P-40 Memories
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