Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Kittyhawk

Peter Teichman’s Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk
 This particular aircraft was built in 1943 for the Royal Canadian Air Force with the serial No. 840 and flying with various squadrons, though she only amassed 732 flying hours in military service. Retired from flying in 1950, she moved to Oregon State University as an instruction airframe before being put into storage. In the late 1970’s she was found by Tommy Camp who restored her to flying condition with the first flight in 1982.

Over the last winter, Peter Teichman’s dedicated team of engineers at Hanger 11 stripped the P-40 of paint down to the bare metal. By April, the stripping was complete and the aircraft was returned to airworthiness for a short hop to Biggin Hill for the first stages of the repaint. She emerged again in early May with the initial coat of Olive Drab and Grey plus just a few hints of what was to come!

The date of the unveiling was announced on the Hangar 11 Facebook page, and together with some welcome early summer warmth and blue skies, attracted a sizeable crowd to an informal event held around ‘Hangar 11’ at North Weald Airfield. It was a superb day, not least to have such great access to Hangar 11, but also the very friendly welcome everybody had!

Mid-day finally saw the big moment as the aircraft’s canvas covers were removed from the nose to reveal the new and quite stunning artwork of P-40N-1 Warhawk 44-2104590 ‘Lulu Belle’ of the 89th Fighter Squadron, 80th Fighter Group of the 10th Air Force – The Burma Banshees. The aircraft represents one of two aircraft in the Squadron called ‘Lulu Belle’ and both flown by Lt. Philip Adair at Nagaghuli in India. Adair became an ‘ace’ making a name for himself for attacking a large formation of Japanese fighters and bombers on 19th December 1943 downing an ‘Oscar’, damaging two others and also one of the ‘Sally’ bombers. For that action he earned the Silver Star.

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service. The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in front line service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47; by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation's main production facilities at Buffalo, New York.
Warhawk was the name the United States Army Air Corps adopted for all models, making it the official name in the United States for all P-40s. The British Commonwealth and Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for models equivalent to the P-40B and P-40C, and the name Kittyhawk for models equivalent to the P-40D and all later variants.
P-40s first saw combat with the British Commonwealth squadrons of the Desert Air Force in the Middle East and North African campaigns, during June 1941. No. 112 Squadron Royal Air Force, was among the first to operate Tomahawks in North Africa and the unit was the first Allied military aviation unit to feature the "shark mouth" logo, copying similar markings on some Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighters.
The P-40's lack of a two-stage supercharger made it inferior to Luftwaffe fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in high-altitude combat and it was rarely used in operations in Northwest Europe. Between 1941 and 1944, the P-40 played a critical role with Allied air forces in three major theaters: North Africa, the Southwest Pacific and China. It also had a significant role in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Alaska and Italy. The P-40's performance at high altitudes was not as important in those theaters, where it served as an air superiority fighter, bomber escort and fighter bomber. Although it gained a post-war reputation as a mediocre design, suitable only for close air support, recent research including scrutiny of the records of individual Allied squadrons, indicates that the P-40 performed surprisingly well as an air superiority fighter, at times suffering severe losses but also taking a very heavy toll of enemy aircraft, especially when flown against the lightweight and maneuverable Japanese fighters like the Oscar and Zero in the manner recommended in 1941 by General Claire Chennault, the AVG's commander in southern China. The P-40 offered the additional advantage of low cost, which kept it in production as a ground-attack aircraft long after it was obsolete as a fighter. In 2008, 29 P-40s were airworthy.

A Prayer Before Takeoff

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