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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed P-40C Tomahawk Twice Returned From the Brink
P-40C Tomahawk
P-40C Tomahawk is displayed in the Warbirds area.
Stewart Dawson flew the P-40C Tomahawk to AirVenture from San Antonio, Texas.

By Frederick A. Johnsen

The P-40C Tomahawk from Lewis Air Legends at AirVenture 2012 is a magnet for warbird fans because of its early birth in the long P-40 lineage. It is also a survivor with an amazing story.

Part of a batch of fighters shipped to England and then diverted to the Soviet Union, luck ran out for this Tomahawk over Siberia, where it crashed and slumbered in remote abandon for a half-century.

In the early 1990s, satellite imagery revealed the presence of two airframe shapes that turned out to be early Tomahawks. This is one; the other now resides in Paul Allen's collection in Everett, Washington.

Efforts to retrieve this P-40C went tragically wrong when an unexploded bomb detonated as the Tomahawk was being sling-loaded via helicopter from its Siberian crash site. Fatalities overshadowed the demolition of the P-40's airframe, recalled Steve Hinton, one of the skilled warbird pilots who takes Lewis Air Legends aircraft to air shows.

What remained of the P-40C was shipped to Avspecs in New Zealand for rebuilding. There's a lot of new metal in the Tomahawk parked on the ramp at AirVenture, but Hinton says "the soul of it is a combat airplane."

Differences between the P-40C and later models are significant. Though both are powered by Allison liquid-cooled engines, the early variant on this C-model has a much longer nose case that gives the Tomahawk the appearance of a receding chin. Hinton says the Tomahawk evolved quickly and simply from the radial-engined Curtiss P-36. Lineage from the P-36 remains in the Tomahawk's rounded fuselage cross section, a vestige of the need to fair into a round engine on the P-36. Later P-40s had reshaped fuselage contours to more closely map the narrow frontal area of the Allison inline engine, Hinton explains.

The early Allison engine generates less horsepower, but the lightweight Tomahawk "is actually pretty fast for the horsepower it has," Hinton says. He finds it less stable than later P-40s, where a shorter distance to the propeller and longer reach to the tail on some models made those versions less fidgety.

The world's supply of early Allisons, though tight, appears sufficient to keep a handful of Tomahawks flying, Hinton says. Owner Rod Lewis located one in a barn; word-of-mouth in the warbird community helps restorers and operators breathe life into these fighters, Hinton adds.

For the flight to AirVenture from Lewis Air Legends' San Antonio home, Stewart Dawson flew the Tomahawk, averaging 45 gallons per hour of fuel consumption. With gasoline stashed in the fuselage, wing, and a working drop tank, Dawson had about 200 gallons' capacity at his disposal for the trip to AirVenture.

The Tomahawk is in good company at AirVenture 2012. Lewis Air Legends also dispatched its famous P-38 Lightning Glacier Girl and a B-25J Mitchell bomber in Soviet wartime markings.

Dawson says Lewis Air Legends is not a museum-it's a collection of significant military aircraft amassed by owner Rod Lewis, who shows the machines at various public venues around the country.

Can we expect more treasures from Lewis Air Legends? "He's not through collecting," Dawson says.

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