In September 1940 the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) ordered the first major production-line modification to its single seat pursuit fighter, the P-40. The updated production run was designated as the P-40B, of which eventually 131 were built. Production began in January 1941 at the Curtiss plant in Buffalo, New York. In March of that year a P-40B with chassis number 16073 carrying serial number 41-13297 was delivered to the USAAC and assigned to the 6th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, Oahu, Hawaii.
In October 1941, seven months after delivery, that same P-40 was involved in what has been misstated by some as a wheels-up landing requiring her to be placed in a maintenance hangar for repair (see photo and explanation below). She was still in the hanger undergoing repairs when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That seemingly minor twist of fate most likely saved her from being destroyed.
Following repairs she was returned to flight worthy status. Then, on January 24, 1942, in another ironic twist of fate, with only nine months of service and 56 hours of flight time, while on a routine training flight the plane spun out of control. The pilot, Lt. Kenneth Wayne Sprankle, was unable to pull out from the spin, crashing into the side of a mountain, killing him. In that the crash occurred in a rather inassessible area of the island, powers that be decided, after recovery of the body, to simply leave in place what was left of the aircraft.
Recently Kent Lentz, former cofounder, president, project manager, and chief builder of the no longer active Curtiss Wright Historical Association - Project Tomahawk Inc. has been in contact with me in order to correct some of the errors and misinformation regarding the -297s resurrection. Project Tomahawk came into being about five years after cofounder Mike Fortner acquired some of her remains and a usable engine in 1985. Lentz, through his own personal involvement from 1989 until -297s first flight on January 12, 2007 has offered, in his own words and presented below, many new and valuable insights into the historical aspects of the restoration/remanufacture of the plane.
Before moving on, Lentz, in calling the P-40B '-297' as used in the paragraph above and in what he presents below, is refering to the the last three digits of its USAAC serial number. He says the 284 as seen on the fuselage is its BUZZ number. According to Lentz those numbers were assigned and painted in LARGE white characters on the sides of the A/C so that the exuberant young pilots who were BUZZING the beaches of Oahu while showing off to the girls thereupon could be ID'ed and properly chastised. As to the resurrection and completion of the P-40B Pearl Harbor survivor Lentz writes:
In 1985, -297s remains were 'rediscovered' and after a preliminary analysis it was determined that although there was major damage to the airframe and engine, it was definitely worth recovering. Remember that at this time, there were no Tomahawks known to exist. Common opinion held them to be an extinct type. ANY T'hawk was better than NO T'hawk. Some parts were recovered in 1985, followed by a second mission prior to 1989 when most of the rest of the airframe and engine were collected. Project Tomahawk obtained the airframe material, but the engine disappeared into a black hole.
In 1989 restoration of the recovered P-40B began after a number of concerned enthusiasts got together and on 5 Feb. 1990 formed a not for profit corp. called the Curtiss Wright Historical Association - Project Tomahawk Inc. in Torrance CA and operated under the name 'Project Tomahawk.' In every case possible they used original parts indigenous to the plane itself. Much of the airframe, although not airworthy, was incredibly valuable as pattern material. Secondly, before resorting to the use of newly manufactured parts they incorporated as many parts as possible from the two straight P-40s that had crashed in the Sierra Nevada mountains 60 miles due east of Fresno CA on 24 Oct. 1941 and were recovered by Project Tomahawk over a three year period-1989/'92. P-40s 39-285 and 39-287 had gone down while on a cross country mission to participate in an air defense exercise over Seattle WA. During the leg of the flight from March Field to Sacramento, the flight of 19 A/C flew into heavy weather over the Sierras and five planes were lost. Three of the pilots made it out after epic trials, and two died crashing into the mountains. None of the material recovered from the Sierra crash site and used on -297 came from P-40 39-200 shown on the G. Pat Macha link.(see)
By 2002, after twelve years of painstaking and meticulous work, with a major portion of the costs borne out of the pockets of a few, much work on the upper half of the fuselage was completed and the nearly complete engine cowling fabbed by Bob Cunningham in England had been acquired, the Project was moved to Matt Nightingales California Aerofab facility in Rancho Cucamonga, CA and finished under the auspices of Stephen Greys 'The Fighter Collection' museum at Duxford England. It required another five years before Steve Hinton made -297s first flight on 12 Jan. 2007. There were a few squawks to be rectified before the A/C was disassembled and shipped to Duxford in mid '07 where she is/was based until her upcoming/recent transfer to the Collings Foundation.
NOTE: As an aside, for the edification of the reader, The Fighter Collection is not part of The Imperial War Museum. Please note that -297 was NOT SOLD to TFC. After Stephen Grey settled a couple of outstanding debts pertaining to Project Tomahawk, the project was 'transferred' non profit to non profit.
