Amazing WWII Aircraft Cost Facts
FOR MANY OF US WHO GREW UP DURING WW-II AND HAD FATHERS, BROTHERS WHO SERVED AND A FEW OF THE “OLD TIMERS” WHO ACTUALLY FOUGHT THE STATS BELOW ARE FAR GREATER THAN MANY TODAY CAN REALIZE. AS I WROTE TO THE FRIEND WHO SENT THIS TO ME, THE MOST FEARED PERSON DURING THOSE DARK DAYS WAS THE WESTERN UNION DELIVERY MAN. WHEN YOU SAW HIM IT MEANT THAT SOMEONE WAS GETTING A TELEGRAM THAT STARTED OFF BY SAYING “IT IS WITH DEEP REGRET THAT….”
Most Americans who were not adults during WWII have no understanding of the magnitude of it. This listing of some of the aircraft facts gives a bit of insight to it.
276,000 aircraft manufactured in the US.
43,000 planes lost overseas, including 23,000 in combat.
14,000 lost in the continental U.S.
The US civilian population maintained a dedicated effort for four years, many
working long hours seven days per week and often also volunteering for other
work. WWII was the largest human effort in history.
Statistics from Flight Journal magazine.
THE COST of DOING BUSINESS
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.
THE NUMBERS GAME
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.
WWII MOST-PRODUCED COMBAT AIRCRAFT
II-2 Stum0vik 36,183
Yak 1, 3, 7, 9 31,000+
Bf 109 30,480
Fw 190 29,001
Ju 88 15,000
Red = German
Black = Allies
He 111 6,508
Bf 110 6,150
Sources: Rene Francillon, Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific war; Cajus
Bekker, The Luftwaffe Diaries; Ray Wagner, American Combat Planes;
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. (Less than one accident in four resulted in
totaled aircraft, however.)
It gets worse…..
Almost 1,000 Army planes disappeared en route from the US to foreign
climes. 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
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
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 delivered more 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.
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
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
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
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.
FACT: 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.
Whether there will ever be another war like that experienced in 1940-45 isdoubtful, as fighters and bombers have given way to helicopters and remotely-controlled drones over Afghanistan and Iraq. But within living memory, men left the earth in 1,000-plane formations and fought major battles five miles high, leaving a legacy that remains timeless.