Thunderbolt month continues with my review of the first aircraft out of the gate for IL-2: Battle of Normandy. The P-47D-22 Thujnderbolt is a ‘Razorback’ variant of the Thunderbolt and is a type that is rarely portrayed in flight sims, movies and video games. Yet, these earlier model P-47’s were the critical type to fight back against the Luftwaffe in 1943 and 1944 before the bubble top version appeared. Does IL-2’s rendition of this fighter do it justice, how can you best make use of it, and how does it match with the rest of the series? Let’s have a look!
A little bit of history
The Thunderbolt was the brainchild of Alexander Kartveli who was born in Tbilisi Georgia in the Russian Empire before moving to the United States. The P-47 as it would later be known, was a clean sheet design that owed some influence from fellow aircraft inventor Alexander de Seversky (who also hailed from Tbilisi although was Russian in heritage). The barrel like design of the aircraft later earned it the nickname “Jug” taking on a milk jug appearance. The real reason, of course, was the need to fit the massive, 2,000hp, R-2800 radial engine and the turbosupercharger system which filled out much of the rear section of the fuselage.
Republic Aviation produced the P-47 from 1941 through to 1945 in several variants, however, it was the P-47D that was the definitive combat variant that saw a number of modifications through its career. On arrival in Europe for the first time the size and weight of the P-47 cased something of a stir. An Australian mechanic working at an RAF base allegedly went up to its pilot and asked him where the rest of the crew was – such was the enormous size of the P-47 versus other fighters of the time.
Soon the P-47 was in combat and its reputation as a bruiser of a high-altitude fighter became well known. In a well documented encounter, Robert S. Johnson’s P-47 was one of several P-47’s that were bounced by Fw190’s. In the engagement, Johnson’s P-47 sustained several 20mm hits and numerous light machine gun rounds before the Fw190 pilot pulled away in amazement at the punishment that the P-47 could sustain. Although many of Johnson’s squadron mates were less lucky.
Later, as the P-51 Mustang began to replace the P-47 in fighter service, the P-47 found a second life and a new reputation as a low altitude tactical fighter-bomber serving mostly with the 9th Air Force in several fighter groups – though one group, the 56th, continued on with the P-47’s to V-E Day.
How does it fly?
The subject of flight modeling and the P-47 is a contentious one in flight sim history. With a firm reputation as the fighter that fought back against the Luftwaffe’s best in one hand, and complex aeronautical data in the other, flight sim developers have struggled to represent the best and worst of the P-47’s traits and attributes and sim pilots have struggled to make it work as well.
When flown at high altitudes, the P-47 is faster than almost anything else available thanks to the turbosupercharger that gives it superior performance at altitudes where other aircraft’s engines are struggling to make power. That’s true in real life and in IL-2: Great Battles with the P-47 excelling at those altitudes. Though possible in single player, in multiplayer its rarer to see the aircraft flying at those altitudes as much of the combat is of a more tactical nature and this fits the scenario that the 9th Air Force in France, Belgium and Germany faced and where the P-47 was more typically used as a fighter-bomber.
Thanks to recent flight model adjustments, both this newly added P-47D-22 and the IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte P-47D-28 are flying better than they have previously. With more weight and momentum in dives and zoom climbs, sharper handling, and a more communicative stall, it’s possible to fly and fight successfully in multiplayer situations although both types will struggle to defeat the high end Bf109K-4 and Fw190D-9 you’ll spot in later scenarios.
Against the earlier Fw190 and Bf109 types that this Battle of Normandy version faces, however, the situation should be somewhat different as the aircraft commands excellent top speeds at nearly all altitudes.
I rarely do flight model testing but was able to achieve some impressive numbers in testing. Using the Kuban autumn map, full throttle & rpm, outlet cowls closed, inlet cowls set to 50%/neutral, oil radiator set to 15% and 50% fuel, I was able to achieve 363 mph IAS at sea level with the P-47D-22 and 374 mph with the 150 octane boost option. Faster than most German fighters at that level except the Fw190D-9 and Bf109K-4.
