Some time in 1942, a lone Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk bearing the 260 Squadron “HS” squadron code and the aircraft letter “B” settled down over a wide and remote expanse of North African sand desert called Al Wadi al Jadid. Perhaps low on fuel, perhaps lost, or with mechanical problems, the RAF pilot chose to land in the vast North African Sahara. With his landing gear locked down, he flared low over the sand and settled onto it. The gear snapped off, the desert camouflaged P-40 collapsed onto its belly and slid for a hundred meters or more shedding its radiators and propeller hub.
After coming to a stop, the pilot exited the aircraft, closed the canopy and disappeared into the sands of history. The aircraft itself would remain undiscovered for seven decades, perhaps for much of it covered by the sands of time, or perhaps just so far out of the way that it was not seen or at least reported until March of 2012, when an oil exploration team came across the wreck in Egypt.
Was the pilot injured? Was his wing man circling overhead when he went down? Was he rescued? Or was he lost far into the desert with no witness to his demise. Did he languish near the downed aircraft awaiting rescue? Did the pilot survive the incident and the war? Has a mystery been solved or does the story have a record? There are many questions that will be answered in the weeks and months ahead when squadron diaries and records are scanned for the crash or missing aircraft report.
One thing we have been able to determine is that the aircraft wears the identical markings of the 260 Squadron Kittyhawk that Vintage Wings of Canada used as the model to paint and commemorate our own P-40 - a Kittyhawk long ago considered to be the personal aircraft of Canadian ace and hero James Francis “Stocky” Edwards. We know that Stocky's aircraft, Serial Number FR350 was a later model Kittyhawk and that this is not it, but it is most likely the predecessor of FR350... the aircraft which it replaced in the line-up. If this is HS-B Serial Number ET574, thenwe know that Stocky Edwards did indeed fly it as well. To say we, at Vintage Wings, are excited by this find is an understatement. In the past month the warbird world has been abuzz with the yet unsubstantiated claims that an entire squadron's worth of Spitfire Mk. XIVs may be found buried in Burma. To have this second and clearly substantiated sighting of a famous warbird that appears to bear the HS-B code has us truly excited about the story which will no doubt add to the depth of the one we already tell with the Stocky Edwards P-40 Kittyhawk
A photo taken in 2011 shows Stocky Edwards at his Vancouver Island home, holding a model of the successor HS-B to Kittyhawk ET57– Kittyhawk FR350. Stocky has confirmed that he flew both HS-B aircraft. Photo by aviation historian Pat Murphy
Since writing this small story, it seems that speculation as to the identity of this aircraft has settled around Kittyhawk ET574, lost while being ferried to a repair depot with the landing gear in a locked down position. Until this can be confirmed we will not speculate as to the identity and fate of the pilot until it is assured that his identity is positive and his family notified. Richard Allnutt and I have played with a couple of the photos to try to bring out the serial number on the back of the aircraft. On the right side, we were able to distinguish a letter “T”, a numeral “4” and part of the numeral “7”. On the left side, we can barely see the remains of a letter “E”. With these clues, we are quite certain that this will finally be identified as ET 574.
Since the discovery, the wreck has been seriously vandalized - a travesty the whole aviation world seems unable to stop. The perspex has been smashed out, bullet holes appear in the cowling and other forms of damage and theft seem to be underway.
Now that every news agency is mentioning Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping's name, we will now put it in this article. We have know since we first put this story out that is was most certainly Copping, a 24 year old son of a British dentist who went missing while ferrying this aircraft in 1942. Stocky Edwards mentions Copping in his book Kittyhawk Pilot
. There are now rumours that the RAF and the Brits will try to find Copping's remains. This will undoubtedly be a difficult task.