One last thing, in terms of historical accuracy, Lentz adds that no one he has met in his entire life has EVER referred to the H-81s (P-40/P-40B/P-40C) as Warhawks. He says, and I quote, "I haven't seen the term W'hawk applied to H-81s 'til recent years. It's kind of revisionist and, I think, muddles the study of the planes place in history. We didn't name it PT 'cause we didn't know the diff."
Below is a graphic of the 284 P-40B in the sand off the tarmac taken sometime after the landing incident of October 28, 1941 in which 1st Lt. Cecil J. Locke Jr. ground looped (it was NOT a wheels up landing as is so often misstated) thereby causing the aircraft to be in a hangar undergoing repairs on December 7th. The photo below it shows a destroyed P-40 in front of Hanger 4 in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
ON DECEMBER 7, 2013, THE 72nd ANNIVERSARY OF THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR, IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT THE P-40B PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR THAT HAS BEEN HOUSED IN ENGLAND SINCE BEING RESTORED AND RECIVING FLIGHT STATUS HAS BEEN PURCHASED ANONYMOUSLY AND WILL BE RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES AND BASED AT THE COLLINGS FOUNDATION IN MASSACHUSETTS. PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE:
VETERAN P-40B WARHAWK FOR THE COLLINGS FOUNDATION
THE FIGHTER COLLECTION: P-40B Bu No 41-13297
THE COLLINGS FOUNDATION P-40B
NORTH AMERICAN AT-6 TEXAN
THE LADY AND THE TIGERS
FLYING TIGERS AND MORE
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND
GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK
ON HOOVER DAM
In the above main text the following is found:
"(B)efore resorting to the use of newly manufactured parts they incorporated as many parts as possible from the two straight P-40s that had crashed in the Sierra Nevada mountains 60 miles due east of Fresno CA on 24 Oct. 1941 and were recovered by PT over a three year period-1989/'92. P-40s 39-285 and 39-287 had gone down while on a cross country mission to participate in an air defense exercise over Seattle WA. During the leg of the flight from March Field to Sacramento , the flight of 19 A/C flew into heavy weather over the Sierras and five planes were lost."
The two planes of which the parts were recovered from the Sierra crash site, 39-285 and 39-287, were both P-40 Tomahawks of the US Army Air Forces 57th Pursuit Group based at Windsor Lock (Bradley) Field, Connecticut. On October 18, 1941 the Group began a cross country training mission with 25 aircraft, reaching March Field in southern California with 21 operational.
On October 24, 1941 19 of the P-40s left March Field for McClellan Field near Sacramento. The flight encountered severe weather over the Sierras near Fresno with only four planes actually making it to McClellan and fifth one landing nearby. Five of the P-40s crashed. One pilot bailed out over the mountains and rescued. Two pilots bailed out and spent a week in a cabin before being located and two others were killed crashing into mountains. The remaining aircraft were said to have made forced landings in various locations across central California and western Nevada.
As I do for all service members and veterans who served their country honorably in both peace and war, I bow my head with all and full due respect for the lives of the deceased pilots, who, in an albeit ill fated flight, gave their lives in a training mission for a country soon to be at war.
The interesting part here for me particularly, however, after being duly pointed out by Kent Lentz, is that the parts recovered from the two P-40s that crashed in the Sierras and used in the restoration of the P-40 Warhawk Pearl Harbor survivor, were from planes of the 57th Pursuit Group, soon to be renamed the 57 Fighter Group.(see) The 57th Fighter Group is the same Group that figured so prominently in the one day "Goose Shoot" slaughter of over 70 German aircraft that I have presented on a page titled:
P-40 GOOSE SHOOT
P-40: FIGHTER IS A REBUILT PIECE OF WWII HISTORY
KENNETH WAYNE SPRANKLE:
April 26, 1914 -- January 24, 1942
Born in Cloe, PA moved to West Lafayette, IN in 1931
Graduated West Lafayette High School in 1932
Member of the Methodist Church
Brothers: Cortes N., W. M. (Morrey), Max
Graduated Purdue University Class of 1938
Entered flight training at Randolph Field, TX in the summer of 1938
A year later received his wings at Kelly Field, TX
Assigned to Selfridge Field, MI (made several trips home)
Lieutenant Kenneth Wayne Sprankle
Transferred to Hawaii in 1941
Survived Pearl Harbor 1941
The November 2000 issue of the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine had the following information in an article regarding Lieutenant Kenneth Sprankle:
The article reports that the P-40B Tomahawk, #41-13297, was the only P-40B to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. Sprankle was on a training flight on January 24, 1942, when the aircraft spun into the side of a mountain, killing him. The log showed that the aircraft had 56 hours of flying time on it. Rescuers removed his body and the aircraft remained on the side of the mountain until 1989 when it was recovered. That aircraft was in the process of being restored into like new condition at the time of the publication of the article.
