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Curtiss P-40 Warhawk Item Number: 501
Wingspan: 40"

The P-40 earned undying fame as the "Flying Tiger" of World War 2 when flown by General Claire Chennault's Volunteer Group fighting the Japanese in China and Burma. It also saw much service in the Middle East where it was used by Britain's R.A.F. and nicknamed the Tomahawk and Kittyhawk. When World War 2 broke out, the P-40 was the only fighter available in quantity to the U.S.A.A.F., it being the first American single-seat plane to be manufactured in the U.S. on a mass production basis. By the end of the war, over 14,000 planes had been delivered to fighting theatres.

[IMAGE 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.

[IMAGE On 14 October 1938, Curtiss test pilot Edward Elliott flew the prototype XP-40, on its first flight in Buffalo. The XP-40 was the 10th production Curtiss P-36 Hawk, with its Pratt & Whitney R-1830 (Twin Wasp) 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine replaced at the direction of Chief Engineer Don R. Berlin by a liquid-cooled, supercharged Allison V-1710 V-12 engine. The first prototype placed the glycol coolant radiator in an under belly position on the fighter, just aft of the wing's trailing edge. USAAC Fighter Projects Officer Lieutenant Benjamin S. Kelsey flew this prototype some 300 miles in 57 minutes, approximately 315 miles per hour (507 km/h). Hiding his disappointment, he told reporters that future versions would likely go 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) faster. Kelsey was interested in the Allison engine because it was sturdy and dependable, and it had a smooth, predictable power curve. The V-12 engine offered as much power as a radial engine but had a smaller frontal area and allowed a more streamlined cowl than an aircraft with radial engines, promising a theoretical 5% increase in top speed.

Curtiss engineers worked to improve the XP-40's speed by moving the radiator forward in steps. Seeing little gain, Kelsey ordered the aircraft to be evaluated in a NACA wind tunnel to identify solutions for better aerodynamic qualities. From 28 March to 11 April 1939, the prototype was studied by NACA. Based on the data obtained, Curtiss moved the glycol coolant radiator forward to the chin; its new air scoop also accommodated the oil cooler air intake. Other improvements to the landing gear doors and the exhaust manifold combined to give performance that was satisfactory to the USAAC. Without beneficial tail winds, Kelsey flew the XP-40 from Wright Field back to Curtiss's plant in Buffalo at an average speed of 354 mph (570 km/h).[N 2] Further tests in December 1939 proved the fighter could reach 366 mph (589 km/h).

An unusual production feature was a special truck rig to speed delivery at the main Curtiss plant in Buffalo, New York. The rig moved the newly built P-40s in two main components, the main wing and the fuselage, the eight miles from the plant to the airport where the two units were mated for flight and delivery. Performance characteristics A three-quarter view of a P-40B, X-804 (39-184) in flight. This aircraft served with an advanced training unit at Luke Field, Arizona.

The P-40 had good agility, especially at high speed and at medium to low altitude. It was one of the tightest-turning monoplane fighters of the war, although at lower speeds it could not out-turn the extremely maneuverable Japanese fighters such as the A6M Zero and Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar".

[IMAGE Allison V-1710 engines produced about 1,040 hp (780 kW) at sea level and at 14,000 ft (4,300 m): not powerful by the standards of the time and the early P-40 variants' top speeds were unimpressive. Also, the single-stage, single-speed supercharger meant that the P-40 could not compete with contemporary designs as a high-altitude fighter. Later versions, with 1,200 hp (890 kW) Allisons or more powerful 1,400 hp Packard Merlin engines were more capable. Climb performance was fair to poor, depending on the subtype. Dive acceleration was good and dive speed was excellent. The highest-scoring P-40 ace, Clive Caldwell (RAAF), who claimed 22 of his 28½ kills in the type, said that the P-40 had "almost no vices", although "it was a little difficult to control in terminal velocity". Caldwell added that the P-40 was "faster downhill than almost any other aeroplane with a propeller."

