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Evolution of World War 2-era fighter aircraft

The Second World War was a period of great upheaval in countries in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Throughout the great conflict and in the years leading up to it, the progress of aviation was accelerated (the waging of war often seems to go accompanied by an increased rate of development of new technologies). In the opening stages in 1938 and 1939 many air forces had considerable numbers of biplanes in service. At the end in 1944 and 1945 aircraft powered by jet engines had begun to appear, which attained speeds exceeding two or three times that of pre-war fighters; they could be equipped with radar and were capable of launching rockets. Of the most successful types tens of thousands had been produced, some of which remained in use for years after the war had ended. For the first time, aircraft had become a offensive and defensive weapon that could decide the outcome of battles and wars.

As a means to illustrate the development of fighters and the relationships between various technological aspects, technical data for about 140 different types have been obtained from relevant Wikipedia articles and systematically stored in a spreadsheet containing amongst others such information as speed, operational ceiling, engine power, and other particulars like country of origin and introduction year and numbers produced.

There are some caveats to note when using these data:

  • Only aircraft used as fighters are included, and only those that were used and intended for combat during World War II by combatant countries.
  • Wikipedia may not be the definitive source of information for this subject. While a consistent description format is used, not all fields are filled for all aircraft. Also, maximum speeds are given at different heights (if available at all) for different models, and for some are given under War Emergency Power, and for others not. Wikipedia is however free, open, and easily accessible.
  • The specifications of aircraft are paired with the year of introduction of the model. The shown property may however belong to a variant that has been developed later in the model's manufacturing lifetime (elaborate descriptions of variants of some aircraft types exist, but these are not frequently accompanied by introduction date). Also note that associated production numbers are given for all variants of a particular model.
  • Logistical temporal resolution (of first flight, introduction, production years, etc.) is presently one year.

Being mindful of the above, selected data from this spreadsheet can now be used to make rough graphical overviews of the development of fighter aircraft used in this era. Spreadsheet software normally features a built-in plotting toolkit, but scriptable numerical analysis tools like Matlab or NumPy can read also data from spreadsheets - at least when stored in the Microsoft Excel format.

Using these data to produce a graph of speed versus year of introduction - in this case for single-seat aircraft for all combatant powers - clearly illustrates the progress.

Speed versus year of introduction for WW2-era fighter aircraft

Other interesting correlations can be generated using the same database; click on the examples below for a larger view.

Engine power versus year of introduction for Pacific combatants Engine power versus year of introduction for defeated European countries Speed versus engine power for two different types
Engine development shown for two competing combatants in the pacific. Engine development in countries that were occupied during WW2. Stunted. Speed versus power for two popular engine configurations.

Downloads

Spreadsheet (version 0.1) containing the aggregated data from Wikipedia.
Python scripts to produce the plots shown above.

Links

  • The data on this page have been obtained via this wikipedia page between 2016/10/09 and 2016/10/17.
  • Data have been stored using the spreadsheet of the LibreOffice suite; plots were made using Python 2.7 and the matplotlib and xlrd libraries.

(Originally written 2016/10/18)

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