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Meet the Seversky P-35"Babybolt," The P-47s Long Forgotten Ancestor
Some fighter planes seem to get all the love. It doesn't matter if it's the P-51, F-22, Spitfire, or a MiG-21. A select handful of all-time greats are household names, and the rest are all but forgotten.

Meet the Seversky P-35"Babybolt," The P-47s Long Forgotten Ancestor

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This is especially the case with the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. If the P-51 Mustang was the devilishly handsome American hero, the Thunderbolt was the big, ugly muscle of the American Army Air Forces during World War II. The Thunderbolt is well documented and well celebrated. The same can't be said for some of the aircraft from the same manufacturer that came before it, including the Thunderbolt's earliest ancestor. Say hello to the Seversky P-35, otherwise nicknamed the "Babybolt," in some circles.

The typical on and off aviation fan may not know about the P-47 or the company that built it was its existence before its introduction. You see, Republic Aviation had a notable habit of radically restructuring itself every couple of decades from the mid-1930s until the brand's merger with Fairchild decades after World War Two. The firm started as the eponymously named brainchild of Russian Immigrant Alexander de Seversky.

Seversky served in the Tsar's Russian Army during the First World War. His immigration to the U.S. ensured it was the Americans who benefited from his vast engineering skills, not the Soviets. He created a brilliant strategy in this early period, simplifying and adding armor. It was the formula that the P-47 would one day use to become the toughest fighters of the war.

But before the Thunderbolt and before Republic, there was the P-35. A plane which itself was an updated design of the early SEV-3 single-engine floatplane. The P-35 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engine also found on the Douglas DC-3, Grumman F4F Wildcat, and the Vickers Wellington bomber in select applications. American spec P-35s were armed with two 50. cal Browing machine guns in the nose and two M1919 30 caliber guns divided between the wings.

Even by contemporary standards, the P-35 was nothing special in terms of performance. Think of it more like the U.S. Army Air Corp's version of a basic economy car rather than the muscle car with wings that Thunderbolt would ultimately become. The Americans never fielded Alexander de Seversky's first brainchild. But the Philippine and Swedish Air Force was more than happy to bolster their repertoire with shiny American planes than yanks couldn't care less about.

Sadly, the P-35 was totally out of its depths when it was tasked with fighting an enemy as agile and powerful as the Japanese A6M Zero. Yes, the Seversky was more rugged and robust than many contemporary fighters. Even so, the P-35 was no Thunderbolt. Only a single P-35 airframe survived service in the Far East Air Force. Ironically, the Japanese Air Force ordered 20 two-seater variants of the P-35 18 months before the war.

Soon after the destruction of nearly all Seversky P-35s, the company transitioned to the Republic Aviation moniker. First, producing the agile little P-43 Lancer before striking gold with the iconic P-47 Thunderbolt. The little Seversky may have been comically outclassed in times of war, but the Thunderbolt would simply not exist at all without it.

The Swedes used the J-9 variant as a training and liaison aircraft until 1952. Other variants served with nations like Columbia and Ecuador.
Today, only a one-seater P-35 is known to survive, preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft served with the 94th Pursuit Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group. The P-35 sits alongside many of the aircraft it serves with, including the Curtis P-36 Hawk, the predecessor to the P-40 Warhawk, Boeing P-26 Peashooter, and Hawker Hurricane in the museum's World War Two exhibit hangar.

In person, there's an even more striking similarity between the Thunderbolt and its Seversky ancestor. There's a sense that the Thunderbolt began with the heart and soul of the P-35. On which the frame was lengthened, a gargantuan Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp engine was installed and given enough armor to shrug off more enemy fire than any fighter of the period.

It's a shame the P-35 wasn't more respected in its day. Not like it's easy to appreciate something when nearly every single example has been blown up, of course. So we all better go make up for lost time and go pay a visit to Dayton, Ohio, to see the P-35 in the flesh. Check back for more from our trip right here on autoevolution.

Editor's note: Gallery contains self-taken photos used with permission from the National Museum of the Unites States Air Force. This article was not sponsored or supported by a third-party.


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