The P-40 was a fighter and ground attack aircraft that was first produced in 1938 at the Curtiss Wright Corporation facility in Buffalo, New York. The P-40 design was an outgrowth of the pre-war Curtiss P-36. The Warhawk eventually saw service with 28 nations and was used by most of the Allied powers in WWII. The Warhawk was sold to Britain, Russia and other Commonwealth nations. Its primary users were the U.S. Army Air Forces, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force. The USAAF adopted the name Warhawk while the British named it the Tomahawk (P-40 models B & C) and then changed the name to Kittyhawk for the model P-40D and later variants.
During the war, the allocation of limited raw materials, such as tungsten, prevented the P-40 from receiving the two-stage supercharger which the P-51 Mustang received. This limited its capabilities at high altitudes against the superior Luftwaffe fighters – which restricted it to rare use by the British in Northwest European operations. The P-40 played a significant role with the United States Army Air Forces in North Africa, Italy, the Southwest Pacific and the China-Burma-India theater.
The P-40 became famous for its role with the American Volunteer Group in China – also known as the Flying Tigers – later absorbed by the 14th Air Force. The Flying Tigers made the “shark mouth” famous, however, the Royal Air Force’s Number 112 Squadron was the first to feature this paint scheme.
The P-40 that you see here represents the “Aleutian Tigers,” i.e. the 343rd Fighter Group activated on September 11, 1942 and operated in Alaska until the fall of 1943. They flew with the U.S. Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and other USAAF units throughout the Aleutian Island chain. The “Aleutian Tigers” have a few figurative and similar connections to the “Flying Tigers” that flew in China: both groups flew the P-40; the “Aleutian Tigers” were commanded by Lt. Col. John “Jack” Chennault, the son of General Claire Chennault who commanded the “Flying Tigers” in China; finally the distinctive tiger face on the Alaskan aircraft was a take off from the original “Flying Tigers” that operated in China.
The P-40 was equipped with the same engine used in the P-38, the P-39 and the early versions of the P-51 (the Allison 12 cylinder V-1710). Designed by Donovan Berlin, it first flew on October 14th, 1938. There were 13,738 produced from 1938 until 1944; produced at a unit cost of $44,892 in 1944. The P-40 tolerated harsh extremes in many climates and offered the advantage of a low cost aircraft which kept it in production long after it ordinarily would have been considered obsolete. The P-40 played a significant role in winning the war.