How World War Two Aircraft Were Tested
and the Source of Authoritative Opinion
- Factory tests. Yes, gentle reader, the company that stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars should the airplane be selected for production often supplied the official performance tests used in determining purchase. Apparently, corporate executives were far too virtuous in the 1930’s and ‘40’s to ever fudge the numbers or make special treatment available to their prototypes or production samples in order to make a few million dollars. The Lysander’s original role as a dive bomber and the P-39 as a bomber interceptor are prime examples of this. Lots to muddy the water with.
- Captured aircraft. Often aircraft were captured in working condition, needing only slight repairs, and were flight tested. These were not factory fresh jobs that came with pilots that had worked with them from prototype and helped write the manuals. No, it was by generally experienced pilots working with an unfamiliar aircraft with no manuals, and the data plates and instruments in a foreign language. Not a lot of imagination is needed to see the weakness here.
- Hostile agencies. The Soviets had a peculiar system of testing, where rival factories would test each other’s designs as well as a separate auditing agency to check both of the flight test data. Being too far off of the truth had serious – Siberia serious – consequences for everyone involved. However, none of the tests ever came out the same, giving lots of wiggle room.
- Civilian owned WWII aircraft used for demonstration or racing flights today. Highly polished Mustangs with the seams full of putty (to make them more aerodynamic) are still on the air racing circuit.
- Historical accounts of WWII pilots. Joe Average usually doesn’t write a book about his exploits on scoring one half of a kill during his six months in theatre. We have, in the main, the excellent pilot’s account of his experiences. What they invariably tell us is the exciting, unusual stuff, as that’s what we want to hear. Pilots tend to praise the type of aircraft that they had the most success in or allowed them to come home for obvious reasons. Care must be made not to denigrate or tarnish the actual pilot’s recollection or actions during the war, but perspective must be maintained.
- NACA. It’s an agency in the USA that does flight tests. NACA stands for North American Chart Agency (or, possibly, Not Another Chart Administration or something like that), and they muck around with all sorts of planes, including captured ones, factory production models, etc. Some think they’re the High Holy of flight tests, but they’re not always perfect, often times leaving out the complete model variant designation of an aircraft. What does it matter if a plane has the BR549 or the BR549-A engine? I have no idea, but if it’s a possibility that it could be one or the other (but is unclear) we have an opening.
- Licensed production models by countries other than the one that designed and built it. Lots of fun to be had here, as manufacturing differences may have an impact on performance.
- Perfect vs. field performance. Oh, the grand Fuel Debate. Fuel of different octanes were used at different times in the same planes; the Germans, in fact, used synthetics in large quantities.