Postwar Piston Power Aircraft

The US Navy was still finishing-up the combat training of the first Naval Aviators to fly the ferocious new Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat when the Japanese surrendered before they had to face this plane in combat.

The print above depicts the next model along, the Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, shown in post-WW2 markings. This plane, with its four 20mm cannon and its stunning speed was a sobering opponent, even as the jet age was eclipsing piston engine power.

The F8F-2 Bearcat, with its knuckle-walking stance on the ground, and its blistering performance in flight, still astonishes air race spectators to this day. One of the most frequently victorious racing planes at the Reno National Championship Air Races, held mid-September of each year at Reno ‘s Stead Field, has been the heavily modified, beautifully painted “Rare Bear.”`Whether in its original US Navy configuration or in wildly-modified racing configuration, any of these Bearcats looks like a “900-pound gorrilla,” while taxiing towards the active runway.

As with the Bearcat above, the US Navy was wanting to obtain fast interceptors to meet the Japanese threat, and ended up creating this monster, the F2G-1D “Super Corsair,” with its massive, 28 cylinder, Pratt & Whitney R-4360 “corncob” engine and its ridiculous, “pin you to your seat” 4,400 feet per minute rate of climb. Goodyear, building Corsairs under license, was the sole contractor on these outrageous Super Corsairs. This aircraft, built without a tailhook for Marine Corps usage, is shown in the markings it wore while undergoing tests at Pax River. This Super Corsair rendering is also available with a simple white background, since the brick hangar background was developed for use in a calendar image.

Aside from its military usage, this Super Corsair created quite a stir when it showed up on the postwar air racing circuit. Just imagine the performance of an aircraft with an engine that uses 56 sparkplugs. More recently, a rebuilt Super Corsair had been a race-painted as “Number 57” red, white, and black livery in commemoration of an early air racer, and flown in the last few years in competition at Reno, but tragically, this plane’s brilliant restorer and pilot, Bob Odegaard, was lost in another one of his Super Corsairs, the Blue & White “74,” while on a practice hop on September 7th, 2012 in Valley City, North Dakota. Bob and his family are legends in the
aviation community, and our hearts go out to them.

This 24″ x 36″ print shows the last Supermarine Spitfire to be deployed overseas, at the RAF base at Kai Tek, flying combat air patrols over Hong Kong, as things heated up with North Korea and Red China. The D-Day style “Invasion Stripes” were intended to ensure that these British planes would be identified as “friendlies.” These powerful, late model Spitfires would’ve been impossible to imagine when the first Spitfires came on strength with the RAF, shortly before the beginning of World War Two. The Spitfire was one of the most updated, heavily modified aircraft in history.

This 24″ x 36″ print depicts a Korean War era Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Hawker Sea Fury. The Sea Fury, a logical evolution beyond the earlier Hawker Tempest, shown among some of the RAF fighters, appearing on the Commonwealth Aircraft Page (see Commonwealth Aircraft of the RAF, RCAF, RAAF, and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm), represented the British approach to creating their own monster, the very acme of the Royal Navy’s use of piston engine power, as that era was coming to a close. These stunningly powerful planes are still being flown in the National Championship Air Races in Reno each year, some in Commonwealth military markings, and some in over-the-top racing paint schemes.

This 24″ x 36″ two-view print depicts a Korean War era Vought F-4U-5 flown by the pilots of VMF-212, a Marine Corps squadron now called the “Lancers,” but, at that time, known as the “Devilcats,” as depicted in their unit patch, appearing in the upper right-hand corner of this print. Many desperately outnumbered American ground pounders, or “Mud Marines,” as they’ve been known to call themselves, owed their very survival to the concentrated use of these planes in the hazardous but necessary Close Air Support role as overwhelming numbers of enemy troops came swarming over the rugged Korean terrain.

