Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk 43-5802

The P-40 at North Weald on her debut in her new markingsProduced in large numbers the P-40 or Tomahawk, Kittyhawk or Warhawk as she was also known, was a ruggedly effective and potent fighter. Supplied to the air forces of America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the P-40 fought with distinction in every theatre of operations. In Europe and the Western Desert against the Germans and the Italians as flown by aces such as Billy Drake and Neville Duke of 112 Squadron, RAF. In the far north, P-40’s fought with distinction in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, as well as in the island-hopping Pacific campaign against the Japanese. They were the main weapon in the China-Burma-India campaign and the aircraft was immortalised by the famous American Volunteer Group, better known as the ‘Flying Tigers’, achieving 297 confirmed kills.

The P-40 high above the cloudsOur Curtiss P-40M, serial number 43-5802, was manufactured in October 1943 and assigned to a RCAF squadron as serial no. 840. She subsequently flew with a number of RCAF squadrons, amassing a total of only 732 hours in military service. The aircraft was retired in 1950 and moved to Oregon State University to act as an instructional aircraft. Following a long period of storage at Troutdale Airport, Oregon, she was acquired in the late 1970’s by well known P-40 expert Tommy Camp, based in Livermore, California. Fortunately, the airframe was found to have survived in remarkably good condition and was suitable for a restoration to flying condition. This was sympathetically carried out in the early 1980’s and she flew again in 1982.

The P-40 wearing the nose art of Lt. R Adair's Lulu Belle as she appears todayPurchased by The Fighter Collection and shipped across the Atlantic, she took up residence at Duxford in February 1985. There she remained for ten years until 1995 when traded to Christophe Jacquard, based at Dijon in France. Re-registered F-AZPJ she was operated in France for three years until returning to Duxford to re-join The Fighter Collection in 1998. Placed on the UK register as G-KITT, she continued to be operated by TFC until 2005 when she was purchased by Hangar 11 Collection and ferried to our hangar at North Weald. Since then she has appeared extensively at airshows throughout the UK and further airfield. In May 2009 she was flown by Peter Teichman to a former Soviet military airfield near Prague and took part in filming for the movie ‘Red Tails’ which was released in January 2012. Wearing a temporary water washable scheme, after filming was completed and she was flown back to the UK the decision was made to retain the temporary colours until the final release of the movie.

The P-40's new nose art, the skull is the unit marking of the 89th Fighter SquadronToday, the aircraft represents P-40N-1 Warhawk 44-2104590, "Lulu Belle", flown by 2nd Lieutenant Philip R. Adair, a pilot with the United States Army Air Force's 89th Fighter Squadron, 80th Fighter Group of the 10th Air Force in the China Burma India Theater. The 80th Fighter Group's main mission was defending military transport aircraft flying from India to China over the Himalayas, an air bridge that was nicknamed "The Hump", and was the Allies' primary means of providing resupply the the Chinese fighting the Japanese invasion of their county. Reportedly the 89th painted their aircraft with distinctive white skulls on each side their cowlings to play on Japanese superstitions about death and related symbology. Their P-40s were also fitted with 18 inch air raid sirens to add psychological warfare element to their ground attack missions. It is the sirens that earned the group the nickname the "Burma Banshees".

The mission and victory markings of Lt. AdairThe Hangar 11 Kittyhawk is now painted in an exact reproduction of the first of two P-40s to bear Lt. Adair's markings, right down to the custom wheel covers. Adair flew 113 missions in "Lulu Belle", including one sortie on 19 December in which he singlehandedly attacked an incoming raid of 24 Japanese 'Sally' bombers and 40 Japanese fighters sent to bomb the U.S. air base at Nagaghuli, India. Lt Adair managed to shoot down one bomber and one 'Oscar' fighter, but his relentless harassment so scattered the formation that they ended up bombing inaccurately, only causing minor damage at the strategically important airfield. Adair's aircraft was hit 16 times in the action, but managed to return to base. Lt. Adair was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day and went on to fly a total of 139 combat missions, before returning to the United States at the end of the war.

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