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Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Plane's construction could be a lifesaver

  • The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt -- and its pilots -- were often able to survive rather bad crashes.

    Cory Graff

    The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt -- and its pilots -- were often able to survive rather bad crashes.

Part of what gives the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt much of its "Jug-like" shape is the fighter's maze of tubes and pipes running through its belly—from the big R-2800 engine to the turbo supercharger and back. The design had one unintended consequence that made pilots and mechanics love the Jug even more. The hollow pipes created what amounted to a "crumple zone" in the lower regions of the plane. Devoid of critical components, a bellied P-47 could be rebuilt relatively quickly if the damage was slight. And when the plane came down hard on its belly, the pilot usually walked away unharmed. This photo shows a French-operated P-47 after a particularly wicked wheels-up crash.

Story tags » Military aviation

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