Even after jets were replacing piston engine fighters in many of the world’s air forces, older World War Two and Korean-era planes continued to show up in conflicts, for decades after World War Two was over. Just because they were prop planes, that did not mean that they were “quaint,” or something, and they could still create devastating destruction, wherever they were used. We’re well into the 21st Century, but would you want to have to face someone armed with an “antique” 1928 Tommy Gun? No, not if you had so much as a shred of common sense. The same sort of thing applied, here, as countries continued to employ these older, but still ferocious warbirds. The Dominican Republic was still using American-made Mustangs, painted in Vietnam-style tan, dark & light green-camouflage jobs, to warn-off nosey Cuban spy trawlers, right up until 1985, a full four decades after the end of the Second World War. Go-ahead and laugh, but if you were snooping-along at 20 knots in a Cuban spy trawler, how exactly could you ever hope to outrun an “old” Mustang, capable of roaring-along at 427 mph, and packing six .50 caliber machineguns?

This 24″ x 36″ two-view print shows the unique tan and dark blue desert camouflage scheme seen on an Israeli Air Force Mustang from “The War of the Stripes,” as the 1956 Suez Crisis was sometimes called, because so many participants had invasion-style stripes painted-on, to help keep them from being attacked by friendlies. 

Now, eight years before, during the rebirth of their nation, in the late 1940’s, the IAF, badly in need of aircraft from anywhere that they could find them, had only been able to smuggle-in a small handful of surplus P-51 Mustangs, so, instead, they had started out trying to defend themselves with a sort of improvisation, a Czech-built version of the German Bf-109, but this Czech plane had ended up having to be refitted with a Junkers engine, a stopgap measure, only used because almost all of the formerly-available “regular” Diamler-Benz engines, the kind of engines that had originally been mounted in the Me-109, had been destroyed in concentrated Allied bombing raids, so that the resulting “Rube Goldberg” version was grossly underpowered. If you were ridiculously outnumbered, already, would you want to go to war in an underpowered fighter?

Well, just as soon as they could, the IAF upgraded to as many of the British-made Spitfires and American-made Mustangs as they could get, obtaining the Mustang shown in this rendering from stocks of P-51D’s that the United States had sent-on to the Swedes, in the wake of the end of World War Two. During the Suez Crisis, once the French, British, and Israeli forces had established air superiority using their best jet aircraft, the IAF could then send the IAF Mustangs in, to clobber ground targets. The French, British, and Israeli allies in this conflict needed to try to ensure that their planes would be identifiable, thus the use of striped markings.

During World War Two, Allied planes, including British and Free French aircraft, had been painted in bold, black & white “invasion stripes” for the D-Day landings in June of 1944, and, as you can see on the late-model Spitfire and the Hawker Sea Fury, higher-up on this page, the Brits had gone on to use a narrower stripe motif on their Korean War-era fighters, so, just a few years later, in October of 1956, distinctive stripes were again applied to planes used to slap down pro-Soviet Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, in the wake of his decision to nationalize the Suez Canal, which the British and French considered an intolerable constraint, and, of course, at the time, the Israelis had absolutely no good reason to be chummy with Nasser, either. Israeli P-51’s were used for deep strikes, because of their range, their compliment of HVAR rockets, and their six .50 caliber Brownings. The last IAF Mustangs were finally put out to pasture early in 1961.

Ironically, one of the engineers who helped develop the P-51 had been a German aircraft factory employee, an expert in efficient air flow, and thus, in extending a fighter’s range, who’d had to flee Europe, because his wife was Jewish. With its stunning performance and long range, the Mustang was able to penetrate deep into Europe, escorting American bomber streams over target, and back. When Hermann Goering, commander of the German Luftwafffe, spotted Mustangs escorting American heavy bombers on another devastating mission over Berlin, helping to make sure that they got-through, and got back, he remarked, “The jig is up; it’ll only be a matter of time, now.” In a way, you might say that the Nazis “did it to themselves.” As it is written, the Good Book says, in Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In other words, “What goes-around comes-around.”

