Tag Archives: Pursuit

7 December 1941

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George Schwartz Welch, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, very few American fighter pilots were able to get airborne to fight the Japanese attackers. Ken Taylor and George Schwartz were two of them.

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross

Second Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George S. Welch took two Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk fighters from a remote airfield at Haleiwa, on the northwestern side of the island of Oahu, and against overwhelming odds, each shot down four enemy airplanes: Welch shot down three Aichi D3A Type 99 “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighter. Taylor also shot down four Japanese airplanes.

Although both officers were nominated for the Medal of Honor by General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat and recuperating in Australia. When North American Aviation approached General Arnold to recommend a highly experienced fighter pilot as a test pilot for the P-51H Mustang, Arnold suggested Welch and authorized his resignation from the Air Corps.

Aichi D3A Type 99 dive bomber, “Val”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

George Welch tested the P-51H, XP-86 Sabre and YF-100A Super Sabre for North American Aviation. Reportedly, while demonstrating the F-86 Sabre’s capabilities to Air Force pilots during the Korean War, he shot down as many as six MiG 15s.

George Welch was killed while testing a F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21, A1-108, flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, takes of from IJN Akagi, an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

Ken Taylor scored two more victories at Guadalcanal before wounds received in an air raid sent him back to the United States. He remained in the Air Force until he retired in 1971 with the rank of Brigadier General. He died in 2006.

Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowlingabove the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds per gun, and four Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

A flight of six Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the Territory of Hawaii, August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight of six Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 9:00 a.m., 1 August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 November 1930

Boeing XP-9
Boeing XP-9 prototype A.C. 28-386, photographed 14 August 1930. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

18 November 1930: The prototype Boeing XP-9, Air Corps serial number A.C. 28-346, a single-seat, single-engine monoplane pursuit, made its first flight at Wright Field, Ohio.

This was Boeing’s first semi-monocoque aircraft, built of a sheet dural skin over metal formers. The Army Air Corps issued the contract 29 April 1928 and the aircraft was completed in September 1930, then shipped by railroad to the Army test base.

The XP-9 (Boeing Model 96) was a single-place, single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was 25 feet, 1.75 inches (7.665 meters) long. with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 7 feet, 10.25 inches (2.394 meters). The prototype’s empty weight was 2,669 pounds (1,211 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 3,623 pounds (1,643 kilograms).

The pursuit prototype was powered by a pressurized-liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liter) Curtiss Super Conqueror SV-1570-C dual-overhead camshaft (DOHC) 60° V-12 engine with 4 valves per cylinder. This engine was rated at 600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. It weighed 920 pounds (417 kilograms).

Boeing Model 96, XP-9.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 213 miles per hour (343 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 26,800 feet (8,169 meters). Armament was a combination of two machine guns, either one .30-caliber and one .50-caliber, or two .50 caliber, mounted one each side of the fuselage, firing forward.

The placement of the single high wing seriously restricted the pilot’s vision, making landings very dangerous. The airplane was highly unstable in flight. Increasing the size of the tail surfaces did little to improve this. After just 15 flight hours, the XP-9 was permanently grounded and was used as an instructional airframe.

The performance and handling of the XP-9 was considered to be so poor that an option to buy five pre-production models was canceled.

The XP-9’s sole redeeming quality was its method of construction, which has been almost universal since that time.

Boeing XP-9

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 November 1934

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.
Captain Frederick Cyrus Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, 2 February 1935.

17 November 1934: More than 50,000 spectators were present at Selfridge Field to see Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, win the Mitchell Trophy Race. Captain Nelson flew his Boeing P-26A over an 89-mile (143.2 kilometer) course at an average speed of 216.832 miles per hour (348.957 kilometers per hour).

Captain Fred C. Nelson, U.S. Army Air Corps, with the Mitchell Trophy and the race-winning Boeing P-26, at Selfridge Field, 17 November 1934. (Selfridge Military Air Museum)

The Boeing P-26A was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was the first all-metal U.S. Army pursuit, but retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and its wings were braced with wire.

The P-26A was 23 feet, 7.25 inches (7.195 meters) long with a wingspan of 27 feet, 11.6 inches (8.524 meters), and height of 10 feet, 0.38 inches (3.058 meters). Its empty weight was 2,197 pounds (997 kilograms) and gross weight was 2,955 pounds (1,340 kilograms).

A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing P-26 at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-26A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 (Wasp SE) single-row 9-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. This engine had a Normal Power rating of 570 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and Takeoff Power rating of 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard adjustable-pitch propeller. The R-1340-27 was 43.25 inches (1.099 meters) long, 51.50 inches (1.308 meters) in diameter, and weighed 715 pounds (324 kilograms).

