Curtiss P-40K Warhawk

This American fighter was the workhorse of the early war years.  It served in every theater and generally acquitted itself well, if never quite being considered among the best.

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Join me for a look at an ubiquitous aircraft.

I’ve posted various members of the P-40 family here before, and I’ll guess most readers can figure out the P-40K was somewhere between the P-40E and P-40N in terms of development.  In RAF service it was a Kittyhawk Mk III.

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In most cases, the defining trait of the various models was the engine.  The P-40K used an Allison V-1710-73 rated at 1325 hp.  That was a 175 hp increase over the version used in the P-40E.  While every version of the Allison was deficient at higher altitudes, this was actually a pretty good boost for the P-40K.  Maximum speed was 370 at 20000 ft. making it the fastest P-40 variant to date.
But this was also the heaviest P-40, which impacted maneuverability and rate of climb.
The increased power also exaggerated the type’s already notorious torque pull which led to a couple of different fixes.  Seen here, is a fin extension to the front of the vertical stabilizer.  This was used in the first two blocks of P-40K production, later blocks had a lengthened tail.  Donovan Berlin, the lead designer on both the P-36 and P-40 projects felt strongly the company was addressing the wrong end of the airplane to fix the problem and advocated a new nose and radiator.  That the company chose otherwise is among the reasons why he left Curtiss, and likely among the reasons why Curtiss never had another successful fighter design (failure to listen to their best designers).

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The distinctive nose art here identifies this plane as part of the 78th FS. Known as “The Bushmasters”.

This particular aircraft was a part of the 78th Fighter Squadron, 15th Fighter Group, 7th Air Force in late 1942.

The 78th FS and 15th FG first saw combat on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.  Its different squadrons were equipped with P-36, P-40B and even P-26. No surprise it suffered heavy casualties.  Given the obsolescence of most aircraft types the group was re-equipped with later P-40s and P-39s as quickly as possible. Through 1942 they flew mostly defensive patrols and air intercept missions around Hawaii. Some detachments went to other island bases, and the group was more scattered through 1943 (although Hawaii was always main base).  In early 1944 the 15th FG was equipped with Thunderbolts, but continued in mostly rear area operations.  In early 1945 they were given Mustangs and moved to Saipan, before finally moving forward to Iwo Jima for Very Long Range missions over Japan.

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The Curtiss P-40 was a direct descendant of the earlier P-36, most obvious change being the engine.  

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Three wartime variants of the P-40.  P-40E at left was just entering service at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack.  The P-40K has an extension to the forward vertical stabilizer to counteract engine torque.  During “K” production Curtiss switched to a lengthened tail as seen on the P-40N at right.

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Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk III was the same airplane as the P-40K.  Seen here in North Africa. Ground crewman sitting on the wingtip is a common solution to ground movement visibility problems, especially with the sand and dust of North Africa.  Not OSHA approved…

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Through most of the war the 15th FG operated a mix of P-40 and P-39.  The P-39 at right was from a 15th FG detachment based on Canton Is in locally applied colors to match the bare coral environment.

This build is from the Hasegawa kit with Superscale decals.  Both the kit and decals are excellent products and performed well.  Only complaint being that itty bitty tail wheel that disappeared during construction and literally did not show up until the day a replacement I ordered arrived in the mail…

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Related Posts
Curtiss P-36A
Curtiss P-40E
Curtiss P-40N
Bell P-39Q

About atcDave

I'm 55 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 33 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-40K Warhawk

  1. jfwknifton says:

    I think the RAF were always pretty happy with the Kitty / Tomahawk, particularly in North Africa.

    • atcDave says:

      I’m pretty sure that’s completely true. Fast, rugged and heavy firepower. And below 20000 ft it was a good match for a Messerscmitt.

  2. The ‘Hawk’ series, Tomahawk, Kittyhawk and Warhawk have always baffled me. This at least gives me a better idea of them and the models are just great!

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks AT!
      It might help to know Curtiss called all their fighters Hawks. This design basically starts with what Curtiss called a “Hawk 75”. USAAC called it a P-36, RAF called it Mohawk. Then Curtiss put an Allison engine on it and called it a “Hawk 81”. USAAC called it a
      P-40 Warhawk, RAF called it a Tomahawk. Later, Curtiss put a better Allison engine on it and said it’s a “Hawk 87”. RAF said okay it’s a Kittyhawk. USAAF (USAAC had changed from “Air Corp” to “Air Force”) said still a P-40 Warhawk to us…
      Funny thing is they then put a Merlin engine on it (for service North Africa where there was already an abundance of Merlin trained mechanics) and nobody gave it a new name (USAAF P-40F/L, RAF Kittyhawk Mk II/IIa).

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