This 11.75″ x 36″ poster shows one of the victor’s planes, a Vought F4U-5N Corsair, from La Guerra del Fútbol, or the “Soccer War,” named for a very real war, fought in the summer of 1969, between Honduras and El Salvador.  There had been a very bitter football match between teams from the two Latin American countries, but there was more to it than that…..

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from El Salvador had been flooding into Honduras, basically just taking over parts of that geographically larger, but less populous country, and when the Hondurans pushed-back, one thing lead to another, and the Salvadorans unwisely decided to mount a surprise air raid upon a Honduran air base near Tegucigalpa. Spent .50 caliber cartridge casings from that original Salvadoran surprise air raid are still scattered around some of the grassy areas of the base, so there might have seemed to have been enough ammo expended upon the Salvadorans’ target, but the attack did not get the job done.

With enough of their Corsairs still inact to mount a counterattack, the Hondurans, among them Capt. Fernando Soto, responded by using their planes’ four 20mm cannon to blast attacking Salvadoran Mustangs from the sky, and to absolutely devastate an approaching Salvadoran Army convoy bent upon invasion, strafing them where they were caught on a road on which they couldn’t turn-around and flee, and, finally, destroying the only oil refinery in El Salvador, where the leadership of the time probably should have realized that they’d had more to lose than to gain. Since so much of the combat was waged on the Honduran side of the border, there really were some terrible civillian losses there, but Salvadoran military casualties outnumbered the Honduran military casualties by 9-to-1.

An old friend and graphics client of mine, the nephew of a former Hoduran head of state, has been known to say, in a quiet, almost philosophical way, and entirely without bluster, “John, people (mess) with me at their peril,” and the Hondurans’ response to their neighbors’ attack certainly bears out the calm, but deadly serious nature of the resolve expressed in that assertion. The 1969 “Soccer War” would be the last time that World War Two or Korean-era piston engine aircraft would be used against each other in combat. The orginal configuration of this Corsair was as a night fighter, with a large, round, radar pod mounted onto the leading edge of the outer starboard wing, but this pod had been removed from these F4U-5N’s before they were sold to the Hondurans.


At the end of World War Two, no longer needed fighters were being sold as scrap or as surplus, and, as the sport of air racing began again, people were buying up high performance Mustangs, Corsairs, Bearcats, Air Cobras, and Lightnings, and modifying them for air racing. Races were held in Cleveland, and later, for decades, in Reno, Nevada, where they’ve raced for 48 years.

Below is a rendering of what was once a Czech-built Yak 11, but which has now been so heavily modified that it is barely recognizable, except, perhaps, for the shape to the wings and the landing gear. Instead of its original engine, this plane, owned by John & Marcia Moore, and flown by racing pilot Sherman Smoot, mounts a massive Pratt & Whitney R2800, usually used in larger planes, such as the Vought Corsair or the Thunderbolt. Here it is fitted into a very trim airframe, in this little Yak 11. The Czech Mate team is based out of San Miguel, California.

One of the very most successful planes ever to race at Reno is this heavily modified P-51D Mustang, owned and flown by Tiger DeStefani, and flown in the last few years by Steven Hinton, who has won the last three races, in his first few years in the race. This plane has now, as of the recently completed 2012 racing series, been flown to victory TEN times, over the years. Congratulations, Steven Hinton!

The entire radiator scoop area has been replaced, as has the rear spine leading up to the cockpit, which is shown in the open position. The names of the team’s crew are painted onto the main gear doors, below the “Vintage V12’s” logo. This sleek, winning aircraft is based out of Shafter, California, not far from Bakersfield.

To Learn More About these Prints, or Larger Banners, Backdrops, or Mural Pieces, for Air Shows, Commemorative Events, or Air Museum Displays, call 817-494-4389 for details, or click on CONTACT ME at the top of this page.

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