Airfix 1/72 Curtiss P-40C
Tomahawk IIB
by Raul Wright


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It was between December 1941 and July 1942 that the Flying Tigers, a unit of American volunteers operating in China, made the Curtiss P-40 fighter famous. Large quantities of these aircraft were subsequently built in the course of a long career. A total of 13,740 P-40s, in a dozen versions, came off the assembly lines between 1939 and 1944. They were used in every theatre: in Europe, Africa, the Pacific and on the Russian front.

The Curtiss P-40 was never an outstanding aircraft, however like the Bell P-39 Airacobra, it was mediocre at high altitude, and for the same reason, the engine. Though its overall performance was not outstanding, it was nevertheless the most important American fighter in the first two years of the war. It was the only aircraft available in large quantities (and therefore at relatively low cost) and acceptable delivery times.

The War Department's initial order for 524 P-40s, announced on April 27 1939, created a sensation in American aeronautical circles. It was the largest combat-aircraft contract since 1918 and was valued at $12,872,898. The contenders for the contract were Bell, Lockheed, Republic and Curtiss. The Curtiss type was given the contract chiefly because the company was already prepared to go into large-scale production. The P-40 programme employed all of Curtiss' resources, and in 1941 the Curtiss Airplane Division began an expansion scheme that increased its factory area fourfold and brought the workforce up to a total of 45,000 employees.

The XP-40 project got under way in March 1937. The basic idea was to install an Allison V-1710 engine (12-cylinder V, liquid-cooled) in the air frame of a P-36A, which had just gone into production. The tenth P-36A was accordingly modified and took to the air for the first time in October 1938. Its overall performance in test flights was good if not outstanding: top speed was over 340mph (544km/h) at 12,000ft (3,750 m) and a weight of 6,250 pounds (2,840 kg). This was better than the Hawker Hurricane but not as good as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I, the Messerschmitt Bf 109E or the MC.202. The first P-40 production models, modified versions of the prototype, were ready in the spring of 1940, and about 200 were delivered to U.S. units by September. At the same time 140 export models (Hawk 81A-1), originally ordered by France but then turned over to Great Britain, were delivered. These were designated the Tomahawk Mk.I (the British Commonwealth and Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for models Hawk 81A-1/P-40B/P-40C and Kittyhawk for P-40Ds and all other subsequent variants) and were assigned to training duties, the R.A.F. regarding them as insufficiently armed and armoured for combat.

The second version was the P-40B (Tomahawk Mk.IIA in the R.A.F.), which appeared in 1941. It had two more machine guns, armour for the cockpit, and self-sealing fuel tanks. These were the first P-40s to see combat duty. The British used them on the African front, and the Americans at Pearl Harbour and in China. The famous shark-jaw symbol painted on the fuselages of the P-40s flown by General Clair Chennault's Flying Tigers was based on that devised by No. 112 Squadron of the R.A.F.'s Desert Air Force-but far more attractive. The first 100 P-40s sent to China were part of an order for Britain. In little more than six months of operations, the Flying Tigers flew these aircraft (together with about 30 P-40Es) on missions that resulted in the destruction of 286 Japanese aeroplanes. Only 23 Flying Tiger pilots were lost during this period.

A total of 131 P-40Bs were built, plus a few of the less effective P-40C (Tomahawk Mk.IIB). In May 1941 the first of the substantially changed P-40D version appeared. There was a new engine, the fuselage and landing gear were smaller, the radiators were rearranged, and the forward part of the fuselage was modified. Almost all of the 582 P-40Ds built were delivered to the R.A.F., which called this variant the Kittyhawk Mk.I. The second main production model was the more heavily armed P-40E (Kittyhawk Mk Ia), of which a total of 2,320 were built, beginning in 1941. The P-40E was the first variant to see service with U.S.A.A.F. units in Europe, where the type was employed in the Mediterranean theatre. The P-40F (Kittyhawk Mk II), of which a total of 1,311 were built, also appeared in 1941. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin, built under licence in America by the Packard company, this was the first version in which the engine problem was solved. The P-40F version performed much better at high altitude. Not many Merlins were available, however, because priority was given to the superlative North American P-51 Mustang. Later attempts to improve the fighter's performance led to the development of the lighter P-40K (Kittyhawk Mk III), P-40L (Kittyhawk Mk IIa) and P-40M (Kittyhawk Mk III). The final and most numerous version was the 1943 P-40N (Kittyhawk Mk IV), of which a total of 5,219 were built. With a lighter fuselage and a more powerful Allison engine which generated 1,360 hp, the P-40N could reach speeds up to 380 mph (608km/h) at a height of 10,500 feet (3,200 m). The last of the type to serve with the U.S.A.A.F. were the P-40Ns, most of which were delivered to Britain, Russia, South Africa, Australia and China.

A while ago I posted an inquiry onto Stormo's Forum about a unique Curtiss P-40C/Tomahawk IIB captured by Italian Forces in North Africa. Only a photograph of the tail is known and part of the fuselage is observed with its registration number AN400. This photograph appears in Ali Straniere #6 - Prede di Guerra, with some information on the airplane. Little was known about this plane. It was at that moment I began investigating further. The first thing I found was a Michele Rauss model, where it said that the plane was in North Africa in 1941 and that the plane belonged to SAAF's 4 Squadron. But there were a number of facts that were inconsistent such as the date of capture June 1, 1941. At that time, SAAF 4 Squadron did not have P-40s on charge although the unit did have one later on in the year in October, while also noting that AN400 was only delivered to this squadron in October of that year, and in service until June 1942. Its registration was KJ-V and it was flown at least two times by the Lieutenant Graham Harford Kaufmann (Kaufie) on 13 of June of 1942 (where he shot down a Bf.109F) and flown again on 18 June 1942, operating from Airfield Gambut II (LG 105). On June 28, 1942, with the withdrawal of the British Army, after its defeat at Tobruk by Italian and German forces, 4 Squadron retired to, with all its material, to El Daba (LG 115) airfield where it abandoned AN400, from which time the unit began operating the new Kittyhawk, and when at this time it was captured by the Regia Aeronautica, having its markings erased and the Croce di Savoia painted on its tail and a white fuselage band which is observed in the photograph. Well at this point our story ends somewhat, not knowing what happened to this plane from that point onward, but that's a continuing story.









Construction

The Airfix Curtiss P-40 in 1/72 scale is a simple and realistic kit. The final model is correct in scale, although I had to transform it to a Tomahawk IIB (which was not too difficult since the kit provides everything to do it). Photoeched and resin details were added for the tail planes, ailerons and rudder, which helped give a realistic look.

For painting, I wanted a weathered look, typical of an abandoned machine in the middle of a desert. Concerning paints, I used automotive acrylics, I haven't used modeling paints for some time. In my country, model paints (Testors, Tamiya, Gunze Sangyo, LifeColor etc) are very expensive and difficult to obtain in the small modelling world we have. Some watercolors and thinned-out washes of paint applied by airbrush, helped with the final touches.

Technical Data

Aircraft: Curtiss P-40B
Manufacturer: Curtiss-Wright Corp.
Type: Fighter
Year: 1941
Engine: Allison V-1710-33, 12-cylinder V, liquid-cooled, 1,040 hp
Wingspan: 37ft 4in (11.38m)
Length: 31 ft 9 in (9.68 m)
Height: 10 ft 7 in (3.23 m)
Weight: 7,600 lb (3,450 kg) (Loaded)
Maximum Speed: 352 mph (566 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,572 m)
Ceiling: 32,400 ft (9,875 m)
Range: 940 miles (1,500 km)
Armament: 4 machine guns
Crew: 1

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