Monthly Archives: July 2016

Airplanes In My Novels: the Curtiss P-40


Curtiss P-40E pursuits peel off after a target below. USAF photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Jack Davis flies the Curtiss P-40E in both Everything We Had and the second novel in the series, A Snowball’s Chance, under production as I write this post.

The Curtiss P-40 was America’s front-line pursuit airplane in 1941. It wasn’t as fast or glamorous as the RAF’s Supermarine Spitfire or the Luftwaffe’s Bf-109E. Development of those two airplanes kept them operationally viable through 1945, but the P-40’s performance remained more or less the same from the P-40B through the P-40N. Even changing the Allison V-1710 engine for the Rolls-Royce Merlin in the P-40F didn’t improve that performance. A nearly complete redesign of the P-40, the P-40Q, resulted in an airplane with a top speed of 400 mph, but by then the war was nearly over and the other pursuit types in USAAF service – the P-38, P-47 and P-51, not to mention the first generation of jet fighters like the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star – were superior in almost every way.

20th_Pursuit_Squadron_Curtiss_P-40B_Warhawks_Nichols_Field,_Luzon,_Philippines (1)

Curtiss P-40B pursuits of the 20th Pursuit Squadron at Nichols Field in the Philippines before the beginning of the war. USAF photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The P-40 had two major virtues for a pursuit airplane in 1941 and 1942: first, it was competitive with the Japanese Zero, and second, maybe more important, it was what we had in quantity to equip our own pursuit groups and send overseas to our Allies. In North Africa, the P-40 was used extensively and successfully as a fighter-bomber. In China, the record of the American Volunteer Group (better known as the Flying Tigers) was compiled using a handful of obsolescent P-40B models, the same airplane that equipped the 20th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippines.

The P-40E equipped most of the USAAF pursuit squadrons sent to the Southwest Pacific in 1941 and 1942. For fighting Zeros it was adequate, being as fast as the Zero in level flight and able to break off combat with the Zero by diving away. The Zero wasn’t known for being sturdy, and would come apart under punishment that the P-40, or any other American combat airplane, would simply shrug off.

At the time of Everything We Had, the P-38 was only beginning to become available, and was still overcoming problems associated with compressibility issues at high speeds. The P-38 was the first airplane to encounter Mach buffet, a phenomenon poorly understood in 1941 or for some years afterward. The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was in development but wouldn’t be available in any numbers until 1943. The P-51 Mustang was originally designed for the RAF as a substitute for the P-40, and was also still in development.

So the P-40 was the only pursuit, other than the Bell P-39 Airacobra, available in any numbers to equip the USAAF. As for the P-39, stay tuned. I’ll talk about that airplane sometime before Christmas, when Boxcar Red Leader, the third book in the series, comes out.


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Airplanes in My Novels: the Seversky P-35


Photo Credit: US Army Air Forces via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

The Seversky P-35, like the Boeing P-26, was an all-metal monoplane, and, like the P-26, was the first of its kind. It flew in 1937 as the Army Air Corps’ first all-metal monoplane with retractable landing gear and a fully-enclosed cockpit. It had an 800-hp engine and could reach speeds of nearly 300 mph.

The gear retracted straight back into a fairing, leaving a bit of the wheel sticking out below it. Note that the cockpit has a metal framework, not at all the smooth bubble canopy that became standard only six years after the P-35 first took to the air.

The picture above is worth some study. Note the insignia on the fuselage forward of the two dark bands. The insignia is the snowy owl, used by the 17th Pursuit Squadron. The two dark bands identify it as the squadron commander’s aircraft. So this airplane was flown by the legendary Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner.

Look further into the background of the picture and you will see a P-26 parked in front of the P-35. The 17th Pursuit flew the P-26 when they first arrived in the Philippines in late 1940. P-35s were sent to the Philippines in the late spring of 1941. They were flown by the 17th until enough P-40s arrived in the fall of 1941 for the squadron to re-equip.

The P-35 had a civilian version, the SEV-S1. One of those was flown in the Bendix race of 1938 by aviatrix Jacqueline Cochrane. For more information, follow this link:


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Airplanes in My Novels: the North American A-27

Two_North_American_A-27s_intercepted_from_order_from_Siam_on_Nichols_FieldThis airplane is a real footnote to history. The A-27 is a light attack version of the North American AT-6 trainer, with a slightly more powerful (785 hp) engine and equipped with four .30-cal. machine guns and bomb racks.

