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How Much Every American Plane in WWII Cost To Build

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The second world war played a huge part in the industrial revolution within the United States as the country fully mobilized its industrial resources to out-produce its enemies. These machines of war came in the form of tanks, aircraft, and maritime vessels, and each contributed greatly to the war effort. The industrial capability was so great that in 1944 alone, the U.S. built more planes than the Japanese did from 1939 to 1945, but this came at great cost.

To determine how much American fighters and bombers cost during World War II, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed average unit cost per fighter or bomber each year of the war from Craven, W.F. and Cate, J.L.’s (1983) “The Army Air Forces In World War II.” Production figures of U.S. aircraft per year came from the Army Air Forces Statistical Digest: World War II, December 1945 edition. To find the overall average unit cost, we weighted the annual average cost by the annual aircraft production, and ranked the planes by their overall average unit cost over the course of WWII. Information on the manufacturer of each aircraft and crew came from several military historical sources. (Because annual production numbers were not available for the C-47 Skytrain, its cost figure is a simple average of each year’s average cost – not weighted.)

The planes on this list cost between $2,537 per unit to $539,818 per unit, with the most expensive the B-29 Superfortress, an advanced long-range heavy bomber. Developed during the early 1940s by the Boeing Company, the B-29 was designed to replace earlier B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers, which cost $212,632 and $227,695 per unit, respectively. (Also see, the most mass produced American planes in WWII.)

The B-29 Superfortress was equipped with remote-controlled gun turrets, pressurized crew compartments, and advanced radar systems. These innovations resulted in greater precision, speed, and range, allowing the aircraft to reach targets much further away than its predecessor, but they also came at a significant cost. The B-29 played a vital role in strategic bombing missions against Japan in the Pacific Theater and was used to drop the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another important entry on this list is the P-47 Thunderbolt, a powerful fighter aircraft produced by the Republic Aviation Company. Between 1941 and 1945, over 15,000 P-47 Thunderbolts were built, at an overall average cost of $90,982. Designed as a high-altitude escort fighter and ground attack aircraft, the P-47 was equipped with .50-caliber machine guns and a turbocharger, providing it with remarkable performance capabilities. The Thunderbolt proved to be a versatile and dependable asset on both the European and Pacific fronts. (Here are WWII bombings that involved the most planes.)

The B-29 Superfortress and P-47 Thunderbolt represented some of the best aircraft that the American military had to offer during WWII, making them fairly expensive planes for the time. 

Here is a look at the other most expensive American fighters and bombers to produce during World War II.

19. Piper L-4 Grasshopper
> Average cost per plane: $2,537
> Total built during WWII: 5,611 — #16 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Communication
> Manufacturer: Piper Aircraft Corporation
> Crew: 1

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18. Stinson L-5 Sentinel
> Average cost per plane: $9,090
> Total built during WWII: 3,590 — #19 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Communication
> Manufacturer: Stinson
> Crew: 2

17. T-6 Texan
> Average cost per plane: $25,839
> Total built during WWII: 15,094 — #3 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Trainer
> Manufacturer: North American Aviation
> Crew: 2

16. North American P-51 Mustang
> Average cost per plane: $52,541
> Total built during WWII: 14,501 — #4 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Fighter
> Manufacturer: North American Aviation
> Crew: 1

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15. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
> Average cost per plane: $54,472
> Total built during WWII: 13,738 — #5 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Fighter
> Manufacturer: Curtiss-Wright Corporation
> Crew: 1

14. Bell P-39 Airacobra
> Average cost per plane: $64,047
> Total built during WWII: 9,588 — #10 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Fighter
> Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Corporation
> Crew: 1

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13. Beechcraft AT-7
> Average cost per plane: $75,574
> Total built during WWII: 5,775 — #15 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Trainer
> Manufacturer: Beechcraft
> Crew: 2

12. Douglas A-20 Havoc / Boston
> Average cost per plane: $85,890
> Total built during WWII: 7,385 — #14 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Light bomber
> Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
> Crew: 3

11. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
> Average cost per plane: $90,982
> Total built during WWII: 15,585 — #2 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Fighter
> Manufacturer: Republic Aviation Corporation
> Crew: 1

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10. Douglas C-47 Skytrain
> Average cost per plane: $100,897
> Total built during WWII: 10,692 — N/A
> Type: Transport
> Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
> Crew: 3

9. Lockheed P-38 Lightning
> Average cost per plane: $104,225
> Total built during WWII: 9,536 — #11 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Fighter
> Manufacturer: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
> Crew: 1

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8. North American B-25 Mitchell
> Average cost per plane: $143,761
> Total built during WWII: 9,816 — #9 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Medium bomber
> Manufacturer: North American Aircraft Corporation
> Crew: 5

7. Douglas A-26 Invader
> Average cost per plane: $180,991
> Total built during WWII: 2,449 — #23 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Light bomber
> Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
> Crew: 3

6. B-17 Flying Fortress
> Average cost per plane: $212,632
> Total built during WWII: 12,692 — #6 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Heavy bomber
> Manufacturer: Boeing
> Crew: 10

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5. Martin B-26 Marauder
> Average cost per plane: $213,396
> Total built during WWII: 5,157 — #17 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Medium bomber
> Manufacturer: Glenn L Martin Company
> Crew: 7

4. B-24 Liberator
> Average cost per plane: $227,695
> Total built during WWII: 18,190 — #1 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Heavy bomber
> Manufacturer: Boeing
> Crew: 10

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3. Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando
> Average cost per plane: $232,155
> Total built during WWII: 3,144 — #22 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Transport
> Manufacturer: Curtiss-Wright Corporation
> Crew: 4

2. Douglas C-54 Skymaster (DC-4)
> Average cost per plane: $280,051
> Total built during WWII: 1,089 — #31 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Transport
> Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company
> Crew: 4

1. Boeing B-29 Superfortress
> Average cost per plane: $539,818
> Total built during WWII: 3,763 — #18 most out of 52 planes
> Type: Very heavy bomber
> Manufacturer: Boeing
> Crew: 10

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