Republic P-47 Thunderbolt airplane model. The P-47 Thunderbolt was one of America's leading fighter airplanes of WW II. It made its initial flight on May 6, 1941, but the first production article was not delivered to the AAF until March 18, 1942, more than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On April 8, 1943, the P-47 flew its first combat mission, taking off from England for a sweep over western Europe. During the next several months, AAF pilots learned that the Thunderbolt could out-dive any Luftwaffe airplane encountered. An auxiliary ,fuel tank was suspended under the fuselage beginning in 1943, permitting the P-47 to escort AAF heavy bombers much farther into German territory.