The plucky Curtiss P-40 first flew in 1938. The single-engine, all-metal aircraft remained in service throughout World War II, and by December 1944, when production ceased, some 13,737 had been built.
When the United States entered the war, P-40s equipped many of the Army Air Forces’ fighter units, especially in the China-Burma-India Theater, most famously with the American Volunteer Group, or the Flying Tigers. The unit, the first real opposition the Japanese military encountered, destroyed 115 Japanese aircraft, losing only 11 airplanes in air-to-air combat.
In 1945, when 22-year-old Donald Lopez began instructing newly arrived pilots destined for China, he discovered some resistance to the aircraft. “Some of the students who had trained on P-51s took a dim view of having to fly the old P-40s,” Lopez, the late deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, wrote in his memoir Into the Teeth of the Tiger. “They acted as though the P-40s were relics of World War I and never flew them enough to learn them as we did. They were not as fast as the newer fighters, but they were rugged, maneuverable, steady workhorses.”
The Curtiss P-40M pictured is part of the Fighter Collection based in Duxford, UK.