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The Unknown History of the Curtiss P-40E Lope's Hope

Posted on Thu, November 2, 2017
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Last year, chief curator Peter Jakab forwarded me an intriguing email which began “Good Morning. My name is Karen Abel. I am the granddaughter of F/L Robert W. Lynch, of the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) 111F Squadron. I believe my grandfather actually flew the P-40 you have hanging in the Air and Space Museum.”

Visitors can see the Curtiss P-40E Lope’s Hope (formerly the AK875 flown by F/L Robert W. Lynch) above the entranceway overlook at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk (Kittyhawk IA)

I contacted Abel and what followed was a bounty of previously unknown information and photographs about the early operational history of our P-40. According to Peter Bowers, author of Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947 (Naval Institute Press, 1979), Curtiss had named the version of the P-40 earmarked for sales overseas, like the aircraft in our collection, the Kittyhawk IA. When the RCAF accepted this Kittyhawk IA in March 1941, they assigned to it the military with the serial number AK875.

Abel explained how her grandfather had “actually crashed on landing (ground looped)” during a fuel stop in Naknek, Alaska on July 13, 1942, “en route to Cold Bay [Alaska] and ultimately Umnak Island in the Aleutians.” The crash may have saved his life. While his P-40 was undergoing repairs the next day, five of the seven Kittyhawks in his squadron flew on and encountered heavy fog. Of the five, four fatally crashed into Unalaska Mountain and one pilot disappeared. These events are documented in the official crash report contained in Lynch’s service file, flight logbooks he saved, and the squadron’s daily diary that Abel examined at the Library and Archives Canada.

A photo of mechanics repairing damage to the belly of Kittyhawk IA 875, 1942.

Mechanics repair damage to the belly of Kittyhawk IA 875. This number is visible just overlapping the light-colored fuselage stripe at the tail. It is almost certain that Lynch was landing this airplane for a fuel stop when it ground looped on July 13, 1942. Photo courtesy of Major Fred Paradie.

Lynch’s squadron, RCAF 111F, was attached to the 343rd Fighter Group, U.S. Army Air Forces, and pilots and airplanes from both units participated in the first combined U.S.-Canadian joint mission of the Alaska War, Abel said. The squadron was commanded by Lt. Col. John ‘Jack’ Chennault, the son of General Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame. Lynch was chosen as one of four Canadian pilots to participate in the joint mission. 

A photo of the Kittyhawk IA 875

Did members of RCAF Squadron 111 rename AK875 following repairs after the crash of P/O (F/L) Lynch? Photo courtesy of Major Fred Paradie (PMR 80-204).

After the Japanese threat to the Aleutian Islands diminished, the 111 Squadron returned to Canada and eventually transferred to England without its P-40s. The RCAF declared the Kittyhawk IA, known as AK875, surplus on July 27, 1946, and eventually returned the airplane to the United States. Several people owned the P-40 after its return, and itwas eventually donated to the Smithsonian’s National Aeronautical Collection in 1964 by the Explorer Scouts youth group in Meridian, Mississippi.

A photo of a page from Flight Lieutenant Robert W. Lynch’s logbook, 1943.

Flight Lieutenant Robert W. Lynch’s logbook shows that he flew the AK875, now referred to as a P-40E, on April 24, 1943, during a “Search for Boat.” Photo courtesy of Karen Abel.

A U.S. Air Force Reserve crew airlifted the fighter to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on March 13, 1964. Air Force personnel at Andrews restored the airplane in 1975 and painted it to represent a fighter in the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, and 14th Air Force. Museum staff painted Lope’s Hope on the nose to honor its Deputy Director Col. Donald S. Lopez (USAF Ret.). Colonel Lopez had flown a P-40 as a member of the 23rd Fighter Group in China during World War II (WWII).

We are grateful to Karen Abel for sharing this important chapter in the history of the Museum’s P-40. Abel has created a website dedicated to her grandfather and all those who served in the Aleutians Campaign during WWII, for those who are interested in learning more about this chapter in history.