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Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Technical details : Photos : On Display
Famed for it's distinctive shark tooth design the P-40 was one of the most extensively built US fighter aircraft, with over 13,000 produced, during the Second World War. The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is perhaps most well know as the aircraft used by the famous 'Flying Tigers'.
Quick facts
P-40E - 112 Squadron (RAF), 1942
Prototype flew
14th October 1938
Entered service
Mid 1940
Total built
13,738
Front view
Side view
Rear view


During 1938 the tenth P-36A was used for an experimental engine conversion from a radial to a inline engine, this was designated the Hawk 81 by Curtiss. At the time the inline engine was favoured after examples of the German Messerschmitt BF 109 and British Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane proved successful with this type of engine. Although they did have their disadvantages, being heavier and having vital systems vulnerable to combat damage, it wasn't until 1941 when the radial engine Focke-Wulf FW 190 went into service that showed how good radial engines were.

When, on the 14th October 1938, the Hawk 81 flew it was powered by a 1,160-hp Allison V-1710-19 engine, but was basically similar to the P-36A, with the radiator first mounted beneath the aft fuselage before being placed under the nose. Flying in May 1939, and now designated the XP-40, against other pursuit plane prototypes in competition against each other, the XP-40 was chosen for production by the US Army Air Corps, and on the 27th April 1939, and at the time representing the US Army's largest single order for fighters, 524 P-40s were ordered.

As soon as the first three P-40s rolled of the production line during May 1940 they were sent for service trials. Although these P-40's would be powered by a less powerful supercharged Allison V-1710-33 engine, and by September 1940 the USAAC had received 200 P-40s. 140 similar Hawk 81A-1 fighters had been ordered by France, but as with the Consolidated PBY Catalina, none of these reached France before the end of resistance. Instead designated Tomahawk I the aircraft were used by the RAF in Europe where the planes were to prove unsuited for deployment in Europe, and after replacing Westland Lysanders of No.2 Squadron during August 1941 they were soon relegated to training duties, they also served in North West Africa. No. 112 Squadron was the first RAF overseas Squadron to take delivery of the plane and operating in the Western Desert in a low level ground attack role the plane enjoyed limited success.

The Tomahawk IIA was the next version used by the RAF, the same of the P-40B, with a number of modifications adding to the weight of the plane, such as armour and two more 0.303-in machine-guns, and as such performance of the plane was reduced. The P-40C was the next variant and as with the P-40B the introduction of two more machine-guns and improved self-sealing tanks would increase the weight of the plane and thus decrease performance. A number were converted for reconnaissance duties and designated RP-40 and the P-40C that would serve with the RAF was designated Tomahawk IIB.

A number of P-40s destined for use with the RAF were instead diverted to China to serve with Brigadier General Claire Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), otherwise known as 'The Flying Tigers', who also had the shark tooth design on their planes. This Squadron was working within the Chinese Air Force playing a role in defending China from Japanese air attacks. The AVG would provide some much needed success over the Imperial Japanese Air Force, and provide America with some much needed morale in the early stages of their entry into the war.

The P-40D was the product of Curtiss's re-design of the P-40C. A 1,150-hp Allison V-1710-39 engine was installed, armour was added and other changes which would also include the option of either an external fuel tank or a 500lb bomb and four 0.50-in machine-guns, this was first flown on the 22nd May 1941 and was designated by the RAF Kittyhawk I. However just over 20 of this type would be built as two more machine-guns were added to bring the total to six and a new designated of P-40E or Kittyhawk IA when used by the RAF, and working along side the Hawker Hurricane in North Africa the Kittyhawk would find success in the ground-attack role. A number were also converted to two-seat trainers.

Shark Tooth
Although the Flying Tigers had the famous shark tooth design on their P-40's it was actually No. 112 Squadron of the RAF, based in the Western Desert who introduced the design to the plane.

As the attempts to improve the P-40 had still left it's performance at altitude inadequate for it to fill the role of an effective fighter aircraft, a P-40D was used as the test bed to see if the introduction of a Rolls-Royce Merlin 28 engine could improve the situation. Flown on the 25th November 1941 the XP-40D showed improvement at high altitude and the 1,300-hp Packard built V-1650-1 Merlin engine would power the P-40F Warhawk. An XP-40G prototype appeared with fuel tank and armament changes, and existing P-40s were modified to this version.

Although the introduction of the Packard built Merlin had improved performance there was a shortage of these engine in the US so the P-40J had a turbo charged Allison engine to overcome this problem, however this project was abandoned in May 1942. Instead the P40-K would be the next mark to enter service during August 1942, powered by a 1,355-hp Allison V-1710-73 engine, and later production P-40Ks would have a dorsal fin fitted to help fix the problem of the plane swing on take-off due to the more powerful engine.

The P-40M & P-40L were Curtiss's attempts to give the Warhawk the extra performance needed to become more suited to the fighter role. Despite a weight loss of 250lb on the P-40M and the introduction of a 1,200-hp Allison V-1710-81 engine on the P-40L hardly any performance increase was achieved.

As 1943 drew to a close it was clear that despite all the attempts to increase the performance of the P-40 that the planes days were numbered, especially as aircraft such as the North American P-51 Mustang and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt had better performance, unless a performance increase was found. The P-40N, the last production version, was born, featuring the same Allison V-1710-81 engine that appeared on the P-40L, the P-40N featured a reduction in armament to four guns mounted in the wings, less fuel capacity and other minor changes. As a result the maximum speed of the plane was 378 mph, meaning it was the best basic production aircraft of the type. Later on some P-40Ns were modified to become fighter-bombers with two more machine-guns and a bomb load of upto 1,500lb. This mark would prove to be the most extensively built.

The XP-40Q appeared which identified three prototypes built by Curtiss in it's further efforts to improve the P-40 even more, but despite the introduction of a 1,425-hp Allison V-1710-121 engine and other improvements it's maximum speed of 422 mph was still below other Allied and Axis fighters in service at the time and development of the plane was stopped. In comparison the Hawker Tempest Mk I was able to achieve a speed of 466 mph.

Seeing action in the Middle East and the Pacific the Kittyhawk would serve with a number of Air Forces including, the USAAF, RAF and Soviet Union, and by the time production was ended in December 1944 around 14,00 had been delivered.




Technical Details

Plane Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
P-40 357 mph 950 miles 32,750 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
two 0.303-in machine-guns
P-40A Skipped designation applied later on to a camera carrying P-40.
P-40B 352 mph 730 miles 32,400 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40C 344 mph 730 miles 29,000 ft four 0.303-in machine-guns
two 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40D 360 mph 800 miles 29,100 ft four 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40E 367 mph 700 miles 28,700 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40F 365 mph 700 miles 33,990 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
and either a 500 or 1,000lb bomb
P-40G Only one built.
P-40H Designation not used.
P-40I Designation not used.
P-40J Improved P-40E with turbo - project cancelled.
P-40K 363 mph 700 miles 28,500 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40L 371 mph 650 miles 38,550 ft four 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40M 362 mph 700 miles 29,740 ft six 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40N 380 mph 750 miles 33,000 ft four or six 0.50-in machine-guns
P-40P Designation not used.
P-40Q Modified P-40N with four blade propeller, only one built.
P-40R Modified P-40F and P-40L with different engines.



Photos










On Display
If one of the following letters appears next to the plane this means it is a:
(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.


Plane Location
P-40B Imperial War Museum, Duxford
P-40N Royal Air Force Museum, London








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