Curtiss P-40N Warhawk

The Warhawk was the best American fighter at the start of World War II.  It was generally inferior to the best fighters of other nations, yet it served its users well and maintained a positive kill ratio until it was replaced by better types in later years.

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Let’s look at this allied work horse.

My opening statement included a commonly used adage for many average fighters.  The “positive kill ratio” of course means the type shot down more enemies than were lost in air-to-air combat.  But the thing is, almost every fighter can make that claim, because so much air-to-air work is done against bombers, transports and support types.

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The P-40’s record varied greatly based on the user and circumstance.  Its probably safest to say it had some solid strengths, and serious weaknesses.  Experienced pilots who were able to position themselves to take advantage of their strengths often did very well with the Warhawk.  The type’s main strengths being high diving speed, good firepower and rugged construction.  It also had good flying characteristics, good quality components (meaning the instruments, radios and weapons generally worked as advertised!) and was highly maneuverable at low altitudes.

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Its biggest weakness, by far, was that performance dropped off rapidly above 10000 feet.  This was particularly troublesome against the Germans,  whose Bf 109 performed much better at altitude.  It was also considered underpowered which led to continuous weight reduction redesign.  And as most of us can relate to, the weight continued to creep up anyway.  So after severe weight reduction in the P-40M, production turned to the P-40N shown here which restored much of what was cut in the previous model.

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This particular aircraft was photographed in 1943 at a training field in Alabama.  By this date more advanced types, the Lightning, Thunderbolt and Mustang, were becoming more common in combat units.  While more P-40s were being sent straight to fighter transition schools.  The last actual Trainer type most would be fighter pilots flew was the 600 hp Texan, the transition schools let the pilot fly actual combat types (often slightly obsolete combat types as seen here) and get used to controlling twice the horsepower they had trained in.

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This example was built from the Mauve kit, and I used Cutting Edge decals.  Both were excellent products.  Sadly, the Japanese company Mauve only produced a couple of kits before the company and its molds were lost in an earthquake.  That was a real loss to this hobby.

That's a colorful squadron!

That’s a colorful line up!

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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6 Responses to Curtiss P-40N Warhawk

  1. Terry Brodin says:

    I have always considered the P-40E the “classic” variant of the family, but the P-40Q has alot going for it.
    I generally enjoy all P-40 noseart, but when I read complaints about P-40s (restored and models) always having “shark teeth”, I can’t help but to think of one thing.
    Let’s be honest, —- has there ever been any other aircraft that the nose design/contours were so perfect for “shark teeth”. On Airacobras, Mustangs, Spitfires or Phantoms the teeth have a “make it fit” look. Even P-38 cowlings are just different enough that they don’t seem to pull off the teeth thing. But the P-40 — it just fits, pure and simple. So be it a restoration or model, “shark teeth” are probably just palin hard to resist!

    • atcDave says:

      Yes absolutely! The P-40 was just made for the shark’s teeth.
      But of course there’s a couple funny things about that. It started on the Bf110. Apparently it was first applied to RAF No.112 Sqn Tomahawks after the pilots saw the shark teeth on a Bf110 in a German magazine. Then the Flying Tigers made it famous.

      And the head designer of the P-40, Donovan Berlin, wanted a very different shape. He insisted there were aerodynamic benefits to putting the radiator further back, like the belly scoop on a Mustang. But Curtiss marketing felt the plane just looked better with the chin scoop (as had been done on the first prototype as an expedient).

      So it’s all sort of a lucky fluke how it worked out, at last aesthetically! Such a perfect look.

  2. Terry Brodin says:

    What do think about the looks of the XP-40Q-2 (final modifcation)?

    Liked the original XP-40Q center section radiators that were even with the wing, but the “slimline” nose lines seemed too distracting.
    Reveting to the deeper nose contours on the XP-40Q-2 brought back the “P-40 look”, but the wing radiators, now outward of the landing gear, could have used some refinement, along with the canopy/windshield — too much “bubble effect” for me. USAAF test pilot even commented the canopy/windshield could be reduced in size.

    Best overall good looking bubble canopy/windshield of all time —- F-86H.

    • atcDave says:

      I think the P-40Q is a great looking airplane. I don’t remember right off what all changed between the prototypes, but I know it’s sort of a sad story how desperate Curtiss was to improve the P-40. After the P-46 and P-60 programs were shut down, and Donovon Berlin left the company, I think they knew they were falling way behind in the fighter category. The P-40Q sure got as much out of the basic P-40 airframe as seems likely. Too bad they didn’t get it out a little quicker, but it was clearly behind the later US designs.

      • Terry Brodin says:

        Seemed like Curtiss was bound and determined to keep “tinkering” with the P-40 design rather then come up with a new design. While the F6F Hellcat was sometimes refered to as an improved F4F Wildcat, this just wasn’t the case. While the lineage is obvious, they were two totally different aircraft. I guess Grumman was better at staying ahead of the game and Curtis simply ran out of steam..

        Companies like Curtiss and Brewster would have loved to have have had a government bailout back then. Sink or swim, hell no! Try out the new and improved Capitalism —- courtesy of the US taxpayer. And by the way, Brewster, give your CEO a bonus for his management skills!

      • atcDave says:

        Oh that’s too funny. I think Brewster’s bankruptcy was for the good of humanity!

        Curtiss had certainly tried to stay on top of things, they had two advanced fighter programs. They even tried to sue North American because they felt certain innovations and research data from the P-46 been used on the P-51. Apparently the government gave much of Curtiss’ material to North American, but North American was able to show they were already nearly done with the Mustang prototype when they got it.
        The P-60 program aimed to be a replacement for the Thunderbolt. But I believe it used an R-2800 engine, and it never even proved to be as good as a Jug, never mind better!

        Ultimately, what Curtiss did with the P-40Q reminds me of a late model Zero. They certainly improved the original design into its ultimate expression, but it had been left in the dust by newer technologies (better engines, better super charging, laminar flow wings).
        Arguably Bell had some success with this sort of thing. No doubt the P-63 finally delievered on the promise of the P-39. But even so, the US Army Air Force had moved on to more advanced projects, and only the VVS used the Kingcobra in combat.

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