The P-40 tolerated harsh conditions in the widest possible variety of climates. It was a semi-modular design and thus easy to maintain in the field. It lacked innovations of the time, such as boosted ailerons or automatic leading edge slats, but it had a strong structure including a five-spar wing, which enabled P-40s to survive some midair collisions: both accidental impacts and intentional ramming attacks against enemy aircraft were occasionally recorded as victories by the Desert Air Force and Soviet Air Forces. Caldwell said P-40s "would take a tremendous amount of punishment, violent aerobatics as well as enemy action." Operational range was good by early war standards, and was almost double that of the Supermarine Spitfire or Messerschmitt Bf 109, although it was inferior to the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Nakajima Ki-43 and Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Evidence of the P-40's durability: in 1944 F/O T. R. Jacklin (pictured) flew this No. 75 Squadron RAAF P-40N-5 more than 200 mi (322 km) after the loss of the port aileron and 25% of its wing area, to a direct hit from an artillery shell. [N 3]

Caldwell found the P-40C Tomahawk's armament of two .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning AN/M2 "light-barrel" dorsal nose-mount synchronized machine guns and two .303 Browning machine guns in each wing to be inadequate. This was rectified with the P-40E Kittyhawk, which abandoned the synchronized gun mounts and instead had three .50 in (12.7 mm) guns in each wing, although Caldwell preferred the Tomahawk in other respects. It had armour around the engine and the cockpit, which enabled it to withstand considerable damage. This was one of the characteristics that allowed Allied pilots in Asia and the Pacific to attack Japanese fighters head on, rather than try to out-turn and out-climb their opponents. Late-model P-40s were regarded as well armored. Visibility was adequate, although hampered by an overly complex windscreen frame, and completely blocked to the rear in early models due to the raised turtledeck. Poor ground visibility and the relatively narrow landing gear track led to many losses due to accidents on the ground.

[IMAGE Tomahawks and Kittyhawks bore the brunt of Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica fighter attacks during the North African campaign. The P-40s were considered superior to the Hurricane, which they replaced as the primary fighter of the Desert Air Force.

I would evade being shot at accurately by pulling so much g-force ... that you could feel the blood leaving the head and coming down over your eyes... And you would fly like that for as long as you could, knowing that if anyone was trying to get on your tail they were going through the same bleary vision that you had and you might get away. I had deliberately decided that any deficiency the Kittyhawk had was offset by aggression. And I'd done a little bit of boxing – I beat much better opponents simply by going for [them]. And I decided to use that in the air. And it paid off.

The P-40 initially proved quite effective against Axis aircraft and contributed to a slight shift of momentum in the Allied favor. The gradual replacement of Hurricanes by the Tomahawks and Kittyhawks led to the Luftwaffe accelerating retirement of the Bf 109E and introducing the newer Bf 109F; these were to be flown by the veteran pilots of elite Luftwaffe units, such as Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG27), in North Africa.

The P-40 was generally considered roughly equal or slightly superior to the Bf 109 at low altitude, but inferior at high altitude, particularly against the Bf 109F. Most air combat in North Africa took place well below 16,000 ft (4,900 m), thus negating much of the Bf 109's superiority. The P-40 usually had an edge over the Bf 109 in horizontal maneuverability, dive speed and structural strength, was roughly equal in firepower, but was slightly inferior in speed and outclassed in rate of climb and operational ceiling.

The P-40 was generally superior to early Italian fighter types, such as the Fiat G.50 and the Macchi C.200. Its performance against the Macchi C.202 Folgore elicited varying opinions. Some observers consider the Macchi C.202 superior. Clive Caldwell, who scored victories against them in his P-40, felt that the Folgore was superior to both the P-40 and the Bf 109 except that its armament of only two or four machine guns was inadequate. Other observers considered the two equally matched, or favored the Folgore in aerobatic performance, such as turning radius. Aviation historian Walter J. Boyne wrote that over Africa, the P-40 and the Folgore were "equivalent".

[IMAGE Against its lack of high-altitude performance, the P-40 was considered to be a stable gun platform, and its rugged construction meant that it was able to operate from rough front line airstrips with a good rate of serviceability.

The earliest victory claims by P-40 pilots include Vichy French aircraft, during the 1941 Syria-Lebanon campaign, against Dewoitine D.520s, a type often considered to be the best French fighter used during World War II. The P-40 was deadly against Axis bombers in the theater, as well as against the Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.

