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 plane never seeing
service in combat it is known to millions of aviation enthusiasts. This is the story of P-40N (44-7619).
Rolling off the production line at its Lake Erie plant 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, Louisiana, 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, Louisiana 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 plane was parked behind a car dealership for the next two years when it was rescued by three men who brought the plane for $400. After reaching its
destination of Montebello, California 'Icy' underwent plastic surgery to convert the aircraft into a racing plane, 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 planes
availability and brought the plane.
Despite this bright new beginning in the planes history much work was needed to make 'Icy' flyable. Restoration began and although the plane 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 plane 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 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.