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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 3 July 29, 2008     

Inside the 40-foot circle of warbirds
By Frederick A. Johnsen

Stout FM-2 version of the F4FWildcat fits handily inside the 40-foot circle. Many examples of World War II fighter designs are on display at AirVenture 2008. Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen

Somebody working on a display once observed the value of the 40-foot circle when dealing with World War II fighters. Sure, exceptions exist, but the dimensions of length and wingspan for many of the great single-engine fighters of the war are handily contained in a 40-foot circle.

The reasons are many–powerplants of the combatant nations tended to rival each other in horsepower. Structures, metals, and state-of-the-art were similar tools for all nations. The optimal airframe to put behind an air-cooled or liquid-cooled engine had to minimize drag and weight, while employing aerodynamics appropriate to fighter maneuvering tactics of the era. The math tended to favor the same general layout over and over again.

The U.S. Army Air Forces had several 40-foot (or smaller) fighters on its roster:

  • Bell P-39: Span, 34 ft.; length, 30 ft., 2 in.

  • Curtiss P-40N: Span, 37 ft., 4 in.; length, 33 ft., 4 in.

  • North American P-51D: Span, 37 ft.; length, 32 ft., 3 in.

  • Republic P-47D: Span, 40 ft., 9 in.; length, 36 ft., 1 in.

  • In the Navy, dimensions ran large for fighters that had legendary maneuverability–and lower wing loading–to match maneuverable adversaries:

  • Grumman F4F: Span, 38 ft.; length, 28 ft., 9 in.

  • Grumman F6F: Span, 42 ft., 10 in.; length, 33 ft., 10 in.

  • Vought F4U: Span, 41 ft.; length, 33 ft., 8 in.

  • Friend and foe generally lived in the 40-foot circle as well:

  • Hawker Hurricane: Span, 40 ft.; length, 32 ft., 3 in.

  • Supermarine Spitfire: Span, 36 ft., 10 in.; length, 29 ft., 11 in.

  • Mitsubishi Zero: Span, 39 ft., 4 in.; length, 29 ft., 8 in.

  • Focke-Wulf FW-190A: Span, 34 ft., 5 in.; length, 29 ft., 6 in.

In the caldron of combat, pilots quickly sized up their adversaries and learned who had the maneuvering advantage, and who was favored by speed in a dive. Regardless, the dots in the sky that materialized into onrushing fighters tended to be of a common size–within the 40-foot circle.

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