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ISSUE 173 - June 2011
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Contributing Editors, Allan Udy & Alex Mitchell, Photographs by Alex Mitchell
New Zealand

The Curtiss P40 first flew in 1938, and during the early years of the Second World War it was an important aircraft for the Allies, who were scrambling to come up with more effective aircraft designs to counter the German Luftwaffe.

The distinctive business end of the P-40.

The US Army Air Corps initially called the type the Warhawk, and this name was retained for all subsequent models of the P-40 in American use. In British use, the P-40B and C models were referred to as the Tomahawk, while all subsequent models were called Kittyhawks.

Poor performance at high altitude meant the aircraft was not well suited for operations in Europe, even during the early years of the war. However the P40 played a significant role in many other theatres of operation around the globe where this high altitude performance issue was not such a handicap.

The OSRC P-40 on display at
Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow.
The Chinese color scheme
of this P40 is known worldwide.

The P40 first saw active service in the Middle East and North Africa with the RAF's Desert Air Force, during June 1941.

The shark-mouth artwork which adorned a considerable number of P-40s throughout the war is considered by many to be synonymous with the Flying Tigers, the American Volunteer Group who flew with the Chinese Air Force against the Japanese. However it was the RAF’s No. 112 Squadron which first applied the ferocious artwork to their P-40s in North Africa, preceding by some six months its use by the Flying Tigers.

Under the hood - the Allison v1710 engine.
The P40 in its natural element.

While the RNZAF’s use of the P-40 in the Pacific Theatre is well known, a number of New Zealanders used the type elsewhere. One Kiwi, Gerry Westernra, flew with 112 Squadron in the Desert Air Force and ended the war with a Distinguished Flying Cross and bar with a total of eight victories, including two he scored while flying the Gloster Gladiator biplane.

It is reputed that after Flying Officer Peter Brunton added the shark mouth logo to his P40 (to distinguish it from the other aircraft in the unit) it was Westernra who convinced the unit CO that all the 112 Squadron aircraft should be similarly adorned. It was from this beginning that the now iconic artwork spread to other units flying the P40, including the AVG in China.

The air filter intake is just like
a large mouth.
Getting airborne, the P40
raises one wheel first.

This particular aircraft (NZ3009) is one of only two original RNZAF P-40s still airworthy (having served with No 14 Sqd RNZAF), and is now owned by The Old Stick And Rudder Company at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton, New Zealand. The aircraft was previously owned by Ray Hanna (another New Zealander) of the Old Flying Machine Company in the UK, and was regularly seen in Europe as one of the Breitling Fighters Display team.

Two angry P-40s at Warbirds Over Wanaka.
Taxing out for another display at Wanaka.

The aircraft currently wears the color scheme of Captain Wang Kuang Fu, of the Chinese-American Composite Wing, a part of the Chinese Air Force in 1945.

Captain Wang Kuang Fu's aircraft.
Flaps down, coming in to land.

Allisons At Low Altitude Video

Contributing Editors: Allan Udy & Alex Mitchell, New Zealand
Historical Aviation Film Unit

Contributing Photographer: Alex Mitchell,
New Zealand
The Old Stick & Rudder Company

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