by Sofia Tomasic
World War II, especially the Pacific Theater, relied heavily on airfare to effectively cover large distances and fight. As a result, airpower made WW2 significantly different than WW1. For the Pacific Front, aircraft were necessary to keep shipping lanes open, help win naval battles, and employ important strategies like island hopping which helped Allied forces cover more land and eventually launch a mainland invasion of Japan. 
The unprecedented production of aircraft, and other wartime tools, in the United States during World War II was another factor in the eventual success of Allied power. This massive production not only helped the war and brought technological innovation, it also stimulated the U.S. economy. The production allowed the country to recover from the Great Depression of the 1930s–and increased diversity in the labor market as women and people of color were employed in the factories producing these products. This unprecedented minority employment set the stage for increased equality across society even after the end of the war. Moreover, technologically this era was exceptional in that it was the first and only time military aircraft was mass produced.
The Curtiss P-40 "Warhawk"
The P-40 fighter was a plane employed by Americans, especially at the beginning of the war. In particular, the Flying Tigers, or the American Volunteer Group, used the P-40 in their campaign against Japan. The Flying Tigers were American pilots hired by China to fight against Japan before the U.S. officially joined the war. Despite combatting Japan's more prominent and advanced aviation fleet, they were known for their effectiveness. However, because the Flying Tigers fought before the U.S. had officially joined the war, the American pilots that made up the Flying Tigers had to renounce military ties to aid in this fight, though they were eventually able to rejoin as part of the U.S. military after the attack on Pearl Harbor with official U.S. involvement in WWII.
P-40s were also used to engage Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor and during the invasion of the Philippines in December 1941.  The P-40 has an interesting story because it was objectively inferior to the majority of Japanese and German fighters, but after the destruction of Pearl Harbor, it was the only plane able to be produced in large quantities and thus was often used by the U.S. military. 
The P-40 was a single-person, single-engine, ground attack aircraft that was first produced in 1938. It was designed to be easily and quickly produced in American factories, and an edge Americans had over the Japanese, who had more advanced technology but produced far fewer planes. The P-40 strength came in its bomb capacity but also made it very heavy and thus slower and less maneuverable.
The Boeing B-29 "Superfortress"
Unlike the P-40, which was utilized out of necessity, despite being more technologically primitive, the American B-29 was one of the most cutting-edge aircraft of the time. It had a ten-gun defensive armament that was remotely controlled by turrets, and the crew was separated into three pressurized compartments in order to be more space efficient and comfortable. The B-29 was the first military plane to employ pressurization and remote control power turrets. The pressurization, in particular, was notable because it allowed the crew to move around the aircraft freely without oxygen masks despite high altitudes. Despite its advanced technological capabilities, the B-29 had issues because it was rushed into combat without the standard testing program and was thus very hard to operate. However, over the course of the war, it underwent many modifications and became one of the best U.S. aircraft. It had unprecedented range and bomb load capacity–though this did make it a heavy aircraft.
The B-29 was notably employed in the U.S. military's island hopping strategy in which aircraft were used to cover the large distance to Japan. These aircraft, namely the B-29s, targeted key islands to use as a less distant base for U.S. operations. As a result, they avoided–or hopped over–strongly defended islands and cut off essential supply lanes to Japan. The B-29 was also used in the nuclear bombings of Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The B-29 was employed in the Pacific because of its great range of capabilities. As enemy aircrafts waned with strengthened Allied power in the Pacific towards the war's end, a new version of the B-29 was developed. This version eliminated guns in favor of increased speed and bomb load. There was no need for guns without enemy aircraft to combat.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero
The A6M fighter was designed based on specifications desired by the Japanese military. However, at the time of the release of the specs, Nakajima, Mitsubishi's competitor, deemed the specifications impossible and abandoned the pursuit. Nevertheless, because of these specifications, the A6M was one of the most technologically advanced planes. As a result, it was one of Japan's biggest strengths, especially at the beginning of the war. Throughout the war, the A6M was Japan's most successful fighter, and as a result, it was the most widely produced aircraft in Japan.
The A6M fighter led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Compared to the 352 American planes damaged or destroyed in that attack, only two Zeros were successfully shot down. Besides that, the A6M was used as the primary Japanese naval fighter throughout the war.
The A6 M's strength came in its speed, maneuverability, and range. The A6M was a one-person aircraft developed for the navy. It had a streamlined fuselage and low, forward-set wings. At the start of the war, the plane was updated to improve visibility and gun power. The updated version was equipped with both machine guns and cannon armament. This version was released in July 1940 and was used in service against the Chinese, where it was very successful. In the first A6M encounter against the Chinese Air Force, every single Chinese fighter was shot down, and not one A6M was damaged.
The A6 M's biggest flaw, which was exploited by Allied forces when they were finally able to study the plane's design in 1942, was its lack of armor. This knowledge allowed the U.S. to adapt its plans to compete with the A6M. Because of this, the A6M was a far less successful and formidable fighter against the Allies, and the tide of the war began to shift. 
Airfare was essential in determining who held the power in World War II. Because of this it was a race between the most technologically advanced planes, and the most efficiently mass produced ones. As these factors changed and the US began to compete technologically with Japan and mass production became more important–and supply lines to Japan were cut off–the Allied forces were able to prevail.
1. Thomas. “United States Marine Corps Air-Ground Integration in the Pacific Theater,” 2.
2. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, 18.
3. Doubek. “The Flying Tigers: How a Group of Americans Ended up Fighting for China in WWII.”
4. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, 47.
6. “Japan's Kamikaze Fighter: The Mitsubishi Zero | War Factories | Timeline.”
7. “WW2 Pacific War Fighters.”
8. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production,109.
9. Ibid., 113.
10. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production,112.
11. “Road to Tokyo: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.”
12. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, 265.
13. Ibid., 264.
14. Stoff. Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, 265.
15. Rearden. Koga's Zero: The Fighter that Changed World War II, 10.
16. “WW2 Pacific War Fighters.”
17. “Japan's Kamikaze Fighter: The Mitsubishi Zero | War Factories | Timeline.”
18. “WW2 Pacific War Fighters.”
19. “Japan's Kamikaze Fighter: The Mitsubishi Zero | War Factories | Timeline.”
20. “WW2 Pacific War Fighters.”
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