|P-40 specialists at Friday's Warbirds In Review session included (L to R) Warren Denholm, Kent Holiday, Ron Fagen, and Steve Hinton, seated in front of Rudy Frasca's P-40E. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
|Three Curtiss P-40s shared center stage at Warbird In Review Friday. The early P-40C, nearest camera, has different contours than the two P-40Es next to it. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
By Frederick A. Johnsen
Warbirds in Review visitors were treated to the rare spectacle of three diverse Curtiss P-40 fighters parked tightly for inspection while pilots and restorers described the aircraft Friday.
The elegant surfeit of these World War II gems is only possible at a major venue like AirVenture, with hundreds of warbirds flying in from around the country.
The rare long-nosed P-40C was the result of at least nine years under restoration, said New Zealand's Warren Denholm, who accomplished the final four years on that resurrected airframe.
It carries the same markings as the P-40 flown by George Welch over Pearl Harbor when he shot down Japanese attackers on December 7, 1941.
The pampered C-model was briefly flown in Auckland, New Zealand, following its rebuild. It was then disassembled and shipped to Chino, California, for reassembly and flight before delivery to Texas owner Lewis Air Legends.
Speaker Ron Fagen described his award-winning P-40E, painted in the markings of the 325th Fighter Group in North Africa circa 1942. "This particular P-40 has all kinds of history because it is made up of hundreds of parts from P-40s from all over," Fagen told the crowd.
When he first received the airplane, it had been rebuilt after having its wings sawed off. The spliced wings concerned Ron, who opened them up to find ordinary half-inch iron bar and hardware bolts holding the pieces together. And it had been flown that way. Ron replaced those wings with a set whose structural integrity was intact.
But Fagen's checker-tailed P-40 still held another surprise. On one flight when he dived the airplane to build up speed, the usually trustworthy P-40E began porpoising violently. After backing off the power Fagen landed the P-40 and inspected it closely.
Even torn down, nobody could find anything wrong with it. Eight months went by with no answer, until a Canadian engineer suggested it could be a phenomenon known as fabric ballooning, where the cloth elevator control surfaces pull away from the structure at high speed, upsetting aerodynamics.
A careful inspection of the fabric elevators confirmed the need for achieving better attachment to the structure. Problem solved.
Master warbird pilot Steve Hinton described the essence of a fighter to the audience: "A race plane is what all fighter planes are."
The P-40 brings a Clark-Y wing airfoil with high lift and good stall characteristics. It has light aileron forces, Hinton said.
Parked in center stage behind the presenters was Rudy Frasca's P-40E which has attended every Oshkosh since 1976.
Panel moderator Kent Holiday summed the feelings of all when he said, "They're artifacts. We're only custodians."