By Dave Hadfield
Some time well before May of 1943, a young James Francis "Stocky" Edwards shut down P-40 HS-B, serial number FR350, and walked away from it for the last time. In May of 43, he finished a year-long and stunningly successful tour with 260 Squadron of the RAF - with 13 confirmed kills, a DFM and a DFC. He was only 22 years old. HS-B would come to represent the quintessential “Stocky” Kittyhawk of all the ones he flew. He knew then he would never see it again. What happened yesterday would change all that.
After years of constant and highly skilled effort, Vintage Wings of Canada's “new” fighter, a Curtiss P-40N-1 Kittyhawk, took to the New Zealand skies on April 23, 2009. The Test Pilot was Frank Parker, P-40 owner, Airline Captain, leader of a Harvard display team, and all-round NZ warbird guru.
The first flight was near-perfect, the aircraft touching down after 35 minutes with only a minor aileron trim adjustment required. After wiping the grin off his face, and downing a cup of tea, Frank was airborne again.
It’s the culmination of 4 years of detailed restoration. This airframe, 42-104827, known as “Come in Suckers” during WWII, was hauled out of the New Guinea jungle by recovery expert Rob Greinert in the late ‘90s. It suffered a landing accident in 1944 while flying with RAAF 78 Squadron. (They were moving to a recently-captured airfield, Tadji, and the shell-holes on the runway were not completely filled-in causing the Kittyhawk to nose over onto its back). Vintage Wings of Canada took over the project in 2006. It has been almost exactly 65 years since the aircraft’s last flight.
The aircraft has been restored by Pioneer Aero, of Ardmore, New Zealand. Their uniquely skilled team specializes in P-40s. Every effort has been made to preserve the aircraft as it was in 1944. It has the correct engine for the model, an Allison V-1710-81. A close inspection of the airframe reveals very little change from the original, very few “upgrades”. However the paint and markings are designed to honour James F. “Stocky” Edwards, the highest scoring surviving Canadian fighter pilot, during the time he flew with 260 Squadron, RAF, in the North African desert. As you can see in the photos, final markings have yet to be applied.
Even the sparse instrument panel reflects the original “lightened” N-models. Modern radios have been covered with a false-front oxygen panel for static display authenticity.
Though the aircraft has been re-built as a 2-seater, with a basic set of flight controls in the rear cockpit, the original scalloped panels have been preserved, and can be inserted to restore an original appearance when the pilot is solo, or for ground display.
After the Flight Test hours are flown off, the Kittyhawk will be shipped to Gatineau. Expect to see it (flying, we hope!) at the first Vintage Wings of Canada Open House, June 06, 2009.
A few months ago, the work was really coming together. Here we saw her for the first time with her camouflage paint. The brass 3-cylinder cooler array can be clearly seen. Photo: Pioneer Aero
A close up of the cooler array housing shows us the excellence of the workmanship and quality of the finish. Photo: Pioneer Aero
Stocky's office. The instrument panel shows an early mock-up of the cover for the radio panel (false oxygen panel - shown in black cardboard at very centre of panel. Photo: Pioneer Aero
Pilot Frank Parker turns over the Allison prior to her first flight while Pioneer Aero staff stand by with fire extinguishers. Photo: Pioneer Aero
Parker taxies the Kittyhawk out to the Ardmore runway. Photo: Pioneer Aero
Just a milli-second before leaving the earth behind for the first time in 65 years. Photo: Pioneer Aero
A view of the same moment taken from the other side. With the Allison roaring, Parker lifts off the runway into history. Photo: Colin Hunter
First take-off in 65 years. Frank Parker climbs out into the New Zealand sky. Photo: Pioneer Aero
Frank Parker takes her down the runway line with gear down. Photo: Colin Hunter
Her first landing. The flight was a total success in every respect with all temperatures and pressures in the green. Parker noted that it's the sweetest Allison he ever sat behind. The prop governed well and all systems worked the way they should. Bravo Pioneer! Photo: Colin Hunter
After a touch and go, Parker starts collecting the gear while the sun glints from the engine cowling. Photo: Colin Hunter
Approaching to land, we see the impressive and iconic nose of this beautiful aircraft. Photo: Colin Hunter
A perfect side view as Parker accelerates after a low pass with gear down. Photo: Colin Hunter
Touchdown to full stop. Photo: Colin Hunter