As I have written about previously, the P-47D-22 is slower to roll than many fighters. Despite several pilot reports suggesting that the P-47 had a fast roll rate, the available roll charts (http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/naca868-rollchart.jpg) seem to be fairly similar to the P-47D-22 in IL-2. It’s also worth noting that it has the same feel and is a near match to the P-47D-30 in DCS World. A healthy dose of rudder does help with the rate although you can sometimes use too much an induce a stall and spin. At higher speeds, the roll rate remains relatively consistent which may explain pilots reporting a good roll rate and it certainly helps during those fast dives from higher altitude.
When comparing the P-47D-22 to the D-28, I find the D-22 to have sharper and crisper handling. The differences are subtle but back to back flights reveal the differences in handling and it provides for a legitimate reason to fly the D-22 variant when offered a choice. That it’s slightly faster as well, owing to less drag, doesn’t hurt either!
One of IL-2: Great Battle Series is its consistent visuals. Although lacking some of the extreme detail and shine of the DCS version of the P-47, this variant of the P-47D-22 in IL-2 still looks extremely good. It has a highly detailed exterior model with a great array of 4K resolution textures are crisp and sharp with great detailing and fantastic gear and light animations.
Although some may not have noticed the detail on other fighters in the series, I want to highlight the attention to detail with the recognition lights that the P-47D-22 (and several other fighters in the series) sport on the outer edge of the wing.
The P-47D-22 comes with nearly a dozen skins with a variety of USAAF markings from famous fighter outfits and featuring famous specific aircraft as well as some optional national markings including RAF and Russian lend-lease schemes.
The cockpit in some ways is even nicer than the P-47D-28 in terms of the art style which, although closely matched, is extremely interesting thanks to the canopy design and the overall Razorback configuration. In many ways I appreciate the appeal and aesthetic looks of this style of P-47 which, although far poorer in overall view, definitely gives you that classic racing aircraft look. Instruments and gauges are sharply detailed and easy to read.
Ready to go right now
The P-47D-22 may be the first aircraft for IL-2: Battle of Normandy, but for owners of both IL-2: Battle of Normandy and the already released IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte, you can jump right in with this aircraft as there are plenty of multiplayer scenarios compatible for it as well as the single player Career mode which already incorporates the fighter.
On the first night it was released I was already on the Combat Box multiplayer server, focused on its late war 1945 Western Europe content, and flying the P-47 in-formation with friends. Unlike the start of Bodenplatte development where the first types released had fewer things to do with the eastern front scenario, this P-47 variant fits right in.
You can pick from any number of 9th Air Force units which in the early stages of the Bodenplatte Career mode feature a mix of P-47D-22 and P-47D-28 models mixed in. This adds realistic flavour as the bubble canopy version slowly replaced the older models due to loses and mechanical wear and tear. And it means that you can have a single player experience right from the get-go if you own both titles. Nice!
In typical 1CGS fashion, the P-47D-22 launches with a variety of modifications. You can trim down the number of machine guns from the traditional eight to the field modified six or four. You can add additional ammunition and you can add a mix of 500lb and 1000lb bombs and M8 rocket tubes. These later additions ensure that you can make great use of the P-47D-22 in its role as a fighter bomber.
The previously mentioned 150 octane boost provides speed and climb benefits at lower altitudes and brings the type more in par with its late war opposition although it never feels outwardly superior at those lower altitudes
Problems and challenges
I can find little I don’t like about the work that 1CGS has done with this aircraft, especially after updating its flight model characteristics and adding the available 150 octane boost. The biggest challenge I can see virtual pilots having with the aircraft in IL-2 is twofold.
