During WW2, one plane stood above all others in Luftwaffe's terror campaign. The Stuka was designed to make a screeching noise when diving to release its deadly payload. Ironically, Hollywood still uses this sound to let you know a plane's about to crash.
The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (short for Sturzkampfflugzeug, the German word for 'dive bomber') was a German dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft. This single-engine two-seater is easily recognizable by its inverted gull-wing shape and fixed undercarriage. But the reason why it became a symbol of the Luftwaffe's air power has nothing to do with the way it looks.
The Stuka was designed to add a new layer of terror to what must be a pretty scary experience to begin with - that is, of having any regular dive bomber flying above your head. As the Stuka pilots engaged in the (surprisingly complex) diving manoeuvre, two propeller-driven sirens mounted on the front edge of the fixed main gear produced a harrowingly loud sound. This noise not only allowed the pilots to gauge airspeed but had an especially crushing effect on its enemies' morale, an easily recognizable announcement of something terrible to come soon. The haunting horns were dubbed the 'Jericho trumpets' by the Luftwaffe, who believed the psychological warfare effect to outweigh the increase in drag and performance.
For the Stuka pilots, life was no walk in the park either. The checklist for the lethal manoeuvre was extremely demanding. The plane had to be turned upside down - inverted flight - and then perform a half loop towards the ground target. By then, they were doing anywhere between 500 to 640 kmh (300 to 400 mph), and G-forces would build up to around 6Gs. Without special training and G-suits, this meant the aircrews would often black out, with some describing performing the manoeuvre in a 'dream-like state'. As loss of consciousness was typical, the Stuka had to be equipped with a one-of-a-kind automatic pull-up mechanism that would deploy if the pilots failed to recover from the attack angle in time - a feature that would make them especially vulnerable to anti-aircraft batteries, as the flight path became easily predictable.
Although it was used throughout the entire conflict, by the summer of 1940, the cumbersome Stuka was no match for the faster and heavily armed RAF Hurricane and Spitfire during the Battle of Britain, suffering massive losses - as it did in later years against Soviet fighters. After this, the Luftwaffe pulled it from frontline service. Later versions were used effectively as 'tank-busters' against the Red Army's T34. Of over 6,000 Ju 87 produced, only two aircraft are known to be intact, both of them in museums in London and Chicago.
From World War II frontline to Hollywood blockbuster.
Even if you don't know much about vintage warbirds, you may find the 'Jericho trumpets' oddly familiar. For reasons we could not fathom, some time after the war, animated cartoons and movies started using this sound effect whenever a plane entered a steep dive. Never mind that no other aircraft, old or modern, makes that sound when diving. The fact is that for most popcorn-munching audiences, the 'Jericho trumpets' have become the sound most of us associate with any aircraft that's dangerously losing altitude. Much like in real life, a definite proof that something's about to go very, very wrong.
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