One last thing about WWII aviation…

One to think about when the precious snowflakes start whining… Can you IMAGINE them living during WWII? I can’t…

Statistics from  Flight Journal magazine.

—- The  staggering cost of war.

THE PRICE OF  VICTORY (cost of an aircraft in WWII dollars)
B-17        $204,370.     P-40        $44,892.
B-24        $215,516.     P-47        $85,578.
B-25        $142,194.     P-51        $51,572.
B-26        $192,426.     C-47        $88,574.
B-29        $605,360.     PT-17      $15,052.
P-38          $97,147.     AT-6        $22,952.


From Germany ‘s  invasion of Poland Sept.. 1, 1939 and ending with Japan ‘s surrender Sept. 2,  1945 — 2,433 days.  From 1942 onward, America averaged 170 planes lost  a day.

How many is a 1,000  planes?  B-17 production (12,731) wingtip to wingtip would  extend 250 miles.  1,000 B-17s carried 2.5 million gallons of high octane  fuel and required 10,000 airmen to fly and fight them.


9.7 billion  gallons of gasoline consumed, 1942-1945.

107.8 million  hours flown, 1943-1945.

459.7 billion rounds of aircraft  ammo fired overseas, 1942-1945.

7.9 million  bombs dropped  overseas, 1943-1945.

2.3 million  combat sorties, 1941-1945 (one sortie = one takeoff).

299,230 aircraft  accepted, 1940-1945.

808,471 aircraft  engines accepted, 1940-1945.

799,972  propellers accepted, 1940-1945.

Sources: Rene Francillon,  Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific war; Cajus Bekker, The  Luftwaffe Diaries;  Ray Wagner, American Combat Planes;  Wikipedia.

According to the  AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945),  the US Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes — inside the continental United States .  They were the  result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45  months.

Think about  those numbers. They average 1,170 aircraft accidents per month—- nearly 40 a  day.  (However, less than one accident in four resulted in total loss of the aircraft)

It gets  worse…..

Almost 1,000  Army planes disappeared en route from the US to foreign locations.  But an  eye-watering 43,581 aircraft were lost overseas including 22,948 on combat missions (18,418 against the Western Axis) and 20,633 attributed to non-combat  causes overseas.

In a single 376  plane raid in August 1943, 60 B-17s were shot down. That was a 16 percent loss  rate and meant 600 empty bunks in England ..  In 1942-43 it was  statistically impossible for bomber crews to complete a 25-mission tour in  Europe .

Pacific theatre  losses were far less (4,530 in combat) owing to smaller forces  committed..  The worst B-29 mission, against Tokyo on May 25, 1945, cost  26 Superfortresses, 5.6 percent of the 464 dispatched from the Marianas..

On average, 6,600 American servicemen died per month during WWII, about 220 a  day. By the end of the war, over 40,000 airmen were killed in combat theatres and another 18,000 wounded.  Some 12,000 missing men were declared dead, including a number “liberated” by the Soviets but never returned.  More  than 41,000 were captured, half of the 5,400 held by the Japanese died in  captivity, compared with one-tenth in German hands.   Total combat casualties were pegged at 121,867.

US manpower made up the deficit.  The AAF’s peak strength was reached in 1944 with  2,372,000 personnel, nearly twice the previous year’s figure.

The losses were huge—but so were production totals.  From 1941 through 1945, American  industry deliveredmore than 276,000 military aircraft. That number was enough not only for US Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but for allies as diverse as Britain, Australia, China and Russia.  In fact, from 1943 onward, America produced more planes than Britain and Russia combined.  And more than Germany and Japan together 1941-45.
However, our  enemies took massive losses.  Through much of 1944, the Luftwaffe sustained uncontrolled hemorrhaging, reaching 25 percent of aircrews and 40  planes a month. And in late 1944 into 1945, nearly half the pilots in  Japanese squadrons had flown fewer than 200 hours.  The disparity of two years before had been completely reversed.

Experience  Level:

Uncle Sam sent  many of his sons to war with absolute minimums of training. Some fighter pilots entered combat in 1942 with less than one hour in their assigned  aircraft.

The 357th  Fighter Group (often known as The Yoxford Boys) went to England in late 1943 having trained on P-39s.   The group never saw a Mustang until shortly before its first combat mission.

A high-time P-51 pilot had 30 hours in type.  Many had fewer than five hours.  Some had one hour.