The P-26A had a maximum speed of 234 miles per hour (377 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 27,400 feet (8,352 meters), and its maximum range was 635 miles (1,022 kilometers)

The pursuit (an early term for a fighter) was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .30-caliber M1919 Browning machine guns. Boeing built 136 production P-26s for the Air Corps and another 12 for export. Nine P-26s remained in service with the Air Corps at the beginning of World War II.

A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in a NACA wind tunnel, 1934. This "Peashooter", while assigned to teh 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)
A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel (Building 643), 1934. This “Peashooter”, while assigned to the 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)

Frederick Cyrus Nelson was born at St. Paul, Minnesota, 17 March 1894. He was the third of four children of Frederick Carl Nelson, a compositor, and Hulda Josephine Holm Nelson. Both of his parents had immigrated to the United States from Scandinavia. Fred Nelson enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army, 18 April 1917. He was trained as a pilot and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Officers Reserve Corps, 28 January 1918. On 9 September 1920, this commission was vacated and Nelson was appointed a First Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, retroactive to 1 July 1920.

Lieutenant Nelson married Miss Jewell I. Moody at Pierce City, Missouri, 23 October 1921. They would have two children. His son, James Richard Nelson, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force.

Lieutenant Nelson was promoted to Captain, 1 January 1931, and to Major, 16 June 1936.

On 2 July 1938, while landing a Curtiss YC-30, 33-321, at Maxwell Field, Alabama, Major Nelson, 91SS, was involved in a collision with another aircraft. The YC-30 was damaged beyond repair.

Major Nelson graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School in 1939. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Army of the United States, 16 November 1940, and was assigned as Commanding Officer of the Advanced Flying School, Moody Field, Georgia. Nelson was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Army of the United States, 15 October 1942. He was assigned as the first Commanding Officer of the newly-established 29th Flying Training Wing, 26 December 1942.

From 9 December 1943 to 14 August 1946, Colonel Nelson was assigned to the Inspector General’s Department.

Following World War II, Colonel Nelson served as the first Commanding Officer of the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Washington.

Colonel Frederick Cyrus Nelson served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal. He retired from the Air Force 3 September 1951 after 34 years of service, and died 11 April 1991 at the age of 97 years. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 1938

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype, 38-10, on its first flight, 14 October 1938. Test pilot Ed Elliot is in the cockpit. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives) 16_008532

14 October 1938: At Buffalo, New York, test pilot Everett Edward Elliot made the first flight in the new Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Model 75P, a prototype for a single-engine pursuit plane which had been designated XP-40 by the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Curtiss-Wright’s Chief Engineer, Donovan Reese Berlin, had taken the tenth production P-36A Hawk, Air Corps serial number 38-10, and had its air-cooled radial engine replaced with the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C13 (V-1710-19).

Donovan Reese Berlin. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

The V-1710-19 was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6.65:1. It had a Normal Power rating of 910 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,060 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for Takeoff. At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), the V-1710-19 had Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and Military Power rating of 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. The engine required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. It drove a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-19 was 8 feet, 1.75 inches (2.483 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.75 inches (1.035 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.735 meters) wide. It weighed 1,320 pounds (599 kilograms).

Curtiss-Wright XP-40 38-10 (SDASM 16_008531)

At 1,829.39-cubic-inches (29.978 liters), the original Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C1-G (R-1830-17) 14-cylinder radial engine had greater displacement and produced 80 horsepower more for takeoff than the Allison V-12. The long, narrow V-12, though, allowed for a much more streamlined engine cowling for higher speed and greater efficiency.

XP-40 16_008533
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype. (SDASM 16_008534)
The Curtiss XP-40 prototype at Langley Field in the original configuration. (NASA)
The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the original configuration at Langley Field. (NASA)
Everett Edward Elliot (1907–1981).

In the early testing, the XP-40 was much slower than expected, reaching only 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour). (The P-36A Hawk had a maximum speed of  313 miles per hour). Engineers experimented with different placement for the coolant radiator, oil coolers and the engine air intake. The Air Corps project officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, had the prototype sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia, where the full-size airplane was placed inside a wind tunnel.

Over a two-month period, NACA engineers made a number of improvements. The radiator was moved forward under the engine and the oil coolers utilized the same air scoop. The exhaust manifolds were improved as were the landing gear doors.

When they had finished, Lieutenant Kelsey flew the modified XP-40 back to Curtiss. Its speed had been increased to 354 miles per hour (570 kilometers per hour), a 12% improvement.

By December 1939 the airplane had been further improved and was capable of 366 miles per hour (589 kilometers per hour).