Kent Lentz, co-author of this website and meticulous in his research and knowledge of P-40s generally and Pearl Harbor survivors specifically, especially so the one so covered by this website, offers the following in regards to the above Smithsonian article:
"The Smithsonian Air & Space article as says that -297 was the ONLY P-40B that survived the 7 Dec. attack. That quote SHOULD read 'The only P-40B that survived the attack that STILL exists in any way, shape, or form.' Although even that may not be accurate, since there may be some wreckage offshore or buried on the island somewhere. Seems as though I read somewhere that a bunch of the wreckage was dozed into a big hole at the end of the Wheeler Field main runway and then the runway was extended."
P-40: THE OBSOLETE WAR HERO
When the P-40B in question was sold to the The Fighter Collection she was registered as G-CDWH. That registration was cancelled January 2, 2007 and reregistered in the U.S. as N80FR (presumably just for test flights after rebuilding). The registration G-CDWH was restored April 17, 2007 and delivered to Duxford July 2007, painted in the 1941 Pearl Harbor color scheme with code 284.
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Leading up to and during World War II the plane of choice in artist/cartoonist Milton Caniff's comic strip Terry and the Pirates was the Curtiss-Wright P-40. In the strip Caniff created a fighter pilot he called Flip Corkin. Corkin was based on a real life P-40 fighter pilot with the then rank of Major, Philip G. Cochran, shown above on the left in a characterization by Caniff with Terry of Terry and the Pirates.
Most of the Corkin character's adventures circulated around the use of P-40s in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II with the planes so illustrated carrying all the markings of the Flying Tigers while interacting mostly not so much with pirates but the Dragon Lady, the vicious and vile World War II type Japanese, and a variety of Asian warlords --- of which from my own experiences of later years more modern versions could be found to still exist:
MEETING WARLORDS, ET AL
The real life pilot, Philip G. Cochran, however, before any CBI affiliation, earned his reputation as the squadron commander of "J" Squadron also known as the Joker Squadron flying P-40s in North Africa as part of the 33rd Fighter Group. He also flew P-40s for the 57th Fighter Group as a member of the 65th Fighter Squadron known as the Fighting Cocks.
Hardly does anyone ever put P-40s and aircraft carriers together. However, Cochran's P-40 equipped "J" Squadron, arriving off the coast of North Africa flew from the deck of a flattop as well as being the first to catapult P-40 Warhawks from the deck of a aircraft carrier and recover them in Casablanca. Re the following from the source so cited:
"While the idea of catapulting the P-40s may have been a cutting edge idea, the actual execution of the plan would prove to be less than simple. Although the ship was equipped to accommodate aircraft operations, the P-40s were not able to operate off a ship because they were too heavy. After stripping the Warhawks of ammunition, navigation equipment, and excess fuel, Major Cochran (squadron commander) and his deputy flight lead were catapulted from the ship, breaking both the catapults in the process, thus leaving 34 pilots to determine how they were going to launch. Throughout the remainder of the day, all but three aircraft were able to make it to Casablanca; two aircraft went down where the pilots were recovered and one went down without the pilot being recovered.
"The invasion was in its early stages, and organization systems were fragile if not nonexistent. Finding no assignments and no place to go, Cochran decided to keep the group together and headed off in the general direction of the war. By inquiring locally as they flew short hops, they eventually found an Army infantry unit at a flat spot in the desert who were more than happy to have their own air cover.
"Cochran immediately set up a training schedule for his recruits, commandeered infantry trucks to find supplies, fuel, and ammunition from wherever they could be borrowed or pilfered, and in a few weeks had a cohesive fighting squadron. Being formed outside of Air Force jurisdiction and having no official number, they dubbed themselves the "Joker Squadron," and adopted bright red scarves are their symbol."(source)
If you recall, the parts recovered from the two P-40s that crashed in the Sierras and used in the restoration of the P-40 Tomahawk Pearl Harbor survivor, were from planes of the 57th Pursuit Group, later renamed the 57 Fighter Group, and Cochran, as mentioned, flew P-40s for that very same Fighter Group as a member of the 65th Fighter Squadron known as the Fighting Cocks.
The 57th Fighter Group is the same Group that figured so prominently in the one day "Goose Shoot" slaughter of over 70 German aircraft that I have linked to elsewhere on this page.
33rd FIGHTER GROUP P-40 DURING CARRIER TEST TAKE OFFS, OCTOBER 15, 1942
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