First, the P-47 is more complex to manage than most other types in the series. A far cry from the automatic systems of the Fw190’s Kommandogerät, the P-47 requires manual control for nearly all of its engine systems. To make it easier, I recommend most pilots use the available throttle linkages which connect the throttle, RPM and turbocharger settings together. I also highly recommend, once in flight, closing the outlet cowling (visible to the pilot) and keeping the inlet set at 50% and then adjusting the oil cooler as needed although in practice I rarely needed it to be open more than 15-25%.
Master these techniques and you’re halfway there with the P-47 and its performance. Available boost on the P-47D-22 is shorter than with the P-47D-28 at just 5-minutes but it does give you a needed kick of power when you need it.
Offline against the AI I found myself typically able to defeat almost any opponent with patience. In many ways, the P-47D-22, has sharper and crisper handling than the D-28 version which gives you a little bit of an edge. Online, I found the D-22 to be excellent as an attacker but struggled to defeat enemies flying the typically late war Bf109K-4 and Fw190D-9 variants – their pilots racking up enormous kill tallies of 10-15 aircraft in an evening regardless of what they were up against.
As more Battle of Normandy scenarios come online, I think we’ll see the P-47D-22 become ascendant with its earlier in-service date putting it up against the Bf109G-4/G-6 and Fw190A-5 and A-6 which will be an easier match for the nearly 8-ton fighter.
To end this section, I highly recommend that you are planning to spend serious time in this fighter that you brush up on the engine management techniques that will turn the P-47 into a more formidable fighter. Requiem’s P-47D-28 guide applies in equal measure to the D-22 as does Sheriff’s engine management tutorial.
Tough as nails
There’s no aircraft that can sustain a heavy barrage of 30mm or 20mm fire and live to tell the tail but in some of the worst online battles I’ve fought in IL-2 multiplayer recently, I’ve been thankful often to be in the P-47 and able to shrug off what might otherwise be a catastrophic hit.
Quite unlike when the P-47D-28 was first released, the state of IL-2’s damage model is even better than ever and that has meant that the Thunderbolt can take a hit and keep on going. With severe damage to my wings I’ve still managed to make it back to base. I’ve taken a hit in the engine, a prior weak spot for the IL-2 series’ damage model, and still made it back to base and I’ve been critically damaged and been able to pull off a belly landing in a field and feel pretty good about it. There is no doubt about how tough this aircraft is now.
I’ll repeat that this aircraft will still ultimately melt and come apart under heavy sustained fire but a few machine gun rounds are no longer going to cause you sudden catastrophic damage and you feel like you’re flying the bruiser of a fighter that the P-47 had a reputation of being.
Since I learned of the fighter as a youth, I’ve been a fascinated by the complex history of the P-47. Bucking the trend of small, powerful, light fighters, the P-47 is instead of the biggest and heaviest single engine fighter of WWII and it keeps up by having some of the most potent firepower and biggest engine available. It’s a counterpoint to the notion that all fighters of the period must be small and light and as a result it has its fans and its detractors.
The IL-2: Battle of Normandy P-47D-22 is, in my opinion, the best that the Thunderbolt has been in the series and one of the best representations of it in flight simulation. It’s made all the more special by the enhancements that it brings to it’s bubbletop successor and the effort that 1CGS has put into both models of the Thunderbolt. With so many simulations focused on the late bubble canopy variant and ignoring the Razorback version, it’s really nice to see this one represented.
The Razorback canopy design is in most ways inferior to the later bubbletop variant – it certainly blocks the view and makes it harder to spot enemy aircraft. Those on your dead six are especially difficult to see and the integrated rear view mirror does little to help. But that’s the flaw of the real world aircraft and as a simulation of this aircraft, 1CGS seems to have captured all of those challenges beautifully.
The ‘Razorback’ versions did handle better than their bubbletop successors and that is represented here in small but meaningful ways in the flight model.
The fighter struggles a bit in online matches right now against the late war fighters that it frequently comes up against, however, as an attacker and as a fighter in the Normandy time period I think this aircraft will be a tough one to beat. This is a good first entrant for IL-2: Battle of Normandy and it makes me excited for more from the team.