A WW2 Curtis Kittyhawk has been restored and is ready for display at Wigram
A lovingly-restored Kittyhawk has been wheeled into its new home at the air force museum at Wigram, 16 years after work began on it.
The museum's latest addition is an ex-US Army air force plane that crashed in Vanuatu during World War II, and languished there until it was moved to Australia.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service. The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in front line service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter, after the P-51 and P-47; by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation's main production facilities at Buffalo, New York.
Warhawk was the name the United States Army Air Corps adopted for all models, making it the official name in the United States for all P-40s. The British Commonwealth and Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for models equivalent to the P-40B and P-40C, and the name Kittyhawk for models equivalent to the P-40D and all later variants.
Museum collections manager David Watmuff said they "got wind of the aircraft" and exchanged it for another plane in their collection in 1996.
Since then, the museum's staff and volunteers have spent a combined 22,319 hours refurbishing the aircraft and readying it for public display - ensuring it was "as authentic as possible".
"If somebody from 1942-43 was to walk in, the idea was they'd think it is no different from any other aircraft they'd find anywhere else."
It was believed to be the first significant aircraft restored at the Wigram museum since the 1980s, and was its first Kittyhawk.
Watmuff hoped it would be moved into the display hall for public viewing next week.
"Just to get to the stage it's at has been a fantastic achievement," Watmuff said.
The baton has been passed between many hands in the 13 years it has taken to reach the final leg of restoring the Air Force Museum’s P-40F Kittyhawk.
The long, arduous journey for this World War II workhorse began in 1941 when it was manufactured in Buffalo, New York. Assigned the serial number 41-14205, it was the 606th of the 699, Rolls Royce Merlin powered, short fuselage, P-40Fs built.
On 23 December 1942 this particular aircraft was part of a four aircraft gunnery training exercise, flying out of Efate airfield in the New Hebridies (now Vanuatu). The flight became disoriented (another term for being lost) during the exercise and all four aircraft force-landed on nearby Erromanga Island after they ran out of fuel. The 14205 was badly damaged and the pilot Second Lieutenant George ‘Ed’ Talbot was injured in the crash. Shortly after, the 14205 was stripped of usable parts and was abandoned.
It was recovered from the Vanuatu jungle in 1989 by Australian enthusiasts and later efforts to restore the Kittyhawk commenced in Australia. Some progress was made but the real work began in 1996, when the Air Force Museum acquired the 14205 in exchange for a F4U-5N Corsair. At that time it was decided to restore the 14205 as a P-40E, to represent the 299 aircraft of this type that the RNZAF operated during the war, in New Zealand and in the Pacific Theatre of operations.
The Air Force Museum began its restoration in 1997. Much of the original structure of the aircraft required replacing, as 48 years in the tropical climate and damage caused by the actual crash had taken its toll on the aluminium airframe. To date, a total of 12,500 man-hours have been spent by a succession of museum staff, volunteers, and others seconded from throughout the Air Force to restore the 14205 to its current state.
A huge milestone was reached in August 2009, when the fuselage was married to the completed wings.
Now—nearly 13 years later—the old girl is looking a lot more like her old self.
Fairfax News, RNZAF