With arrival of new aircraft, many combat units transitioned in combat.  The attitude was, “They all have a stick and a throttle.  Go fly “em.” When the famed 4th Fighter Group converted from P-47s to P-51s in February 1944, there was no time to stand down for an orderly transition.  

The Group commander, Col. Donald Blakeslee, said, “You can learn to fly `51s on the way to the target. 

A future P-47 ace said, “I was sent to England to die.”  He was not alone.   

Some fighter pilots tucked their wheels in the well on their first combat mission with one previous flight in the aircraft.  Meanwhile, many bomber crews were still learning their trade:  of Jimmy Doolittle’s 15 pilots on the April 1942 Tokyo raid, only five had won their wings before 1941.  

All but one of the 16 copilots were less than a year out of flight school..

In WWII flying safety took a back seat to combat.  The AAF’s worst accident rate was recorded by the A-36 Invader version of the P-51: a staggering 274 accidents  per 100,000 flying hours.  

Next worst were the P-39 at 245, the  P-40 at 188, and the P-38 at 139.  All were Allison powered.

Bomber wrecks were fewer but more expensive.  The B-17 and B-24 averaged 30 and 35 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, respectively– a horrific figure considering that from 1980 to 2000 the Air Force’s major mishap rate was less than 2.

The B-29 was even worse at 40; the world’s most sophisticated, most capable and most  expensive bomber was too urgently needed to stand down for mere safety reasons.. The AAF set a reasonably high standard for B-29 pilots, but the desired figures were seldom attained.

The original cadre of the 58th Bomb Wing was to have 400 hours of multi-engine time, but  there were not enough experienced pilots to meet the criterion.  Only ten percent had overseas experience.  Conversely, when a $2.1 billion B-2  crashed in 2008, the Air Force initiated a two-month “safety pause” rather than declare a “stand down”, let alone grounding.

The B-29 was no better for maintenance. Though the R3350 was known as a complicated,  troublesome power-plant, no more than half the mechanics had previous experience with the Duplex Cyclone.   But they made it work.


Perhaps the greatest unsung success story of AAF training was Navigators. 

The Army graduated some 50,000 during the War.  And many had never flown out of sight of land before leaving “Uncle Sugar” for a war zone.  Yet the huge majority found their way across oceans and continents without getting lost or running out of fuel — a stirring tribute to the AAF’s educational establishments.

Cadet To Colonel:

It was possible for a flying cadet at the time of Pearl Harbor to finish the war with eagles on his shoulders.  That was the record of John D. Landers, a 21-year-old Texan, who was commissioned a second lieutenant on December 12, 1941.  He joined his combat squadron with 209 hours total flight time, including 2 in P-40s.  He finished the war as a full colonel, commanding an 8th Air Force Group — at age 24.

As the training pipeline filled up, however those low figures became exceptions.

By early 1944, the average AAF fighter pilot entering combat had logged at least 450 hours, usually including 250 hours in training.  At the same time, many captains  and first lieutenants claimed over 600 hours.


At its height in mid-1944, the Army Air Forces had 2.6 million people and nearly 80,000 aircraft of all types.

Today the US Air Force employs 327,000 active personnel (plus 170,000 civilians) with 5,500+ manned and perhaps 200 unmanned aircraft.

The 2009 figures represent about 12 percent of the manpower and 7 percent of the airplanes of the WWII peak.

Of note- The average E-4’s pay was $70/mo; the average O-3’s pay was $200/mo.

h/t The Spitfire Association


One last thing about WWII aviation… — 16 Comments

  1. I’ve often thought that we don’t understand or appreciate the tremendous bravery it took to serve in WW II even as an average soldier. Examples are the need to stay in formation while flying through flak and being sealed below decks amid high pressure steam piping for the engine room crew. I never considered the safety aspect and the fact that death through equipment failure was a very real concern.

  2. And the US fought two wars on both sides of the CONUS and won them in just over three years. We bombed day and night, civilian and military, and destroyed as much as possible to achieve those wins. We did not take 10 years of government intervention and MSM bullshit.

    We could end all this stuff today if POTUS and Congress would let the military do their job and do the most damage.

