by Warner Jennings
It was 63 years ago when I flew
the P-40 in an advanced training at Waygross, Georgia. This
was my first introduction to a real fighter, although somewhat
obsolescent by that time. This was the last step in our training
before shipping out to a combat zone.
In the 80 hours time, we covered
acrobatics, aerial and ground gunnery, skip bombing, and formation
flying. I didn't really care much for the P-40, although it
was good to be in a real fighter, I did not feel the performance
I expected when I first took one off. It seemed like I was holding
it up in the air by myself. I must have gone five miles before
I passed a thousand feet, it just felt heavy and slow to respond.
With the Allison engine, it wasn't good over 20,000 feet.
However, to be fair, we weren't
such hot pilots either. It was surprising that after we piled
up 40 or 50 hours, how much better it flew. It was a good gunnery
platform and OK for bombing in the Okefenokee range. I had the
highest score in the squadron by boring into the target close
enough to make the guys towing it to complain about feeling
me pass by.
South Georgia was very hot in
June and July, we would taxi out pretty fast, like 50mph so
as to take off before the coolant overheated and popped. One
time, the guy in front of me slowed down quickly for some reason
and I hit the brakes hard to avoid chewing his tale off. The
photo below shows what happened to my prop. The Colonel gave
me a good chewing out and a $75.00 fine. Two days later, the
Colonel forgot to lower his wheels and bellied in. we all thought
that was very funny, although we didn't laugh in front of him.
One of the other students damaged five P-40's and claimed to
be an ace.
The P-40 did the job it was
supposed to quite well. When we got to England, we had about
15 hours of transition in the P-51 before going to our assigned
group for operations. It was a dream to fly, but you had to
keep on the ball or it would kill you. After four or five flights,
I was certain I was a very hot pilot (others might have thought
it cockiness) and I tried a double Immelman. I spun out at the
top, the P-51 is a vicious spinner and I couldn't stop the spin
on the first three attempts. At that point I was getting quite
low and if it didn't stop, I was leaving. This time I went through
the recovery very deliberately and it came out, I was so scared
that I flew a straight line for 10 minutes. I went up again,
did two more spins and came out OK. It was a beautiful machine
to fly, one hardly had to move the controls and it would do
what you wanted.
The plane I flew in combat was
a P-51K, not the P-51D. The main difference was an Aeroproducts
steel prop instead of the Hamilton Standard aluminum one. I
flew with the 369th Squadron of the 359th Fighter Group in the
8th Air Force, East Wrethan, UK.
After the war, I came back to
Ann Arbor to finish my engineering degree, while there, I was
in the Air National Guard. We had P-51's and I got in another
couple hundred hours. It was nice while it lasted, but I had
to get the job, get married, and raise seven kids.
© Warner Jennings 2007