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Curtiss P-40

Curtiss P-40 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review January 2014 Title Curtiss P-40
Author Carl Molesworth Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2013 ISBN 9781780969121
Format 64 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $18.95

Book Review

Carl Molesworth returns with part 2 of his handy history of legendary Curtiss P-40s.

Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks – eleventh in Osprey's growing "Air Vanguard" series – begins with attempts to boost Hawk 81 performance with an improved version of Allison's V-1710 engine.

The resulting installation noticeably altered nose contours, producing what author Molesworth dubs a "snub-nosed" appearance.  Curtiss called it "Hawk 87".  And production P-40Ds and combat-cleared P-40Es entered service in 1941.

Unfortunately, improvements proved modest – at best.  Curtiss spent the next few years fruitlessly tweaking the aging design.  Despite at least 30 Hawk 87 "sub-versions", modifications never yielded "substantial" performance benefits.  And from "the slowest P-40E to the fastest P-40N-1", Molesworth dryly declares, top speed rose just 24 mph.

Still, until more advanced P-38s, P-47s and P-51s entered service, rugged P-40 Warhawk and Kittyhawk variants remained the USAAF's most potent fighters.  Thousands saw export.  And Molesworth skillfully summarizes the warplane's twilight tale.

Contents begin with introductory notes on Curtiss "Hawk" fighter lineage – including "Tomahawk" variants.  Text next turns to Hawk 87 development, testing and worldwide use.  Coverage also includes XP-46, XP-60 and – surprisingly – XP-55 experimental attempts.   And data tables recap all types.

B&W photos, color plates, action paintings and a fold-out cut-away augment the informative account.  A compact "conclusion" recaps Curtiss' decline and demise as an aircraft manufacturer.  And a selected bibliography and index neatly wrap things up.  I just wish the author mentioned postwar P-40 service in, for instance, Brazil.

The "Curtiss P-40 line of aircraft," Molesworth notes, "stood out among American fighter types for having remained in front-line operations from the summer of 1941 before the US entered World War II, through to the end of the conflict four years later.  Only Grumman's versatile F4F Wildcat naval fighter could match that record."

And that's certainly an apposite epitaph for Curtiss' classic combatant.


My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!