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Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: The Frontline Fighter That Won The Pacific

July 11, 2019

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was a fighter/ground attack aircraft used during WWII. It was the third most produced American fighter and remained on the front line until the war’s end. Known for its fierce “shark mouth” and versatility, it was used by most Allied powers. 41-13297, which comprises most *  of the material used in the newest PlaneTag from MotoArt , survived a wheels-up landing and Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. It later crashed during a patrol mission over Oahu and remained undisturbed for almost half a century. Get a limited edition P-40 keepsake here.


P40 Warhawk


The P-40

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was first built in 1938 and became the third most produced American fighter during World War II. Because it was a modification of the earlier Curtiss P-36 Hawk, its development and entrance into production were hastened, allowing the plane to quickly enter operations. It was used by most Allied powers and remained on the frontline until the end of the war.  

While it was not as fast and did not perform as well as other fighters, it was available in large numbers when it was most needed. It was well constructed, could dive and take on heavy fire, making it an asset in the Pacific theater. It became a symbol of the USAAF fight to keep the Japanese stronghold at bay. Although they were used in other locations, they became famous for their use against the Japanese by the Flying Tigers , the American Volunteer Group (AVG) unit led by Claire Chennault.  


The sound heard in the cockpit of a P-40 under full power is awesome beyond description. To a fighter pilot’s ear, the Philadelphia Philharmonic Symphony would fade in comparison.  Erik Shilling, P-40 pilot, American Volunteer Group, Flying Tigers


P-40 Specs

  • Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns, 700 lbs. of bombs externally 
  • Engine: Allison V-1710 of 1,150 hp 
  • Maximum speed: 362 mph 
  • Cruising speed: 235 mph 
  • Range: 850 miles 
  • Ceiling: 30,000 ft.
  • Span: 37 ft. 4 in. 
  • Length: 31 ft. 9 in. 
  • Height: 12 ft. 4 in. 
  • Weight: 9,100 lbs. loaded


A good fighter pilot, like a good boxer, should have a knockout punch … You will find one attack you prefer to all others. Work on it till you can do it to perfection … then use it whenever possible.  — Captain Reade Tilley, USAAF


The Flying Tigers

Flying Tigers P40

Flying Tigers By R. T. Smith, copy at SDASM Archives - R.T. Smith Autographed AVG  Uploaded by PDTillman, Public Domain


The American Volunteer Group (AVG), in their fierce looking fleet of P-40’s, served under the Chinese Air Force during the Pacific Theater's earliest and most crucial days. The men who made up the team were not official U.S. soldiers, although they had all served in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps, but civilian contractors with the mission to defend China against Japan. The 100 pilots and 200 crew and personnel had been recruited by Chennault and flew together from mid-December 1941 through mid-July 1942. As civilians, they could not be called pilots and their passports listed their occupations as farmer (Chennault), students, banker, musician, and clergy among others. Although they were outnumbered by the Japanese, sometimes by four-to-one, they were never defeated in combat. Of the approximately 50 major aerial battles, they never lost one. 

Their first combat mission took place less than 2 weeks after Pearl Harbor, on December 20, 1941 when they intercepted 10 Japanese bombers outside of the Chinese city of Kunming. It was one of the earliest aerial victories in the Pacific. This and many other brave exploits gave hope to the home front and the Allies, during a very dark time for all.  


History of 41-13297

  • Type: P-40B
  • Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, NY
  • Year built: 1941
  • Construction Number: 16073
  • Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF): March 1941
  • Serial number: 41-13297




41-13297, one month after delivery to USAAF, was sent to Wheeler Field, Oahu, Hawaii, where it was assigned to the 18th Pursuit Group, 19th Pursuit Squadron. In October 1941, it made a wheels up landing at Wheeler Field and was moved to a nearby hanger for repairs. It thus survived the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Oahu without damage. It was repaired afterwards and soon returned to flying. 

On January 24, 1942, during a patrol mission over the Koʻolau mountain range in Hawaii, it spun into the ground, killing the pilot Lt. Ken Sprankle. While Sprankle’s body was recovered, the P-40 remained where it crashed, undisturbed for almost half a century.

It was next seen, decades later, by the Curtiss-Wright Historical Association . It was recovered in 1987 and transported to California, where restoration began, also using parts from two additional P-40B airframes also recovered in Hawaii ( 39-285 and 39-287)


MotoArt Celebrates the P-40

When MotoArt owner Dave Hall got a call from Aero Trader’s Carl Scholl offering original P-40 skin he was thrilled. “We’re always stoked when we find out about a new plane,” says Hall. “And this one was pretty special.” However, the amount of material was limited. “We sometimes get in a quandary, “ Hall explains, “When we have pieces from a one-of-a-kind, once in a lifetime airplane that we love and we know our customers would love, but we don’t have enough material to create enough PlaneTags to meet the demand.”

P-40 PlaneTags being made

P-40 PlaneTags being made 


Hall was soon on the phone with the Executive Director of Pima Air & Space Museum. The Museum provided original airplane skin that they had from reskinning P-40 wings during  restorations.  “Once they found out that we needed additional material they generously donated what they had to us.” As a result, Hall had the materials needed to create a limited edition P-40 PlaneTag, using mostly the original skin material from 41-13297, with the help from other authentic Warhawks.


Warhawk PlaneTag

original aircraft skin


The PlaneTags themselves can vary in color from brown to green or bare metal, and like the rest of the PlaneTags fleet, no two are exactly alike. Some carry dings and deep scratches; some have cracking and chipping in the paint - all of which are part of the unique characteristics that make each one so special. They are also attached to an attractive display card which showcases the distinctive shark mouth design made famous by the Flying Tigers air squadron. They can be displayed with the collectible card or used as a keychain or luggage tag. The prolific airplane that became a symbol of Allied fighting spirit and production capability lives on in memories and now as a limited edition PlaneTag. 

P 40 PlaneTag


I belong to a group of men who fly alone. There is only one seat in the cockpit of a fighter airplane. There is no space allotted for another pilot to tune the radios in the weather or make the calls to air traffic control centers or to help with the emergency procedures or to call off the airspeed down final approach. There is no one else to break the solitude of a long cross-country flight. There is no one else to make decisions.

I do everything myself, from engine start to engine shutdown. In a war, I will face alone the missiles and the flak and the small-arms fire over the front lines.

If I die, I will die alone.  — Richard Bach, Stranger to the Ground, 1963