P-47 Thunderbolt’s Pilots Association by Jim Gustafson

The Jug, nicknamed for its milk bottle appearance, had more victories than any other fighter – its war record was never equaled. WWII Air Force combat data lists awesome achievements. Unlike most modern fighters, the P-47 was a single seater. One pilot did it all – flew the plane, operated the radio, fired the guns, released the rockets, navigated and bombarded. From such responsibility came great pride.

Despite the aircraft’s forbidding size, it was a real pilot’s airplane; honest, stable and a pleasure to fly. Nearly all the leading aces flew the P-47 and many were aces many times over the five air-combat victories needed to qualify for the title. The P-47, the only US fighter with an air-cooled engine, was able to absorb enormous battle damage, still fly and bring pilots back alive. Thunderbolt pilots loved the Jug for its sheer survivability.

On May 2, 1961, the Jug’s manufacturer, Republic Aviation Corporation, convened a reunion of 873 Thunderbolt pilots to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the plane’s first flight. The following year Jug alumni chartered the P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association to further camaraderie and perpetuate the memory of the plane. The Association represents a love affair between an airplane and the men and women who flew it. Some Women’s Aviation Service Pilots – WASPs – flew the Jug both overseas and stateside.

Psychologists cannot explain how the pride felt by boys in their late teens and early 20s can still be felt by men in their 70s. Out of this feeling the P-47 Association was born and grows in defiance of the grim reaper calling many past members home.

The P-47 did not lend itself to peacetime, it gulped fuel and was phased out by 1956. No cheap plaything – just six Thunderbolts still fly.

The Association is augmented by an auxiliary, the P-47 Advocates. While Advocates have not flown the plane in battle, their considerable support includes research, model building and data collection. As Association members age and die, the Advocates continue to perpetuate and venerate the memory of the P-47.

Contact P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association, Ltd., c/o The Wings Club, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York NY 10017. Their 1998 reunion will be in Dallas, Texas.