In October of 1940 ten of these airplanes were enroute to the Royal Siamese Air Force. The crates containing the airplanes were impounded in Manila to keep them out of the hands of the Japanese.

This is the airplane Jack Davis and Boyd Wagner fly in the opening chapters of Everything We Had. The picture attribution in Wikimedia Commons further states that these A-27s were assigned to the 17th Pursuit Squadron, commanded at the time by 1st Lieutenant Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner.

The picture itself is worth studying. The location is Nichols Field in the Philippines before December 7, 1941. In the background one can make out what appear to be two above-ground storage tanks, probably for aviation fuel, which do not appear to have any sort of protection from aerial attack. The hangar next to the fuel tanks is relatively small. A mechanic works on the A-27 in the background without any overhead protection from the sun.

This is just one of dozens of photographs I studied in preparation for writing Everything We Had and other stories in the series.



Photo attribution: USAF public domain photo, transferred from Wikimedia Commons



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Airplanes in My Novels – the Boeing P-26 “Peashooter”

Peashooter.arp.750pixThe US Army Air Corps adopted the Boeing P-26 in 1933 as its first all-metal monoplane pursuit aircraft. It was considered advanced in 1933, with a 600-hp radial engine and a top speed of around 230 mph. By 1938 the type was obsolete, given the introduction of all-metal monoplane pursuits with enclosed cockpits and retractable landing gear, such as the Hawker Hurricane, the Bf-109, and the Seversky P-35.

In the picture of the P-26 above, note the numerous bracing wires, the high antenna mast and the open cockpit, all reminiscent of early biplane aircraft. The P-26 is of roughly the same performance as the RAF’s last service biplane, the Gloster Gladiator. The biplane reached the apex of its development with pursuits like the Gladiator. The monoplane designs promised greater speed and range as more powerful engines became available.

Jack Davis flies the P-26 in an early scene in Everything We Had, encountering the already near-legendary Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner for a brief practice dogfight. When Wagner led the pilots of the 17th Pursuit Squadron to the Philippines in late 1940, they were initially equipped with the P-26. The 17th kept the P-26 until late spring of 1941 when they received the Seversky P-35A, a more advanced pursuit type than the P-26, but still, at best, an obsolescent aircraft.

A note on names: the word “pursuit” to describe an airplane type was used through World War II for airplanes we would today call “fighters.” The “P” designation, as in P-26 or P-35, still stood for “Pursuit” until 1948, when the newly-independent USAF changed the “P” to “F”, and still-serving P-47 and P-51 fighters became the “F-47” and “F-51,” at least officially.

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Airplanes In My Novels — the B-17D Flying Fortress

In my book, Everything We Had, I refer to aircraft no longer well known, even in the aviation world, and probably not among everyone in the “warbird” community. So here are some pictures and comments to supply the lack.


Most people at all interested in World War II aviation know two airplanes: the B-17G Flying Fortress and the P-51D Mustang. Great airplanes, but note the letters “G” and “D” in the designation. Those letters tell you that the airplane referred to is seventh or the fourth major modification, respectively, to a basic airframe.


In Everything We Had Captain Charles Davis and his crew fly a Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress, and between the “D” and the “G” lie a lot of changes. Compare these two pictures:

Boeing B-17D

Boeing B-17D in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The above picture is a Boeing B-17D, the airplane Charlie and his crew took across the Pacific to the Philippines. Now compare that picture with this one:



Photo Credit: By National Archives via the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama.Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Rcbutcher using CommonsHelper. Original uploader was Bwmoll3 at en.wikipedia 19 August 2006 (original upload date), Public Domain,


The most immediately obvious change is the tail. Look how it goes from what the crew in the day called the “shark fin” to a longer fillet extending halfway down the fuselage. This was to give the aircraft greater longitudinal stability at high altitude.


The second most obvious change, well, gun turrets! The B-17D had neither power turrets nor a tail gun position, features that became standard after the “D”.


There were other changes like increased fuel tankage, better crew armor, greater bomb load, etc.


The B-17G was a more effective weapon for these changes, many of which were originally embodied in the earlier B-17E and B-17F. Nonetheless, our Air Corps went to war in the B-17D, because that was what we had to send at the time.


First in a series of posts about the airplanes in use at the time of my novels.


–Tom Burkhalter


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