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 a wheels-up landing requiring her to be placed in a maintenance hangar for repair. 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Recently Kent Lentz, former cofounder, president, project manager, and chief builder of the no longer active Curtiss Wright Historical Association - Project Tomahawk Inc. has been in contact with me in order to correct some of the errors and misinformation regarding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'.(see) 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 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. Three of the pilots made it out after epic trials, and two died crashing into the mountains. None of the material 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 P-40 in the sand off the tarmac thought to be taken sometime after the Pearl Harbor attack. 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
GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK
ON HOOVER DAM
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.
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.