Curtiss P-40/ Hawk 81/ Hawk 87/ Tomahawk/ Kittyhawk/ Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 was the last successful fighter aircraft produced by the once-dominant Curtiss Company. It was a competent but never great fighter, not one of the best fighters of the Second World War, but good enough to remain in use through the war, and production until the end of 1944. Only the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt were produced in greater numbers. The biggest advantage possessed by the P-40 was that it was available at least a year earlier than the P-47.

In every theatre it appeared in, the P-40 was outclassed in some way by its opponents, either in speed, performance or altitude or manoeuvrability. However, it was always survivable, making it a good ground attack aircraft. It was also one of the faster aircraft in a dive, and was fast at low altitude. Successive versions of the aircraft improved enough to make sure it never became obsolete, but never quite enough to make it great. However, it is often unfairly compared to aircraft that first entered service one or two years after the P-40, such as the P-47, which entered service in 1942, or the P-51 Mustang, which did not appear in its world beating Rolls Royce powered version until early 1943. The P-40 Warhawk had the massive advantage of actually being available when it was needed.

Naming the Hawk

The Curtiss Hawk series of fighters suffers from one of the more confusing naming systems of any aircraft in use in the Second World War. The aircraft had been developed from the earlier P-36/ Hawk 75. Intermediate aircraft included the Hawk 75-I/ XP-37, given an entirely new designation by the Army Air Corp, but not by Curtiss. The P-40 itself was given two designations by Curtis – Hawk 81 and Hawk 87. The British followed Curtiss, calling the Hawk 81 the Tomahawk and the Hawk 87 the Kittyhawk. Later the USAAF adopted the name Warhawk, which was then adopted by the British to avoid confusion. The Hawk 87/ Kittyhawk also appeared in two overlapping families, using different engines.

Type

USAAF

RAF

Engine

Hawk 75A

P-36

 

 

Hawk 81A

P-40B/ C

Tomahawk I

Allison

Hawk 87A

P-40D

Kittyhawk I

Allison

Hawk 87A

P-40E

Kittyhawk I

Allison

Hawk 87D

P-40F

Kittyhawk II

Merlin

Hawk 87D

P-40K

Kittyhawk III

Allison

Hawk 87D

P-40L

Kittyhawk II

Merlin

Hawk 87D

P-40M

Kittyhawk III

Allison

Hawk 87W

P-40N

Kittyhawk IV

Allison

Introduction - P-40 Variants - Kittyhawk - Tomahawk - P-4o in American Service - Statistics


Squadron Signal 026 Curtiss P-40 in action, Ernest R. McDowell. This is a good guide to the development of the P-40, a fighter than went through a more than usually complicated series of versions in US and British service. This book works through the main versions in US service, from the first development of the P-40 as an improved P-36 to its final production variants. [see more]
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P-40 Warhawk Part 1 – Y1P-36 Through P-40C, Bert Kinzey. Once you get past the introduction (which rather unfairly compares the P-40 to aircraft produced several years later), this book turns into a well illustrated, detailed guide to the technical development and production run of the P-36 and P-40 fighters, complete with the dates at which the different variants of the aircraft were produced. [see more]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 June 2007), Curtiss Hawk P-40/ Hawk 81/ Hawk 87/ Tomahawk/ Kittyhawk/ Warhawk, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_P-40_intro.html

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