The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

United States of America
United States of America

side viewfront viewunder view

13378 Aircraft built... This alone says enough about an aircraft, and how effective it was in it's use. The P-40 started as a fighter, but because performance was falling short it turned into an attack aircraft. Even though it was put to good use in a couple of theatres as a fighter bomber, some versions also performed well enough to keep superior fighter aircraft of the Axis powers at bay.

When first ordered by the USAAF (at that time the USAAC) it was the biggest order after World War I in the US for a single type aircraft, concerning 524 P-40's. Like other aircraft production stepped up when WW 2 broke out, followed by another boost after the USA entered WW 2.

It's ancestor was the P-36, and while the P-40 was first intended to be used as an interim aircraft, continuous developments lenghtened it's life and effectiveness considerably. The RAF in the Western Desert first painted shark-teeth on their aircraft, symbolizing the destructive power that the P-40 could bear against Axis targets.

Versions:

Further pictures:

Curtiss P-40 in full flight
Curtiss P-40 in full flight

 

Technical data on the Curtiss P-40C
Powerplant 1 × Allison V-1710-33 Vee, rated at 1090 hp (812.58 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
Length 31 ft 8.5 inch Height 10 ft 7 inch
Empty weight 5812 lb Operational weight 7549 lb typical,
8058 lb max
Wing Span 37 ft 3.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 236 sq ft Service ceiling 29500 ft
Maximum speed 345 mph at 15000 ft Cruising speed 270 mph at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate 2,690 ft per min Range 800 miles typical
Fuel capacity internal 111 Imp gal (134 US gal) Fuel capacity external 43 Imp gal (52 US gal) in 1 drop tank
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.50 inch fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 380 rounds each
  • 4 × 0.3 inch fixed forward-firing in the wing leading edges, 490 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load -Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 14 October 1938 Operational Service may 1940 - 1950's
Manufacturer Curtiss Wright Corporation, Airplane Division Number produced 13,378 total, 193 this version
Metric system
Length 9.66 m Height 3.23 m
Empty weight 2636 kg Operational weight 3424 kg typical,
3655 kg max
Wing Span 11.37 m Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 21.92 m² Service ceiling 8992 m
Maximum speed 555 km/h at 4572 m Cruising speed 435 km/h at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate 820 m per min Range 1287 km typical
Fuel capacity internal 507 liters Fuel capacity external 196 liters in 1 drop tank
Machine guns
  • 2 × 12.7 mm fixed forward-firing in the upper nose, 380 rounds each
  • 4 × 7.62 mm fixed forward-firing in the wing leading edges, 490 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load -Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Curtiss P-40N-15 Warhawk
Powerplant 1 × Allison V-1710-81 Vee, rated at 1200 hp (894.59 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
Length 33 ft 4 inch Height 10 ft 7 inch
Empty weight 6400 lb Operational weight 8850 lb typical,
11400 lb max
Wing Span 37 ft 3.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 236 sq ft Service ceiling 31000 ft
Maximum speed 343 mph at 15000 ft Cruising speed 308 mph at 5000 ft
Initial climb rate 2,230 ft per min at 10,000 ft,
Climb to 20,000 ft in 8 min 48 sec
