Unique P-40B Arrives At American Aero Services

Image courtesy of Callings Foundation.
   The Collings Foundation’s unique Curtiss P-40B Warhawk has finally arrived back in the United States. It didn’t fly home, but rather took the slow boat from England, disassembled inside a shipping container. The fighter is currently with Gary Norville’s American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Norville’s capable crew, long-associated with Collings Foundation restorations, is already reassembling the Warhawk, and plan to have her flying again by early September.

   As some of our readers will be well aware, this P-40 can trace its wartime history back to December 7th, 1941. It was stationed that day at Wheeler Field on Oahu, Hawaii, but amazingly suffered no damage during the Japanese the attack. In fact, she remains the only surviving, airworthy American aircraft from the infamous Pearl Harbor raid.

   The Collings Foundation’s P-40B was one of just 131 P-40Bs to roll off Curtiss’s factory in Buffalo, New York during 1940-1941. She joined the US Army Air Corps as 41-13297 in March 1941, moving to Wheeler Field, Hawaii in April to join the 19th Pursuit Squadron of the 18th Pursuit Group. In October 1941, the Warhawk suffered a wheels-up landing. The damage required a spell in a maintenance hangar for repair, and this is perhaps why the airframe survived. She was still in the hangar when the Japanese raided Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Following maintenance she returned to her original squadron. However, on January 24th, 1942, with only 56 hours of flight time, she spun out of control while on a routine training flight and crashed into a mountain killing her pilot Lt. Kenneth Wayne Sprankle. The crash occurred in a rather inaccessible area of the island, so after retrieving Sprankle’s body, the recovery team left the aircraft in place, and there she stayed for the next five decades.
Image by John M Dibbs via Collings Foundation 
   In 1985 the Tomahawk’s remains were ‘rediscovered.’ After some preliminary investigation, the discovery team decided the airframe was restorable if they could bring it safely down off the mountain. They recovered some parts during 1985. A second recovery mission in 1989 salvaged the rest of the airframe. The Curtiss Wright Historical Association formed in Torrance, California during 1989 for the sole purpose of restoring the airframe. The Association referred to the restoration as “Project Tomahawk.” Whenever possible, the restoration incorporated original parts from the wreck. Two other P-40B wrecks donated parts to the project, 39-285 which also crashed in Hawaii in 1941 and 39-287, that went down in a severe storm over the Sierra Nevadas on October 24th, 1941. When completed, the Tomahawk eventually joined “The Fighter Collection” at Duxford (UK) in 2003. P-40B Tomahawk 41-13297 flies wearing the scheme she wore during her time in Hawaii with the 18th Pursuit Group.

   Once American Aero Services has fully completed their reassembly and test of the P-40, she will fly up to the Collings Foundation’s base in New England, hopefully by September 19th. It will be terrific to have an early Warhawk flying on the US East Coast again… almost certainly for the first time since the 1940s
Image by John Dibbs via Collings Foundation

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