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Air Zoo Founder Sue Parish and Her Pink P-40 Warhawk

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Visitors to the Air Zoo museum, Michigan are treated to a P-40 painted in its lesser known camouflage colour of Desert Pink and despite the aircraft never seeing service in combat it is known to millions of aviation enthusiasts. This is the story of P-40N (44-7619).

Pink P-40 Warhawk

Icy in use with the 372nd fighter group

Sue's love affair with aircraft began after her uncle Dick took here to Austin Lake Airstrip and a meeting with Irving Woodhams during 1941. Flying in a 65-hp Aeronca Chief this relatively new mode of transport would become Sue's passion. Continuing her flying Sue's ambition was to become a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during the Second World War led by Jackie Cochran. Denied entry to the WASPs for being to young Sue spent the next two years earning a private license, commercial license, instrument rating and instructors rating and after each new rating Sue would make sure Jackie knew of her latest achievements.

Finally at the age of 21 Sue joined the WASPs and after finishing her training in a Boeing Stearman PT-17 Sue graduated and was sent to the Instrument School and after finishing this her role was to teach pilots back from Combat to learn how to fly using new instruments that had been added to newer aircraft. Perhaps the most dangerous role Sue fulfilled was flying newly repaired aircraft to check they were safe and testing new aircraft. As the Second World War ended the WASPs were disbanded and Sue began unsuccessful attempts to gain a job as a pilot, however this would simply be a break from aviation.

In 1948 she married ex United States Marine Corps pilot Preston 'Pete' Parish and they would go on to have five children before in 1959 Pete announced he had purchased half an interest in a 35C Bonanza, a single-engined aircraft. The aircraft purchases soon came thick and fast and included the aircraft that had eluded Sue when she was a WASP, a Curtiss P-40 and despite retiring her P-40 in 1993 Sue continued to fly in a T-34 Mentor.

Logging more than 7,000 flying hours Sue passed away in 2010 but leaves a legacy with the Air Zoo and her displays ensuring these classic warbirds will never be forgotten.

Sue Parish

Sue Parish flying her pink P-40

Rolling off the production line on the 12th August 1944 was a Curtiss P-40N Warhawk (44-7619), just one of around 14,000 built during the Second World War (1939 - 1945), and was acquired for around $45,000 by the United States Army Air Force. Used by the 372nd Fighter Group based at Pollock Field, P-40N (44-7619) would serve as a training aircraft and flown by pilots of all skills returning from action during the Second World War. It would end its time with the 372nd at Esler Field where it was painted with the word 'Icy'. So less than two years after being built and having only been in service for a year and a half P-40N (44-7619) ended its service with the USAAF and was sent to the independent government agency the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

The next home for 'Icy' was the Chowchilla Union Schools, California whom it was sold to for the price of transportation, $350. For the next four years the schools students would learn about aircraft and simulate take-off and landing procedures as part of a aeronautics course developed by high school teacher Floyd Park. 'Icy's time at the school ended when a new Superintendent stopped the aeronautics course in 1950 and sold 'Icy' for just $100 to Carroll Collier who had been a student of Floyd Park and who had taken over the aeronautics course from Mr Park. However, the aircraft was parked behind a car dealership for the next two years when it was rescued by three men who brought the aircraft for $400. After reaching its destination of Montebello, California 'Icy' underwent plastic surgery to convert the aircraft into a racing aircraft, however money for the project ran out so 'Icy' would have to find a new home. Ed Maloney would be the new owner for the sum of $800 in 1959 however 'Icy' was left for fourteen years to degrade further before being packed up and sent for restoration at the Confederate Air Force based in Addison, Texas. It was at this point that 'Icy's future took a turn for the better when Sue Parish was informed of the aircraft's availability and brought the aircraft.

Despite this bright new beginning in the aircraft's history much work was needed to make 'Icy' flyable. Restoration began and although the aircraft was in reasonable condition after its conversion to a racing aircraft the cockpit was the main area that needed attention and needed to be rebuilt and other parts were also needed including a new prop and spinner, but finally after a restoration process lasting three years and involving parts from other aircraft P-40N (44-7619) was again able to take to the skies. After some training in the Warhawk. Sue was eventually able to bring the aircraft to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

1977 saw the legend begin as Sue painted her P-40 in Desert Pink and the shark teeth design was added, but with a difference, this particular P-40's smile was friendlier and wore lipstick! Earning the nickname 'the friendly tiger'. The Air Zoo was formed that same year after the purchases of a Boeing Stearman, North American T-6 Texan and a Grumman F4F Wildcat. A futher aircraft was added after a friend of Sue and her husband Pete told them if they set up a museum then he would donate his Grumman F8F Bearcat. So began a sixteen year career for the pair which started at the Confederate Air Force Airshow and included flying for the P-40 Warhawk Association, the Flying Tigers Convention and also flying over Washington, DC to commemorate the opening of the movie The Right Stuff (1983), which would see Sue meet Chuck Yeager who lead the formation in his North American P-51 Mustang. Finally in 1993 Sue made the decision to retire 'the friendly tiger' and so the aircraft's 49 year career came to an end, although Sue herself kept flying in a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor with the same colour scheme.

So despite no military honours this P-40 is perhaps just as well known as other military aircraft.

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