Range 750 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 101 Imp gal (122 US gal) Fuel capacity external Up to 374 Imp gal (450 US gal), consisting of 1 × either 141, 125, 62 or 43 Imp gal (170, 150, 75 or 52 US gal respectively) drop tank, or 2 × 187 Imp gal (225 US gal) underwing drop tanks.
Machine guns 6 × 0.50 inch fixed forward-firing in the wings, 201 rounds each Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 1,500 lb on three hardpoints, each rated at 500 lb. Generally consisting of 3 × 500 lb or 250 lb bombs Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 14 October 1938 Operational Service may 1941 - 1958
Manufacturer Curtiss Wright Corporation, Airplane Division Number produced 13,378 total, 5,216 this version
Metric system
Length 10.16 m Height 3.23 m
Empty weight 2903 kg Operational weight 4014 kg typical,
5171 kg max
Wing Span 11.37 m Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 21.92 m² Service ceiling 9449 m
Maximum speed 552 km/h at 4572 m Cruising speed 496 km/h at 1524 m
Initial climb rate 680 m per min at 3050 m,
Climb to 6095 m in 8 min 48 sec
Range 1207 km max
Fuel capacity internal 461 liters Fuel capacity external Up to 1703 liters, consisting of 1 × either 643, 568, 284 or 197 liters drop tank, or 2 × 851 liters underwing drop tanks.
Machine guns 6 × 12.7 mm fixed forward-firing in the wings, 201 rounds each Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 680 kg on three hardpoints, each rated at 227 kg. Generally consisting of 3 × 227 kg or 113 kg bombs Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk II
Powerplant 1 × Packard Merlin V-1650-1, rated at 1300 hp (969.14 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • Fighter-bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
Length 33 ft 4 inch Height 10 ft 7 inch
Empty weight unknown Operational weight 8280 lb typical
Wing Span 37 ft 3.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 236 sq ft Service ceiling 34400 ft
Maximum speed 360 mph at 20000 ft Cruising speed 300 mph at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 11 min 36 sec Range 600 miles typical,
1500 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 130 Imp gal (157 US gal) Fuel capacity external 1 × either 141, 125, 62 or 43 Imp gal (170, 150, 75 or 52 US gal respectively) drop tank
Machine guns 6 × 0.50 inch fixed forward-firing in the wings, 201 rounds each Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 720 lb on three hardpoints, central hardpoint rated at 500 lb, two underwing hardpoints rated at 120 lb. Generally consisting of 1 × 500 lb bombs and 2 × 100 lb or 6 × 20 lb bombs Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 14 October 1938 Operational Service December 1941 - 1958
Manufacturer Curtiss Wright Corporation, Airplane Division Number produced 13,378 total, 300 this version (including Mk IIA)
Metric system
Length 10.16 m Height 3.23 m
Empty weight unknown Operational weight 3756 kg typical
Wing Span 11.37 m Wing Aspect ratio 5.89
Wing Area 21.92 m² Service ceiling 10485 m
Maximum speed 579 km/h at 6096 m Cruising speed 483 km/h at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 6095 m in 11 min 36 sec Range 966 km typical,
2414 km max
Fuel capacity internal 594 liters Fuel capacity external 1 × either 643, 568, 284 or 197 liters drop tank
Machine guns 6 × 12.7 mm fixed forward-firing in the wings, 201 rounds each Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 327 kg on three hardpoints, central hardpoint rated at 227 kg, two underwing hardpoints rated at 54 kg. Generally consisting of 1 × 227 kg bombs and 2 × 45 kg or 6 × 9 kg bombs Torpedoes/rockets -

