P-40's at Sarasota Army
Air Field, Florida 1943-1944
by Brian J. Duddy
These photos are from a collection
that belong to my dad, Cpl. John Duddy, USAAF. As far as I know,
they were all taken at Sarasota AAF, FL, probably in late 1943
or early 1944. He was an aircraft mechanic/crew chief on P-40s.
The unit is likely the 98th Fighter Squadron of the 337th Fighter
Group, 3rd Air Force. It was a Training Command fighter training
unit, preparing replacement pilots to be sent overseas. The
P-40s were finished in standard olive drab and neutral gray
paint, with no markings other than national insignia, serial
numbers and the large white J squadron/aircraft
numbers on the nose. From the photos, they are either P-40 E
or K models. The tails are not clearly visible in
the photographs, which makes further identification impossible.
In early 1944, the unit converted over to P-51s.
My dad graduated from High School
in 1940. After graduation he got a job at Curtiss Wright in
Buffalo, building the P-40 aircraft. He was a sheet metal mechanic,
responsible for fabricating the cowlings and skin that went
around the engine. He was working at the plant on September
11, 1942, when a new P-40 on an acceptance test flight caught
fire and crashed through the roof of the factory, killing 14
people. Most of the workers did not know until the next day
that it was an aircraft that had crashed into the building.
Many assumed that there had been an explosion in the paint shop.
My dad was drafted into the
Army in January 1943. After basic training, he was sent to pilot
training at Ryan Field in Tucson. After a few months, he washed
out, he says, because he was caught sleeping in class
too many times. Due to his previous experience as an aircraft
mechanic, he was sent to AAF mechanics training in Lincoln
Nebraska. From there he went on to Sarasota. And in an ironic
twist, went to work on the same P-40s he ha been building in
In February 1944,
along with a bunch of other mechanics from his unit, he was
sent to the P-51 Service Course at North American Aviation in
Inglewood, CA, to prepare for the aircraft conversion in his
squadron. He remembered that most of the P-51s they received
were D models and that some of the student pilots
also came from Latin American nations. The P-51s were all natural
metal finish, but now with black J numbers on the
nose. He stayed at Sarasota until the end of the war and was
then transferred to Pinecastle AAF in Orlando. He remembered
the rumors floating around Pinecastle about the new rocket
plane being tested there. The rumors turned out to be
true, as the Bell X-1 research aircraft flew its first unpowered
glide flights at Pinecastle before the program was moved to
Muroc AAF, which later became Edwards AFB.
My dad had a strong affection
for both the P-40 and the P-51. His unit did have a two-seat
P-51 that was converted from a standard D model by removing
the fuselage fuel tank. He was able to get a few rides in that,
including one trip from Sarasota to Mississippi when the airplanes
had to be relocated out of the path of an approaching hurricane!
The other photos are of items
he had when he worked at Curtiss Wright a Fire Wardens
badge and a large medallion given to the workers in recognition
of meeting production quotas for the war effort. It is dated
August 1942. You can notice the fine relief images of both the
P-40 and the C-46 transport.
Fire Warden Badge from the Curtiss Wright Corporation, Airplane
Division, circa 1942
Bronze or copper
3 medallion, Curtiss Production Award, August 20, 1942.
Presented to John Duddy. Inscribed on the back: Presented
in appreciation of your participation in the earning of this
Production Award, Curtiss Wright Corp., Airplane Division, Buffalo,
The Texaco ad was something
I picked up at an antique market many years ago. Its a
great painting of the sharkmouth insignia of the Flying Tigers.
Ad from a contemporary
wartime magazine for Texaco Motor Oils, featuring sharkmouth
P-40 Flying Tiger. Date unknown, but likely 1942-43