Better-than-new P-47 Thunderbolt debuts at AirVenture 23

         Virg Hemphill

Here’s a great story from one of our top Aviation Scout Reporters, Virg Hemphill (L), a former USAF ADC Fighter Pilot, Delta Airlines Senior Pilot, a long-time FASF member, as well as the Treasurer of El Paso, TX Flight 24 of the military Aviator Fraternity, the Daedalians.

The story is courtesy of GENERAL AVIATION NEWS and written by Frederick Johnsen.  Virg ads, regarding the P and later the F-47 “Thunderbolt,” this on-point quote from Major General William E. Kepner, of the Eighth Air Force Fighter Command:


“If it can be said that the P-38s struck the Luftwaffe in its vitals and the P-51s gave the coup de grace, it was the Thunderbolt that broke its back.” 

Here’s the story:

  The restored Republic P-47D Thunderbolt at AirVenture 2023. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

The following video is thanks to AirShowStuff which takes some of the finest videos at each year’s AirVenture at Oshkosh.  The Video is just over 5 minutes long.  We recommend watching this video in Full-Screen Mode, by clicking on the FS Square in the lower right.

AirCorps Aviation of Bemidji, Minnesota, walked away with the Grand Champion World War II award and the Phoenix Award at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023 for the work they performed on a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt abandoned in New Guinea during World War II.

AirCorps has smartly harnessed computer power to recreate parts from two-dimensional drawings or sample items, creating intelligent computer-aided drafting tools.

Matching that digital savvy, AirCorps Aviation has an eye for vintage construction process details that add to the look and feel of its restorations.

The latest result from the company’s shop is the only flying Republic-built razorback Thunderbolt. (Planes of Fame Air Museum has a flying razorback that is a license-built P-47G made by Curtiss, for the purists in the audience.)

Razorback Thunderbolts have a high fuselage fairing behind the cockpit that narrows to a ridge — or razorback — at its apex.

Erik Hokuf of AirCorps Aviation told a standing-room-only crowd at AirVenture during a Warbirds in Review session that the P-47 incorporates more than 40,000 parts in its large airframe.

The Warbirds in Review ramp at AirVenture allows unique aircraft like the P-47D restoration to be highlighted in popular programs featuring restorers, pilots, and re-enactors as seen in the photo taken from the top of one of the sets of bleachers that were filled to capacity for the Thunderbolt presentation. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

All the rivets in the P-47 were removed during restoration. The skin is new, and the large ovoid cowling was manufactured in-house by AirCorps.

Construction of the cowling, as well as other externally visible parts of the massive wings and fuselage, involved spot-welding internal structure to the skin.

Frosted silver striping on portions of the wings and fuselage of the P-47 are byproducts of the construction technique used in spot welding skin to the underlying structure. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

Republic used an acid-etch in strips along the skin where spot welding would take place, and this resulted in a different sheen that stands out on this bare metal airframe.

Formers were temporarily attached to the skin in a few strategic locations with Cleco fasteners to ensure proper fit and alignment before the spot welding was conducted. Subsequently, the Clecos were removed, and the holes for the Clecos were plugged with rivets.

The result is an industrial, functional look that AirCorps reproduced.

Rows of realistic-looking .50-caliber ammunition were placed into the wing ammo bays of the P-47D on display in the Warbirds area at AirVenture 2023. The award-winning restoration left nothing to the imagination in its pursuit of authenticity. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

Over time, the skin will acquire a patina that diminishes the prominence of the etching stripes.

If warbird rebuilds of 40 or 50 years ago sometimes were shiny and salon-looking, efforts in recent years have emphasized realistic construction details that provide an authentic, and intense, time-machine look.

The knife-edge windscreen of the razorback Thunderbolts is made of curved laminated safety glass. For the restoration, AirCorps outsourced new glass to do the job properly.

Erik Hokuf of AirCorps Aviation has every reason to smile, with the P-47D his team nurtured over 12 years in restoration displayed prominently at Oshkosh during AirVenture 2023. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

How long does such a restoration from the ground up take? How about more than a decade? The hulk of the P-47 arrived at AirCorps Aviation in 2011.

The P-47 is powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engine.

But not just any R-2800 would do for this spot-on restoration. It had to be the correct Dash-59 version, properly mated to a Curtiss Electric C542S-A114 symmetrical wide-blade propeller.

While some P-47 restorations fly suitably well with Hamilton Standard propellers, the matching of the proper Curtiss propeller with this engine gives this restoration faster acceleration, pilot Bernie Vasquez told the AirVenture crowd.

He added the high streamlining of the razorback versions of the P-47 create less drag than found on later bubble-canopy Thunderbolts.

Several times during the week Vasquez delighted the Oshkosh crowd with powerful flying demonstrations of the P-47.

It’s an easy time travel back to World War II in the Pacific when Bernie Vasquez put the pristine P-47D through its paces during AirVenture 2023. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)

This P-47, putting out more than 2,300 horsepower, is equipped with a water-alcohol injection tank to cool the engine for brief periods of high-power activity.



The Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot, North Dakota, is the home of this fabulous warbird. The museum opted to have the Thunderbolt painted in the markings of P-47 ace William Dunham of the 348th Fighter Group.

Dunham earned 16 victories over Japanese aircraft by the war’s end. He is also remembered for a mission in which he watched a Japanese pilot bail out of the aircraft Dunham had just shot.

Stories of Japanese pilots gunning Americans as they drifted in their parachutes initially prompted Dunham to line up on the enemy aviator for that treatment in the heat of battle. But he stopped short of firing at his opposing flier and watched him plunge into the sea, with no life jacket visible.

Dunham flew low overhead and tossed out his own life jacket to the Japanese pilot in the water.

The ultimate fate of that downed enemy flier has been lost to history, but Dunham’s chivalry lives on in the Thunderbolt painted to represent his aircraft.



About Frederick Johnsen:

Fred Johnsen is a product of the historical aviation scene in the Pacific Northwest. The author of numerous historical aviation books and articles, Fred was an Air Force historian and curator. Now he devotes his energies to coverage for GAN as well as the Airailimages YouTube Channel. You can reach him at

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