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Curtiss P-40  Warhawk
Curtiss P-40 (Model 81) The Curtiss model 81 was to be a quick win situation, by mating the Vee engine of Allison to the frame of the model 75, aka the P-36. The result performed better then expected, and was able to impress the USAAC staff greatly.
Not only offered the Allison engine more development potention, but it had a smaller frontal area as well, reducing drag and thus improving speed. In order to keep the plane in balance the cockpit had to be moved backward however. The first prototype (XP-37) offered some problems, but was promising enough to order 13 YP-37's. These service aircraft kept having problems with the engine/turbo charger combination, so the program was dropped. In the meantime, however, the designers form Curtiss already had a better engine/turbocharger combination, and soon the USAAC ordered the XP-40 to test the new combination. The prototype had an Allison V-1710-19 (C13) Vee, rated at 1060 hp (790 kW), and was armed with 1 × 0.50 inch (12,7mm) and 1 × 0.30 inch (7,7mm) guns forward firing nose mounted.

The P-40 entered production after some further modifications, and was powered by an Allison V-1710-33 (C15) Vee rated at 1150 hp (857 kW), with a max speed of 365 Mph (587 km/h). The weight was 5,417 lb (2.457 kg), 6,260 lb (2.840 kg) and 6,870 lb (3.116 kg) for empty, typical and max load respectively. As it turned out, the USAAC's doctrine at that moment was responsible for the fact that the P-40 be optimized for low to medium heights only. So naturally, when it turned out that the enemy had medium to high-level bombers and fighters the P-40 was unable to live up to the expectations. Also it was underarmed with only two upper fuselage nosemounted fixed forward-firing 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) guns with 200 rounds each.
Number built: 219
Curtiss P-40A Photo reconnaissance version of the P-40. Most were shipped to Russia. Survivors of this first batch were later redesignated RP-40
Number converted: 20
Curtiss P-40B The first combat reports from Europe concerning the invasion of Germany into Norway and Western Europe made the brass clear that the P-40 was obsolete already. It was too lightly armed and inadequately armored. While pressing the P-40 into training tasks, the P-40 was being made more combat capable. The B version received 2 × 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) guns in the nose with 380 rounds each, 1 × 0.303 inch (7,7mm) guns in each wing, self sealing fuel tanks, a hardened windscreen and armor in front and behind the pilot. The surviving aircraft of this batch were redesignated RP-40B in 1943
Number built: 131
Curtiss P-40C Still improving further, the C version received 2 additional 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) guns in the wings (to a total of 4), and better self sealing tanks. The engine remained the same while the weight increased, so performance and handling suffered from these changes (like the B version). The survivors of the C version were redesignated RP-40C after their retirement in 1943
Number built: 193
Curtiss P-40D Warhawk The availability of the Allison V-1710-39 (F3R) enabled the designers of Curtiss to improve their model 81 (P-40). Although rated the same (at 1,150 hp, 857 kW) it maintained this rating into higher altitudes, and for an emergency rating of 1,470 hp (1095 kW). The guns in the nose had to be removed, and the placement of the caburetor inlet and radiator could be improved. Also a redesigned rear fuselage improved the field of vision for the pilot. The surviving aircraft were redesignated RP-40D in 1943
Number built: 23
Curtiss P-40E Warhawk This version was identical to the P-40D, but had 6 × 0.50 inch (12,7mm) guns wing mounted
Number built: 870
Curtiss TP-40E Warhawk Identical to the P-40E, but fitted for dual control in a trainers role
Number converted: 2
Curtiss P-40F Warhawk To adopt the P-40 family for high-altitude fighting, the Curtiss team incorporated the Rolls Royce Merlin 28 Vee, rated at 1,300 hp (969 kW). The installation received a single-stage two-step supercharger. This combination was intended to improve the climbing speed and performance at altitude. A visible change to the P-40 Warhawk was the fact that the carburetor air inlets which were situated on the nose could be (and were) moved to the radiator inlet.

The plan succeeded, and the model was fitted with 6 wing mounted guns. Since the engine was manufactured in the USA, it rceived the designation Packard V-1650-1.

Smaller changes, incorporated during production, created the sub versions:

P-40F-1 Version with a smal dorsal fin fillet
P-40F-5 Extension of the rear fuselage by 1 ft 8 inch (0,50 m) for improved directional stability
P-40F-10 Manual in stead of electrical cowl flap controls
P-40F-15 Winter version for use in Alaska
P-40F-20 Revised oxygen system


Number built: 1138
Curtiss P-40G Warhawk The number of Warhawks produced exceeded the number of Packard V1650-1's. In order to cure this problem the P-40F airframe was fitted with an Allison V-1710-73 (F4R), rated at 1,325 hp (987 kW). The P-40K was built in several blocks:

P-40K-1 Equal to the P-40F-1 concerning short fuselage and fin fillet
P-40K-5 Short fuselage with revised engine controls.
P-40K-10 Lengthened fuselage with P-40K-1's engine controls.
P-40K-15 Lengthened fuselage with revised engine controls.


Number built: 1.300
Curtiss P-40L Warhawk Lightweight version based on the P-40F, with 2 wingmounted guns removed, less rounds (201) per gun and less internal fuel. Five subvariants emerged:

P-40L-1 Short fuselage
P-40L-5 Lenghthened fuselage (also all other blocks)
P-40L-10 Electrically powered Aileron trim tabs and revised engine controls
P-40L-15 Revised carburetor filter
P-40L-20 Electrical and Radio changes


Number built: 700
Curtiss P-40M Warhawk Identical to the P-40L, this version had an Allison V-1710-83 powerplant, rated at 1,200 hp (895 kW). Three subvariants were produced:

P-40M-1 Reinforced ailerons
P-40M-5 Revised carburetor filter and further improved ailerons
P-40M-10 Revised landing gear and fuel system changes


Number built: 178
Curtiss P-40N Warhawk The last large scale production model. Even though it was obsolete, in the fighter-bomber role it could still function well enough to explain the large number of built aircraft. In the equation there was definitely the fact that it could be built quickly in large numbers when deciding to order them. The key to this version was weight reduction, and was achieved by a great number of small changes. All aircraft were fitted with Allison V-1710 engines. Several subvariants emerged during production (see table below). Survivors in 1948 received the designation ZF-40N Warhawk.

