The world’s oldest operational P-40B Tomahawk and only surviving airworthy American fighter aircraft from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is now on display at the American Heritage Museum in Stow, Massachusetts.
One of the 131 P-40Bs built at the Curtiss facility in Buffalo, New York during 1940-1941 and allocated the Bu No. 41-13297, this fighter was delivered to the US Army Air Corp in March1941. It was quickly sent to Wheeler Field, Hawaii in April of that year, becoming part of the 19th Pursuit Squadron of the 18th Pursuit Group. In October 1941, seven months after delivery, this P-40 was involved in a wheels-up landing, requiring her to be placed in a maintenance hangar for repair.
This aircraft 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 P-40B 41-13297 from being destroyed. Following repairs it 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. The crash occurred in a rather inaccessible area of the island. So, after recovery of the body the aircraft was left in place.
In 1985, the Tomahawk’s remains were “rediscovered.” After some preliminary investigation, it was determined the airframe was not severely damaged and if it could be removed was restorable. Some parts were recovered during 1985. A second recovery mission in 1989 salvaged the rest of the airframe.
In 1989, the Curtiss Wright Historical Association in Torrance, California was formed and serious restoration of the recovered P-40 began. The restoration was named “Project Tomahawk.” Whenever possible parts indigenous to the plane were used. Two other P-40B’s, the 39-285 that also crashed in Hawaii in 1941 and 39-287, that went down in a severe storm over the Sierra Nevada mountain range on October 24, 1941 were utilized for parts. 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.
The P-40B 41-13297 was transferred to the Collings Foundation in 2013. This very rare and iconic aircraft is now on display at the American Heritage Museum and will help us tell the stories of WWII and our veterans for years to come.
Built by Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk was a single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. 13,738 were built from 1939 to 1944. It is the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47.
The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk. The design continuation helped reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service. The Tomahawk was used by most Allied forces during World War II. The P-40 remained in front line service until the end of the war. The US Army Air Corps named the P-40 Warhawk. The British and Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for the ‘B’ and ‘C’ models and Kittyhawk for the ‘D’ models.
The P-40B was powered by an Allison V-1710 and armed with nose and wing mounted
Browning machine guns. High altitude combat was avoided in the P-40 due to a lack of a
two-stage supercharger. The lack of power at higher altitudes made it very hard to survive against aircraft like the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109. At medium to low
altitude the P-40 had good agility, especially at high speed. It was one of the tightest-turning monoplane fighters of the war, although at lower speeds it could not out-turn the extremely maneuverable Japanese fighters such as the A6M “Zero” and Ki-43 “Oscar.” The P-40 was a very rugged aircraft and could tolerate harsh conditions in a wide variety of climates. Its strong structure enabled the P-40 to survive mid-air collisions and weapons fire that would take down most other Allied and Axis fighters of the time.