North American A-36 Apache (Invader) Ground Attack Aircraft / Dive Bomber
The North American A-36 Apache was based on an early-form P-51, though modified for the dive bomber and ground attack roles.
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The A-36 Apache was a United States Army version of the successful North American P-51 Mustang piston-engine fighter. The original Mustang itself was developed to a British specification but the Mustang went on to see its glory in the hands of Pacific and European-bound American pilots. Development had begun in 1940 and the A-36 grew out the program, first flying in October of 1942.
The A-36A was the only production form of the aircraft, appearing with the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups (Dive). First combat action occurred in June of 1943 on the island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean. Called upon to drop bombs on enemy targets via dives and climbs, the Apache also served as a bomber escort and general ground attack component of the Allies.
Externally, the A-36 Apache retained much of the look of earlier P-51 Mustangs. The cockpit was covered in a "bird cage" style framed canopy with a high-back upper rear fuselage. Wings were low-monoplanes and fitted to a streamlined fuselage crowned at the front with its inline engine and conical spinner. The spinner held a three-blade propeller to which power was derived from the single Allison V-1710 engine of 1,325 horsepower. The undercarriage was of a conventional type for the time featuring a tail wheel and two main landing gears, the latter recessing into towards the centerline fuselage. Armament consisted of the traditional P-51 arrangement of 6 x 12.7mm air-cooled Browning heavy machine guns - two were mounted in the upper fuselage nose and four were affixed to either wing. Up to 1,000lbs of bombs could be carried externally.
Performance from the Allison powerplant indicated a top speed of 365 miles per hour with a cruising speed of roughly 250 miles per hour. A range of 550 miles was reported while a ceiling of 25,100 feet was attainable.
By 1944, Apaches were being replaced by more capable Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and North American P-51 Mustangs equipped with bomb and rocket racks. These airframes proved more capable at the task and still retained their exceptional high-altitude performance characteristics. As such, the role and reach of the A-36 gradually dwindled as the war progressed.
North American produced no fewer than 500 Apaches with production completing in March of 1943. Apaches also served with the 311th Fighter Bomber Group stationed in India and the 522nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron operating from Tunisia, Sicily and Italy. Despite its limited use, the aircraft was well-respected for its contribution to the war which included some 84 enemy air kills.
The A-36 Apache was unofficially known as the "Invader".