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Category: Air support/WW2/Allied

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P40 Kittyhawk

variations called Tomahawk, Warhawk, Goshawk (earlier Hawk and Mohawk)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk
photo by Gavin Hamilton.
True Comics Issue 06  The World's Fastest Human - H. Lloyd Child, Test Pilot

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The Curtiss-Wright Corporation started designing a single-wing, fighter aircraft with radial engine, retractable landing gear and all-metal construction in 1934. The resulting aircraft they dubbed the Hawk 75 and the American military called it the P-36 Mohawk. By 1937, over 1,300 had been delivered when the Curtiss-Wright Corporation decided to make a major modification by installing an Allison liquid-cooled engine. This alteration was successful and started a long series of models, the first named the P-40 Warhawk by the Americans. The rest of the aircraft was essentially unchanged from the P-36.

By 1940, the RAF was accepting delivery of the new aircraft that they called the Tomahawk I. In comparison with the Messerschmitt Me-109 or the Supermarine Spitfire V it was decidedly inferior except in maneuverability at low altitudes and having a tough construction. The Tomahawk was used in Britain as a trainer and an army cooperation aircraft. It was sent to the Orient, India and North Africa to augment the Hawker Hurricanes. This was the common solution to inferior aircraft, even if the Japanese, Germans and Italians were flying better fighters. The RAF, Royal Australian Air Force and the South African Air Force flew them as ground-attack aircraft in support of the 8th Army in North Africa. Unfortunately, for many pilots they were also forced to use this inferior aircraft as an escort fighter for light and medium bombers against Me-109s and Maachi 202s. 

It showed up badly against both aircraft, with a high loss rate. The P-40D, named the Kittyhawk I by the English and the Warhawk by the Americans, had an improved Allison engine that allowed for a shorter nose and had the fuselage mounted 0.50 caliber machine guns moved to the wings to allow for a hefty six 50 caliber machine guns that would become the standard suite of armament for all American fighters. A Packard Merlin-engined version was produced for export to Russia, but no models were received by the English, Australian or South African squadrons flying the Kittyhawk. Many versions of the aircraft were developed all in an attempt to improve the performance of the inadequate Allison engines. None of the modifications made up for this engine's lack of power. Overall, the various models of the P-40 made it the second most numerous fighter aircraft produced by the Allies during WWII. They had a production run of some 13,738.

Technical Details
All major variants of the P-40 series were single-seat fighter or fighter-bomber aircraft. They came in a confusing series of engine modifications, and gun arrangements with even minor variations given a letter designation where it likely wasn't warranted.

The P-40C was a major variant called the Tomahawk II by the RAF. It mounted a 1,040 hp Allison V1710-3 v 12 liquid cooled engine. This engine generated a maximum speed of 345 mph (555 km/h), although under desert conditions with a sand filter over the air inlet it was considerably less. It was not usually equipped with oxygen so it's maximum altitude of 30,000 ft could not be reached by most pilots and it was typically flown at under 15,000 ft. It's range with internal fuel was 730 miles (1175 km). The Tomahawk II had two 0.303 machine guns on the cowl and four in the wings. It did not have the ability to carry bombs.

The P-40F, called the Kittyhawk II (also the Goshawk) was a major improvement in handling, although more power was not available. The ones shipped to Russia were equipped with the Packard built 1,300 hp V-1615-1 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. All others used an Allison engine. This boosted the maximum airspeed to 364 mph (582 km/h). Range was 610 miles (976 km). The Kittyhawks had a major modification in their armaments, with the cowl-mounted machine guns removed and all guns upgraded to six 50 caliber machine guns in the wings. It could also carry a 500 lb bomb or a long-range fuel tank on the center-line, and 250 lbs of bombs under each wing (6 lb and 40 lb anti-personnel bomb clusters were also carried in North Africa).

wording from

  • Henry Lloyd Child was chief test pilot at Curtis at the time of the development of the P40 and was famous for his test flight that sold many of them to the French Air Force.  
  • He was reported to have set a new speed record of 547 mph in a vertical dive during that test flight.  
  • He was known at the time as the fastest man alive.  It is unlikely that that speed was reached in a prop plane.
  • In the 1944 report of the Joint Fighter Conference, Lloyd comments on the movies of the control surfaces on the tail of the SB2C showed "bulging terribly" and spoke of not allowing the pilots to see these films.

Much of this information was provided by 

Gene Mallory



  • First Lady of the USA, Eleanor Roosevelt meets Lloyd Child during a visit to the Curtiss plant.

The first three airplanes of the initial production order of P-40Bs was delivered with what was, at the time, the Army Air Corp's standard polished, all aluminum finish.  These early planes were delivered to Wright Field at Dayton, OH, for evaluation and testing, receiving small changes in the their decoration as they were being used.  Except for these initial three, all P-40 production was delivered from the Curtiss factory with some form of camouflage paint.

"The first production P-40 was flown on April 4, 1940 by Curtiss Chief Test Pilot Lloyd Child, and this batch of airplanes was delivered to the Air Corps between June 1st and October 15th of that year.  The first three machines, in natural aluminum finish, went to Wright Field (Dayton, Ohio) for official Air Corps' tests; the rest were finished in overall olive drab with gray under-surfaces." 


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