Flying Tigers

100 Hawks cover detail

100 Hawks for China

In the winter of 1940-1941, Claire Chennault was in Washington trying to line up American planes and pilots for the Chinese Air Force. Though he would have preferred fighters with air-cooled radial engines, what he got was 100 Curtiss Tomahawks--what the U.S. Army knew as the P-40B-- off an assembly line turning out planes for Royal Air Force squadrons in North Africa. Here's the story of the wheeling and dealing that went into the creation of the American Volunteer Group that would become famous as the "Flying Tigers" of Burma and China, as Daniel Ford wrote it for Air & Space / Smithsonian magazine.

Curtiss assembly lineAt left: Curtiss assembly line in Buffalo, New York, as imagined by Paul Salmon for Air & Space magazine. The first P-40 had no pilot or fuel tank protection and only two wing guns, so the British asked for a more robust model that became the U.S. Army's P-40B. This was essentially the aircraft diverted from Curtiss's assembly line in the early months of 1941 and sent to Asia for the American Volunteer Group. The planes were offloaded at Rangoon with a medley of machine guns and missing such essentials as optical gunsights and military radios.

The RAF pilot's manual

At least one of the China-bound Hawks was accompanied by a mimeographed, spiral-bound Pilot's Manual that eventually made its way into the collection of Larry Pistole, the nephew of an AVG ground crewman. Dan came across it in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, copied it, and sent it to Flying Tiger veteran Erik Shilling for his comments. The RAF manual--annotated by Erik and Dan--makes up the second part of this valuable little book, supplemented by a memo by Tye Lett of General Motors, which manufactured the big Allison V-12 engine that powered the Tomahawks. Erik's comments on the differences between the manual and the airplanes actually flown by the AVG go far to prove that Curtiss used the 100-plane China order to use up its stockpile of parts intended for an earlier version of the Tomahawk.

Finally, there's an appendix of the 100 Tomahawks with their Curtiss serials, RAF block numbers, AVG tail numbers, and their fuselage numbers, pilots, and ultimate fate if known. Good reading for history buffs and an essential resource for flight simmers.

Order the book

As a stand-alone ebook, 100 Hawks for China: The Story of the Shark-Nosed P-40 That Made the Flying Tigers Famous is available at Amazon USA - other Amazon stores - Barnes and Noble - Apple iBooks Store - Kobo - and other online bookstores and subscription services.

The full text is also included in the "boxed set" Tales of the Flying Tigers: Five Books About the American Volunteer Group both as an ebook and as a paperback.

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Tales of the Flying Tigers

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Posted July 2021. Websites ©1997-2021 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.