P-40 Warhawk, U.S. Fighter

Photograph of P-40 Warhawk in flight

National Museum of the USAF

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk


Crew 1
Dimensions 37'4" by 31'9" by 12'4"
11.38m by 9.68m by 3.76m
Wing area 236 square feet
21.9 square meters
Weight 6350-9200 lbs
2880-4200 kg
Maximum speed      355 mph at 5,000 feet
571 km/h at 1520 meters
Cruising speed
195 mph
314 km/h
Landing speed
96 mph
155 km/h
Climb rate 30 feet per second
9.1 meters per second
Service ceiling 29,000 feet
8800 meters
Power plant 1 1150 hp (857 kW) Allison V-1710-39 vee-12 engine driving a three-bladed propeller
Armament 6 0.50 fixed wing machine guns with 281 rounds per gun
External stores  1 500 lb (227 kg) or 2 100 lb (45 kg) or 6 20 lb (9 kg) bombs or one 52 gallon (197 liter) drop tank
Range 670 miles (1080 km) normal
900 miles (1450 km) with drop tank
Fuel 157 gallons internal
594 liters internal
Production 13,738 from 1940-3 at Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division, Buffalo, NY.
  199 P-40
  131 P-40B
  193 P-40C
  140 Tomahawk 1
  110 Tomahawk IIA
  930 Tomahawk IIB
  22 P-40D
  820 P-40E
  560 Kittyhawk I
  1500 Kittyhawk IA
  1311 P-40F/Kittyhawk II
  700 P-40L/Kittyhawk II
  1300 P-40K
  600 P-40M
  5216 P-40N
Variants The P-40 was produced in great variety throughout the war.

The P-40B used a a 1040 hp (775 kW) V-1710-33 engine and was armed with two 0.50 machine guns in the cowling and two 0.30 machine guns in the wings. 

The C used a 1040 hp (775 kW) V-1710-33 engine and added two more 0.30s in the wings. Neither the B or C had any provisions for bombs, but the C could accommodate a 52 gallon (197 liter) drop tank.

The F used a 1300 hp (969 kW) Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine with a two-speed supercharger. This improved the performance somewhat at high altitude. Most of these aircraft were deployed to the Mediterranean.

The K used a 1325 hp (988 kW) V-1710-73 engine that significantly improved performance.

The L was essentially an F with just four 0.50 machine guns and other weight saving measures, including a reduction in fuel capacity to 120 gallons (450 liters). This failed to improve performance significantly, and production was halted so that the Merlin engines could be diverted to production of the P-51 Mustang.

The N used 1200 hp (895 kW) V-1710-81, -99, or -115 engines and could carry three 500 lb (227 kg) bombs. It had a maximum speed of 378 mph (608 km/h) at 15,000 feet (4570 feet), but sacrificed fuel capacity and was armed with just 4 0.50 machine guns. The N-5 later reverted to six machine guns.

The –B and –C were known as the Tomahawk and the later models, which used a new series of Allison engines permitting a shorter nose, as the Warhawk.

Although generally regarded as outclassed by the Zero, the P-40 was the best fighter the U.S. Army Air Force had available in any quantity at the start of the Pacific War.  It reflected an American design philosophy that called for heavily armed, rugged, fast fighter aircraft with self-sealing fuel tanks and armor for the pilot.  The most serious defect of the earlier models was the lack of any kind of supercharger, which severely limited the high altitude performance.  At the time, turbochargers were in short supply and all were reserved for bomber construction.  The P-40 was much tougher than the Zero, and slightly faster at sea level, but it was also much less maneuverable at low speeds and had a poor climb rate.

The P-40 had its roots in the P-36 Hawk, which was an excellent aircraft in its day, but distinctly obsolescent by 1939. Curtiss designer Donovan Berlin redesigned the aircraft around the Allison V-1710 inline engine, which was just coming into production in 1938, and the first prototype XP-37 achieved a speed of 340 mph (550 km/h). However, the engine proved mechanically unreliable and the cockpit had dismal visibility, and the design was abandoned.  Berlin tried again with the XP-40, doing away with the super-turbocharging system of the XP-37 based on the Air Corps' belief that maximum performance was needed at just 15,000 feet (4600 m). The new aircraft was built around an improved V-1710 with ordinary supercharging, greatly simplifying the design. The prototype flew on 14 October 1938. In spite of a disappointing top speed of 340 mph (550 km/h), the Air Corps liked its handling and dive rate. More important, the aircraft would relatively cheap to manufacture using existing P-36 jigs and could be available relatively quickly in considerable numbers. In 1939, the Air Corps was desperate to get new fighters quickly and in large numbers, and more promising designs such as the P-38 were at least two years away from production.

The first production aircraft were delivered in early 1940 and proved able to reach 357 mph (575 km/h) at 15,000 feet (4600 m). However, this model lacked armor or self-sealing fuel tanks and was relatively lightly armed, with two cowling 0.50 machine guns and two wing 0.30 machine guns. Pilot armor and self-sealing tanks were added in the P-40B, at significant cost in speed and climb rate. By the time war broke out in the Pacific, Curtiss was producing the P-40E, which used an improved Allison engine, gave better cockpit visibility, improved the armament, and incorporated a number of other refinements. Although it never became an official capability, some U.S. air units in China were improvising bomb racks for 1000lb (454 kg) bombs for the P-40 by 1943.

Because of its poor high-altitude performance, the P-40 almost always had to surrender the initiative to higher-flying opponents. Here its ruggedness and protection were critical to allowing it to survive the enemy's first pass. Pilots who understood its strengths and weaknesses, such as Australian Clive Caldwell (20.5 kills), were able to make good use of the aircraft; but the consensus of aviation historians is that the P-40, though it was continually improved, never became a great aircraft.

Those exported to the British were known as Tomahawks or Kittyhawks.

About 63% of P-40 squadrons were deployed to the Pacific, and the P-40 continued in service in China until the surrender.

Photo Gallery

Photograph of P-40 of 20 Pursuit Group

U.S. Air Force

Photograph of P-40s of 24 Fighter Squadron

U.S. Air Force

Photograph of P-40s

U.S. Air Force

Photograph of P-40 in Canadian service


Photograph of Tuskegee ground crew repairing a P-40 engine



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