While the size of the average man stayed about the same, the size of the average fighter plane, and its cockpit, increased during World War II. This image shows the spacious working space in the Flying Heritage Collection’s P-47 Thunderbolt.
It’s not surprising that the interior of America’s biggest single engine fighter of the war would have the largest cockpit too. It was so commodious, in fact, that it caused pilots of all nations to take notice. Pilots who transitioned from flying Spitfires in RAF Eagle Squadrons were shocked by the size of the plane. Compared to flying in the cozy cockpit of the Supermarine’s bantam defensive fighter, the inside of the Jug seemed disturbingly roomy.
British observers wryly observed that one might slip off the seat, fall to the cockpit floor, and really hurt themselves. When a P-47 was captured, the Germans were equally puzzled by the Thunderbolt’s interior. Luftwaffe General Adolf Galland wrote that the cockpit was big enough to walk around in. Other German pilots, used to the comfy if-not-cramped cockpit of the Bf 109, felt that everything was out of reach. Another speculated that a pilot might be able to dodge bullets simply by loosening his shoulder straps and leaning to one side or the other as he flew.