Kiwi P-40C Takes Wing

Avspec's P-40C restoration, with functioning drop tanks, bears the markings of 2nd Lt. George Welch's Pearl Harbor defender. (Dave McDonald)
Avspec's P-40C restoration, with functioning drop tanks, bears the markings of 2nd Lt. George Welch's Pearl Harbor defender. (Dave McDonald)

Though there are numerous airworthy late P-40s, Avspecs’ restoration is only the second P-40C that is flying.

The C model of the evergreen Curtiss P-40 was a rare bird. Only 193 were built, a tiny percentage of the nearly 14,000 P-40s of all marks. Often derided as obsolete, the P-40 continued to be manufactured even while North American, Lockheed and Republic were churning out superior fighters, so the old Hawk obviously had some useful qualities. The P-40C, sometimes called “Tomahawk,” in fact had no such name; all USAAF
P-40s were known generically as Warhawks. The Tomahawk (a British dubbing) was the slightly different export equivalent of the C, of which 930 were built. That was the airplane that equipped the short-lived but iconic Flying Tigers. Many also went to the Soviet Union, handed over to Russian pilots in Alaska.

The airplane you see here, restored over 25,000 man-hours in Auckland, New Zealand, by renowned warbird and vintage specialist Avspecs and taken for its first flight in April, was recovered as a wreck from northern Russia. Though it was actually a Tomahawk IIb, it has been restored and painted as the 194th P-40C, complete with a functioning fuselage drop tank—the mark’s prime identifying feature—but thankfully free of the cliché shark’s teeth. Though there are numerous airworthy late P-40s, Avspecs’ restoration is only the second P-40C that is flying, plus one P-40B; the other C is at the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Wash., and the B is in Duxford, England, part of The Fighter Collection.

Notwithstanding the Kiwi restoration, the P-40 is owned by San Antonio oil-and-gas tycoon Rod Lewis, and was delivered to Texas in mid-2011 after its final proving flight in New Zealand. Lewis has shunned the high visibility of such mega-warbirders as Paul Allen and Kermit Weeks by keeping his collection private, but he currently owns—and often flies in airshows—19 warbirds that range from Bearcat-based Reno racer Rare Bear (plus three stock Bearcats) to the famous recovered Greenland P-38 Glacier Girl. He also owns the world’s only flying A-20 Havoc, an original Tuskegee Airmen AT-6 trainer and one each of the de rigueur P-39/P-40/ P-47/P-51/Corsair/Spitfire/Sea Fury gaggle. Lewis owns and flies nearly a dozen hard-working general aviation aircraft, including a Cessna Citation Sovereign bizjet, four helicopters and two utility turboprops—all of which help him drill for enough oil and gas to support his warbirds.

6 Responses

  1. Mike H.

    I built models of this bird when I was a kid. I’ve always rebelled against the common belief that the P40 was an inferior aircraft, and I still do. This is the plane that held the line until the more famous marques (P-47D, P-51D, P-38L…well…YOU know) were available to stop the Luftwaffe and the IJN air forces, with their signature aircraft, the Messerschmitt BF109E, and the Mitsubishi A6N1 “Zero”. It’s a joy to see one in the air again!

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  2. Ron Sandberg

    I believe you are wrong.The original P-40 b,and cs were named Tomakawks Subsequent modeles were named Warhawk, and Kittiyhawk

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  3. Louis Fought

    When I was a kid in Baton Rouge La. during the early 1950s, there was a P-40, I believe an N model on display on the LSU campus. Since Louisiana was the home of Gen Chennault, the P-40 had the customary shark mouth & eyes. It was in the Engineer Quadrangle for some time then moved to behind the ROTC building. The last I remember seeing it, one of the landing gear had collapsed when it was moved to make way for construction. It then disappeared. Does anyone know the fate of that old bird.

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  4. Ron Sandberg

    I might add allso that the forrunner of the P-40, the P-36 was allso known as the MOHAwk!!!!

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  5. Eric Mingledorff

    I hunted for that P-40 in the mid 70’s, and heard it was dismantled and stored underneath Tiger stadium. I finally reached a guy, who identified himself as LSU’s head of maintainance, and inquired as to where that P-40 went. He got mad and told me it wasn’t there, it was none of my business and quickly terminated the conversation. Whoever I spoke to was lying.

    I believe the Baton Rouge, destroyer USS Ward Museum group acquired it from LSU later on. My friend, John Fallis, found the airplane and traded the museum for it. It’s now in flying condition in south Louisiana.

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