbolt 44-89136/ N47TB. The airframe is currently hangared at the CAF facility in Dallas, Texas, and is part-way through repairs following a fiery take-off accident at Albuquerque, New Mexico on 21 March 2002. It will soon move to Camarillo.

This rare N-model represents the last of the P-47 line, the variant having been designed to escort B-29s on raids to Japan. This required the installation of fuel tanks in the wings, extending range to 2,300 miles; the wings saw a span increase from 40ft 9in to 42ft 8in, with larger ailerons and squared-off wingtips for a better rate of roll. The extra weight meant a strengthened undercarriage of wider track, making the heaviest singleengine fighter of the war look even more purposeful. A total of 1,816 were built at Farmingdale between December 1944-October 1945, with a further 149 rolling off the Evansville, Indiana line, including the CAF example.

The P-47 was redesignated as the F-47 during 1948, and served with Air National Guard units until the mid-1950s.

Some survivors were transferred to foreign air arms under the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949, including 44-89136, which had not seen action during World War Two. Following service with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG), ‘89136 went to the Nicaraguan Air Force on 24 June 1954, being one of six former PRANG F-47s operated in Nicaragua for the CIA on covert operations, flown by American mercenary pilots.

”The P-47N’s extra weight meant a strengthened undercarriage of wider track, making the type look even more purposeful”

On 11 January 1955, President ‘Tachito’ Somoza despatched several hundred troops to invade neighbouring

Costa Rica, with air support coming from a small number of North American T-6s and a lone F-47. American mercenary Gerry DeLarm — who held joint US/Nicaraguan citizenship, was always dressed in black and was said to have shot down two Mitsubishi Zeros while flying P-40s during WW2 — flew the Thunderbolt on several strafing missions during the early stages of the invasion, although only the two inboard .50-calibre guns were operational and the radios were kaput. Following an appeal for help by the Costa Rican ambassador in the USA, on 16 January four North American F-51s from the Texas ANG were flown from Kelly Field down to El Coco air base near San José, where the American markings were hurriedly modified to resemble Costa Rican national colours.

On 19 January, one of the Mustangs was lost, and when the wreckage was discovered the airframe had several holes made by heavy-calibre machine gun fire. The F-47 was the only Nicaraguan aircraft in the area, so, although the action was not witnessed, DeLarm’s claim of a kill seemed credible. It was the last ever victory attributed to a Thunderbolt.