In June 1941, Caldwell, who was serving at the time with No. 250 Squadron RAF in Egypt, and flying as F/O Jack Hamlyn's wingman, recorded in his log book that he was involved in the first air combat victory for the P-40. This was a CANT Z.1007 bomber on 6 June. The claim was not officially recognized, as the crash of the CANT was not witnessed. The first official victory occurred on 8 June, when Hamlyn and Flt Sgt Tom Paxton destroyed a CANT Z.1007 from 211a Squadriglia of the Regia Aeronautica, over Alexandria. Several days later, the Tomahawk was in action over Syria with No. 3 Squadron RAAF, which claimed 19 aerial victories over Vichy French aircraft during June and July 1941, for the loss of one P-40 (as well as one lost to ground fire). North Africa, c. 1943. A P-40 "Kittybomber" of No. 450 Squadron RAAF, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs

Some DAF units initially failed to use the P-40's strengths and/or utilised outdated defensive tactics such as the Lufbery circle. However, the superior climb rate of the Bf 109 enabled fast, swooping attacks, neutralizing the advantages offered by conventional defensive tactics. Various new formations were tried by Tomahawk units in 1941-42, including: "fluid pairs" (similar to the German rotte); one or two "weavers" at the back of a squadron in formation, and whole squadrons bobbing and weaving in loose formations. Werner Schroer, who was credited with destroying 114 Allied aircraft in only 197 combat missions, referred to the latter formation as "bunches of grapes", because he found them so easy to pick off. The leading German expert in North Africa, Hans-Joachim Marseille, claimed as many as 101 P-40s during his career.

From 26 May 1942, all Kittyhawk units operated primarily as fighter-bomber units, giving rise to the nickname "Kittybomber". As a result of this change in role, and because DAF P-40 squadrons were frequently used in bomber escort and close air support missions, they suffered relatively high attrition rates; many Desert Air Force P-40 pilots were caught flying low and slow by marauding Bf 109s.

[IMAGE Nevertheless, competent pilots who took advantage of the P-40's strengths were effective against the best of the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica.[42] At least 46 British Commonwealth pilots achieved ace status flying the P-40. For example, on one occasion in August 1941, Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s, one of them piloted by German ace Werner Schroer. Although Caldwell was wounded three times, and his Tomahawk was hit by more than 100 7.92 mm (0.312 in) bullets and five 20 mm cannon shells, Caldwell shot down Schröer's wingman and returned to base. Some sources also claim that in December 1941, Caldwell killed a prominent German Experte, Erbo von Kageneck (69 kills), while flying a P-40. [N 5] Caldwell's victories in North Africa included 10 Bf 109s and two Macchi C.202s.[44] Billy Drake of 112 Squadron was the leading British P-40 ace with 13 victories.[42] James "Stocky" Edwards (RCAF), who achieved 12 kills in the P-40 in North Africa, shot down German ace Otto Schulz (51 kills) while flying a Kittyhawk with No. 260 Squadron RAF.[42] Caldwell, Drake, Edwards and Nicky Barr were among at least a dozen pilots who achieved ace status twice over while flying the P-40.[42][45] A total of 46 British Commonwealth pilots became aces in P-40s, including seven double aces.[42]

Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group)

The Flying Tigers, known officially as the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), were a unit of the Chinese Air Force, recruited from U.S. aviators. From late 1941, the P-40B was used by the Flying Tigers. They were divided into three pursuit squadrons, the "Adam & Eves", the "Panda Bears" and the "Hell's Angels".[47]

Compared to opposing Japanese fighters, the P-40B's strengths were that it was sturdy, well armed, faster in a dive and possessed an excellent rate of roll. While the P-40s could not match the maneuverability of the Japanese Army air arm's Nakajima Ki-27s and Ki-43s, nor the much more famous Zero naval fighter in a slow speed turning dogfight, at higher speeds the P-40s were more than a match. AVG leader Claire Chennault trained his pilots to use the P-40's particular performance advantages.[47] The P-40 had a higher dive speed than any Japanese fighter aircraft of the early war years, for example, and could be used to exploit so-called "boom-and-zoom" tactics. The AVG was highly successful, and its feats were widely published, to boost sagging public morale at home, by an active cadre of international journalists. According to their official records, in just 6 1/2 months, the Flying Tigers destroyed 115 enemy aircraft for the loss of just four of their own in air-to-air combat.

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