If you wish to see a video of the initial discovery (a rough treatment of a real treasure, click here
And a video of Egyptian soldiers removing still live ammunition, click here
Here we see the power of the sun as it beats relentlessly down on the P-40 in the Egyptian desert. Most of the front of the fuselage and wings has been scoured of paint by the sand perhaps indicating that the aircraft was pointed into the prevailing winds - logical as the pilot would have landing up wind. Photo: Jakub Perka
The fabric covering of the tail feathers have long ago been destroyed by the sun and wind and sand. Photo: Jakub Perka
A close up of the starboard wing with ammo compartments at back of wing open and ammo box in foreground. Photo: Jakub Perka
A closer look at the three machine guns in the starboard wing with muzzles filled with sand. Photo: Jakub Perka
The nose of the Kittyhawk was the most damaged with the propeller hub having been ripped from the shaft when the prop hit the ground. Looking in we can see the two banks of six cylinders of the Allison engine. Photo: Jakub Perka
A close in shot of the nose showing the V-12 block inside a sand and heat blasted skin with paint worn down to almost bare metal with a hint of the original US Army green undercoat from the Buffalo, New York factory. Photo: Jakub Perka
The exhaust stacks look in remarkable condition, but the underside of the engine is badly damaged with the radiators all sheared away. Photo: Jakub Perka
A close up of the V-12's two cylinder banks. Photo: Jakub Perka
The fabric has completely disappeared from the tail feathers. We can see the ammo compartment doors open on the left wing, probably the result of exploring by the discoverers. Photo: Jakub Perka
Here we see the radio bay and storage compartment door has been opened on the port side of the fuselage. Here we also see a upward puncture of the tail plane indicating it was either struck buy crash debris such as the landing gear or rocks, or perhaps this was the result of ground fire. Photo: Jakub Perka
Two of the discoverers inspect the ammo bays. We can see the sandblasting effects on the paint at the front of the aircraft. Photo: Jakub Perka
The sun and sand have crazed, hazed and blasted all the perspex panels - the glass in the front three panels has fared far better. Photo: Jakub Perka
A curious member of the oil exploration team inspect the Kittyhawk's flaps which were probably compressed upwards by the weight of the aircraft settling on them. Photo: Jakub Perka
One of the Kittyhawk's tires sits on the desert floor more than a hundred meters behind the final resting place for the P-40. Perhaps the landing gear were down when he attempted to land and were shorn off when they dug deep into the sand. Photo: Jakub Perka
Looking back past the amputated propeller hub, we see severely contorted blades. It seems the landing was made with power on. Photo: Jakub Perka
The prop hub bears some of its original red paint. Photo: Jakub Perka
Blades are bent forward and backward supporting a power-on landing theory. Photo: Jakub Perka
Inside the Kittyhawk looks pretty well intact with control cables still attached and cloth covered wiring not rotted. Photo: Jakub Perka
A side view of the fuselage seems to show squadron markings still. we can still see what appears to be oil spray up the side of the fuselage. Just above the roundel we see tow bullet sized holes blasting outwards from the inside... is this evidence of ground fire? Photo: Jakub Perka
Photographer and history enthusiast Richard Allnutt torqued the colour on the same photo to better see the aircraft's markings. We can just make out the “HS” to the left of the roundel (with the tops of the verticals of the “H” and the top curve of the “S” faint as well as the horizontal stroke of the “H”. To the right of the roundel, the aircraft letter “B” has left a ghosted image after being scoured away over the years. I would put money on the fact that this was a 260 Squadron aircraft and that it is the same amrkings (albeit a different Mark Kittyhawk) as the one we have marked in our collection. Photo: Jakub Perka
A photo of a “K” model Kittyhawk wearing the same HS-B code on the 260 flight line in 1942. Perhaps this is the replacement aircraft for the one (“D”- Model) that crashed in the desert. RAF photo
Another clear view of a later model Kittyhawk wearing HS-B on the 260 flight line for an RAF promotional photo. RAF Photo
The Vintage Wings of Canada P-40 Kittyhawk HS-B over friendlier terrain. For more informatuion on Stocky Edwards and to see video of HS-B flying, click here. Photo: Peter Handley
The cockpit area looks in good shape with the canopy slid back for perhaps the first time in 70 years. Photo: Jakub Perka
The seat is in the same condition as the day the pilot stepped over the side with his parachute and exited the wrecked P-40. The light accumulation of sand seems to indicate that the canopy was closed for all these years with minimum sand intrusion. Photo: Jakub Perka
The cockpit is in remarkable though dusty condition. Perhaps an experienced Kittyhawk pilot would be able to gain more information about the crash from the settings here. Photo: Jakub Perka
Over 70 years sand has sifted in through cracks and perhaps from below. Aluminum placards are corroded and the throttle seems to be fully forward. Photo: Jakub Perka
One man seems to be holding up the remains of a parachute near the front of the aircraft. probably where the pilot discarded it. Or was it set up to shelter from the sun? Photo: Jakub Perka