  3. Over the past few months I have often thought about what my grandfather—the one who went to work for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft and worked for his entire career in the “safety division” testing new engines, going to accident sites to figure out what happened and why. He would be gone for weeks at a time, there was no cell phones or computers to talk with family back home on, a phone call was a long distance toll call which cost MONEY! What would he have to say about this latest generation. My mom made him write his own autobiography, she typed it up and sent his kids, and grandkids a copy. Let me tell you…he talks about having a 2 foot clearance from the props to the wall to walk past, when the engine was running!! How there was no enclosed spaces to do testing in, how he caught pneumonia, wound up in the hospital for a week then went right back to work or else he would have lost his job. There was NO health insurance to pay the bill, just what he and Gramma had saved in their savings. You had to be clocked in and ON the line at the start time of your shift, not punching in, stopping for a cup of coffee on the way to your work station, etc.
    He would not be very sympathetic to any of today’s snowflakes, let me tell you!! He was all about getting to work, getting the job done, and moving on to the next item on the list.

    And then there was my other grandfather, the one who only finished the 3rd grade, because his dad needed him working at home to help feed the family. He and his brother started a well drilling business , which was very successful, they worked all up and down the east coast and in Cuba. The summer my dad went to work, his uncle told him that his dad (my Grandpa) was a real SOB to work for. Dad was 14, and was told to say he was 16, because “he was old enough to go to work”. The nicest thing my Grandfather ever said to anyone (even us grandkids, who he loved and enjoyed)was “Well…he’s a good worker” said in a grudging tone of voice. He worked until he retired at age 75. I still remember the drill rig truck sitting in the driveway when we would visit when I was a little kid. He would have had absolutely no patience at all for these fragile little things today.

    And these were just everyday, ordinary folks who had to stay home during the war…they rationed food, gas, metal, clothes, bought war bonds, and worked their butts off so the military would have the material they needed to get the job done. And, don’t forget, the Depression was just ending, so lots of folks didn’t have too much to begin with.

    Lots of people these days just don’t have any clue at all as to how good they really have it, or of the sacrifices that were made so they could have it good. I look at the news now and just shake my head at the plain stupidity, and spoilt-ness I see. Too many folks have been sitting staring at their navels for too long and have an inflated sense of self.

  4. Two other interesting facts.

    Aircrew were promoted to at least NCO rank so that if shot down in Europe and captured, they would go to a Luftwaffe prison, rather than an army prison. The difference in care was huge.

    One of the ‘unknown’ reasons the famed Red Tails did so well was that they were the cream of the cream of the crop, many of them college graduates, with previous flight experience, and given lots of training, whereas their ‘white’ counterparts were undertrained kids with little flight experience.

    I read somewhere that the USAAF lost more personnel in Europe than the whole US Marine Corps everywhere.

  5. Oh, hey, look, I can count. Three other interesting facts….

    Geesh. I think I need to tattoo numbers on my fingers in order to get my figuring correct.

  6. All- Thanks for the great comments, Suz especially! There are/were a ton of unsung heroes back home too.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  7. Some amazing facts.
    Today’s SnowFlakes wouldn’t make it back then.
    They wouldn’t have made it doing the things I did growing up

  8. @Rick: Many (most?) SnowFlakes aren’t going to fare very well in the future, either. I fear for my grandchildren in their world to come.

    @Jim: Thanks for interesting info. Link sent to several and post printed for my World War II library.

  9. Lately I’ve been reading books on the European theater of WW2 including Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men and Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy. The poor infantry just didn’t have a chance in WW2. One infantry division (Maybe the Big Red 1) had a 700% casualty turnover rate during the entire war. On land, sea and air, no one in combat had it “easy” during this war…or any war! Honestly…that’s what makes me vote. Anytime I get disgusted at the candidates (which is just ALWAYS now)…I get that picture on my head of Mt. Suribachi…and I just have to vote. It’s not patriotism. It’s graditude…to all of you that have served.

  10. A newspaper at the time says a P-51 costs $75,000.

    Here’s the article in its entirety, which tells you something about how they were financed:


    In February, boys and girls of the schools of Washington County financed the purchase of a Flying Ambulance, buying $182,000 worth of War Bonds and Stamps. The goal was $110,000. Bond and stamp sales in March totaled $75,000. This month, April, the schools of the county are being asked to finance a P-51 Mustang Fighter, which has the “highest ceiling and the highest speed of any fighter in existence.” These fighters cost $75,000 each. Assistant County Superintendent S.A. Wengert, Education Vice Chairman of the County War Committee, is in charge.

    It comes from the The Washington Reporter, April 10, 1944:

    I’m reminded of the common desire on the left to live in a country where schools had plenty of money while the military had to do bake sales.

  11. Rick/Bob- Good points, glad it helped out!

    lcb- No question… I’m not trying to slight the boots on the ground, they did the HARD work face to face.

    Randy- Yes, they did that and more… EVERYONE kicked in back home!