P-40N-1 Allison V-1710-81 (F20R) rated at 1,200 hp, 4 wingmounted 0.50 inch guns, and 1 centerline hardpoint for maximum 500 lb disposable
P-40N-5 Same as the P-40N-1, but with revised canopy, 6 wingmounted guns, and three hardpoint able to carry 500 lb (227 kg) each, lighter wheels
P-40N-6 Conversions of P-40N-5's, but with camera installations
TP-40N-6 Same as P-40N-6, but with rearward extended cockpit and dual controls
P-40N-10 Winter modifications for use in Alaska
P-40N-15 Modified electrical system
P-40N-16 Converted form P-40N-15's, camera in rear fuselage for reconnaissance
P-40N-20 Powered by an Allison V-1710-99 (F22R) which had a manifold presure modifier
P-40N-25 Revised instrumernt panel
P-40N-26 Conversions from P-40N-25's, for reconnaissance purposes with a rear fuselage camera mounted. Some were even further modified to dual control trainers, with the RP-40N-26 designation
RP-40N-26 Conversions from P-40N-26's, to dual control trainers
P-40N-30 Revised oil system.
P-40N-31 Converted from the P-40N-30 for training purposes with dual control
P-40N-35 Revisions to the carburetor, instrumentation and lighting
P-40N-40 Powered with an Allison V-1710-115 with automatic boost and propeller controls. It was natural metal finished, and metal covered ailerons


Number built: 5.520
Curtiss P-40R Warhawk P-40F's and P-40L's long fuselage aircraft relegated to training duties, and fitted with an Allison V-1710-81 engine
Number converted: 600 intended, but proof for 70 or so only
Curtiss Tomahawk Mk I Based upon the P-40, the French ordered some 230 aircraft. It had additional 4 wingmounted 0.295 inch (7,5mm) guns and other french equipment like the Baille-Lemaire gunsight. None of them were delivered before the capitulation of France, and Great Britain took over the full batch.
The aircraft were then fitted with 4 x× 0.303 inch (7,7mm) wing mounted guns in addition to the nose mounted ones, but were still deemed inadequate for combat operations because of their lack of performance and protection. Instead, the aircraft were used in co-operation and tactical reconnaissance roles and were not required to fight a possible German invasion. Later these aircraft were used as trainers
Number built: 140
Curtiss Tomahawk Mk IIA Based on the P-40B, but with the same armament of the Tomahawk Mk I
Number built: 110
Curtiss Tomahawk Mk IIB Equal to the Mk IIA, but with improved self sealing tanks, and with provisions for a drop tank. These aircraft were used mainly in the North African and Western Desert theatres. Some were diverted to the American Volunteer Group fighting in China against Japan, and another 196 were sent to Russia.
Number built: 1196
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk I Same as the Tomahawk Mk I, and Identical to the P-40D, but ordered by the British (whereas the Tomahawk was ordered by the French). The No. 122 Sqn first used the Kittyhawk as the Kitty-bomber, by enabling it to carry a single 250 lb (113 kg) bomb
Number built: 577
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk IA Lend-Lease aircraft, based on the P-40E-1.
Number built: 1500
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk II Rolls Royce Merlin powered version, in the form of a Packard V-1650. See P-40L
Number built: 100
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk IIA P-40F's for the RAF
Number built: 230
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk III P-40K's, P-40L's and P-40M's for the RAF
Number built: 899
Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk IV Lend-Lease verion of the P-40N for the RAF. The Dutch operated this version as well up to 1948 in the "politionele acties" (Police actions) against the Indonesian people which strived for independance. In 1948 Indonesia turned independant
Number built: 1328

Remarks:

The Curtiss P-40 always maintained a little distance to it's enemies, but was nevertheless used effectively. Even in 1944 a squadron changed from the Spitfire to the Kittyhawk to fullfil it's tactical co-operation with the Army better while fighting in Northern Italy.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

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© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 2/9/01