The Curtiss-Wright XP-40 prototype in a wind tunnel at Langley Field, 24 April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, April 1939. (NASA)
Curtiss-Wright XP-40 in the NACA Full Scale Wind Tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 April 1939. (NASA)

The Curtiss Hawk 75P, XP-40 38-10, was 31 feet, 1 inch (9.574 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.354 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.734 meters). It had an empty weight of 5,417 pounds (2,457.1 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 6,870 pounds (3,116.2 kilograms).

The prototype had a maximum speed of 342 miles per hour (550 kilometers per hour) at 12,200 feet (3,719 meters) with a gross weight of 6,260 pounds (2,839.5 kilograms). Its range was 460 miles (740 kilometers) flying at 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) with 100 gallons (378.5 liters) of fuel. With 159 gallons (601.9 liters) and with speed reduced to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour), the XP-40 had a maximum range of 1,180 miles (1,899 kilometers).

The prototype was armed with two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted above the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The Air Corps placed an initial order for 524 P-40s. This was the largest single order for airplanes by the U.S. military up to that time. The first production model was the P-40 Warhawk, armed with two .50-caliber machine guns. There was only one P-40A variant which was a P-40 modified as a camera aircraft. The definitive pursuit model was the P-40B Warhawk, which retained the two .50-caliber guns of the P-40 and added two Browning M2 .30-caliber machine guns to each of the wings.

A Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk, 79th Pursuit Squadron, 20th Pursuit Group, Hamilton Field, California, 1940. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-40B was best known as the airplane flown by the American Volunteer Group fighting for China against the Japanese. They were called the “Flying Tigers”. Between 1939 and 1945, Curtiss built 13,738 P-40s in many configurations. They flew in combat in every theater of operations during World War II.

A Curtiss-Wright Hawk 81-A3 (Tomahawk IIb) of the American Volunteer Group, Kunming, China, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 April 1939

Curtiss-Wright’s Chief Test Pilot, H. Lloyd Child, in the cockpit of a P-40 Warhawk, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

26 April 1939: The United States Army Air Corps placed an order for 524 Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawks. This was the largest production order for any U.S.-built fighter since World War I. The total cost was $12,872,398.¹

The order was authorized by the Air Corps Expansion Act, approved by Congress 3 April, and signed by President Roosevelt on 26 April 1939.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81 (P-40 Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit, designed by Chief Engineer Donovan Reese Berlin. It was developed from Berlin’s radial-engine P-36 Hawk. The P-40 was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear (including the tail wheel). Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The first production Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, 39-156. (U.S. Air Force)

The new fighter was 31 feet, 8-9/16 inches (9.666 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.366 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The P-40’s empty weight was 5,376 pounds (2,438.5 kilograms) and gross weight was 6,787 pounds (3,078.5 kilograms).

The P-40 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.597-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33). This was a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine designed by Harold Caminez, Allison’s chief engineer. The V-1710-33 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. It was rated at 930 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,800 feet (3,901 meters), and 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 100-octane gasoline. The engine turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

The cruising speed of the P-40 was 272 miles per hour (438 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 357 miles per hour (575 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The Warhawk had a service ceiling of 30,600 feet (9,327 meters) and the absolute ceiling was 31,600 feet (9,632 meters). The range was 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) at 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour).

Captain Charles W. Stark, Jr., 35th Pursuit Squadron, 8th Pursuit Group, climbing from the cockpit of a Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, 39-188, at Langley, Field, Virginia, 1941. Note the single .30-caliber machine gun visible on the left wing. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

The fighter (at the time, the Air Corps designated this type as a “pursuit”) was armed with two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns on the engine cowl, synchronized to fire through the propeller, with 380 rounds of ammunition per gun. Provisions were included for one Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine gun, with 500 rounds of ammunition, in each wing.

The first production P-40 Warhawk, 39-156, made its first flight 4 April 1940. The 8th Pursuit Group at Langley Field, Virginia, was the first Army Air Corps unit to be equipped with the P-40.

Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawks of the 8th Pursuit Group at Langley Field, Virginia, 1940. (Unattributed)

After 200 P-40s were produced for the Air Corps, production was interrupted to allow Curtiss-Wright to build 100 Hawk 85A-1 export variants for the French Armée de l’air, then engaged with the invading forces of Nazi Germany. When France surrendered 22 June 1940, none of these airplanes had been delivered. The order was then assumed by the British Royal Air Force as the Tomahawk I.

U.S. Warhawk production resumed as the improved P-40B, and the remainder of the P-40 order was cancelled.

¹ Equivalent to $229,542,638.49 in 2018

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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