A. S. In
which types of P-40 were you trained? Which ones did you fight?
in both the P-40 Kittyhawk [E and above] and P-40 Tomahawk [B and C].
The Tomahawks arrived first. We were trained in them by the usual
method, a squadron at a time. I talked a while, I sat in the cockpit, I
taxied a couple of times, and then I took off. “You want to live—take a
seat.” It took all of three or four days. We were combat pilots, not
regiment flew with a mixture of aircraft for quite some time, one
squadron in P-40s, another in Hurricanes. The first 10 P-40s came to us
and the VVS higher ups gave the eleventh P-40 personally to Safonov [the
regiment commander]. Subsequently the regiment transitioned completely
to the P-40 after his death [which occurred on
30 May 1942].
A. S. Was
there a difference between these two variants of the P-40?
one primary difference. We began to fight in the Tomahawks, and while it
became clear that it had a forward center of gravity, it was not starkly
obvious. If during flight maneuvers the pilot sharply pulled the control
stick first toward himself and then pushed it abruptly away, the
Tomahawk began a “porpoise” movement. It seemed like it wanted to
somersault. Judging by everything, this somersaulting was as unwelcome a
surprise to the Americans as it was to us. An American test pilot
arrived from Moscow to help us deal with the phenomenon. He inspected
and then flew the airplane to confirm the tendency to porpoise. Later,
when the Kittyhawks arrived, we discovered that their tail assemblies
had been made 40 cm longer, the forward center of gravity was more
pronounced, and the porpoise tendency had abated. The Kittyhawk had a
different fuselage shape but the cockpit remained the same.
of the aircraft came to us in yellow camouflage, as if they had been
intended for shipment to North Africa.
A. S. Describe the cockpit, visibility, instruments, bullet-proof glass
and armored seat. Was there a palpable difference after the I-16 and the
Hurricane? Better or worse?
the P-40s were better than the I-16 and the Hurricane. After the first
flight, I said to myself, “Well, Kolya, finally they have given you a
cockpit was roomy and elevated. At first, it was discomforting,
waist-high in glass. The edge of the fuselage came almost to the level
of my waist. The bullet-proof glass and armored seat were well-built.
was good, especially in the Kittyhawk, which had a bubble-shaped canopy.
The canopy moved in an interesting way—by the rotation of a special
handle. It did have an emergency jettison capability.
control stick was almost like those in our fighters, with machine gun
switches, and close by (as the brake lever is now) was a switch that was
used to lower and raise the main gear and flaps. One simply placed the
selector on “UP” and pressed the button; to raise the gear, place the
selector on “DOWN” and press the button.
A. S. What
about the radio?
It had a
good radio set. Powerful, reliable, but on HF [high frequency]. When he
began flying in a Tomahawk, Safonov had a Hurricane radio installed
because half of his regiment was still flying Hurricanes, which had UHF
radios. So he flew with two radios.
American radios did not have hand microphones, rather throat
microphones. These were good throat mikes, small, light, and
A. S. With
two radios mounted in it, wasn’t Safonov’s P-40 too heavy?
foreign radio sets were light. The receiver and transmitter together
weighed perhaps 15—20 kilos.
Nikolay Gerasimovich, what kind of armaments did the P-40 have?
Our Tomahawks and Kittyhawks had machine gun armaments only, the same on
both models. Only large-caliber machine guns. Two synchronized [in the
nose] and two in the wings. Browning 12.7mm. Powerful, reliable, good
machine guns. In time, relatively soon after we received these aircraft,
we began to remove the wing-mounted weapons in order to lighten the
aircraft, leaving only the two synchronized guns.
A. S. Were
two machine guns enough?
than enough. I already told you how powerful they were.
began to employ many P-40s as mast-top and light bombers. Our regiment
had an air cover mission and our neighboring 78th Fighter Regiment was
assigned mast-top bombing and ground support missions. When we began to
be re-equipped with Cobras, we gave them our P-40s. The maintenance
personnel installed Soviet-made bomb hangers on their P-40s to fit our
bombs. To be more precise, the technicians replaced the American bomb
hangers because Soviet bombs could not be hung on them. I recall that
the fuselage bomb hanger was dual-purpose, to hang a bomb or an
auxiliary fuel tank. The bomb hangers were easily changed; it took all
of several hours. The American activation device was retained.
carried a good bomb load—450 kg. This worked out to an FAB-100 under
each wing and an FAB-250 under the fuselage. So now our comrades from
the 78th Regiment flew out with bombs and at the moment of bomb drop we
covered them to keep them from being attacked. After they dropped their
bombs they were capable of defending themselves.
was American. Collimator. It was a normal sight.
Soviet-made equipment was mounted on the P-40s except the bomb hangers.
A. S. Your
P-40s did not have standard-caliber machine guns?
A. S. So
your P-40s did not have wing-mounted machine guns?
had only the [nose-mounted] synchronized machine guns.
A. S. The
engine—powerful, reliable, good altitude capability?
The Tomahawks had the Allison engine, not very good, but in itself
powerful. As one pushed it to full RPMs, toward maximum output, it would
begin to “make metal” [tiny metal particles in the oil]. But apparently
it was our fault because, we were told, we had insufficient “oil
culture”. Later the Americans modified the engines and in the Kittyhawks
the engines were more powerful and reliable.
culture” also was improved as oil heaters, filtration devices, and
special filler devices appeared. Our oil heater was cleaner than the
equipment at the aid station. The regiment engineer was vigilant!
Everyone wore white smocks, they used rubber mats, [paving] stone ramps,
they constantly struggled with sand and dust and wouldn’t let them
close. They filtered the oil two and three times in the oil heater and
two more times during the oil filling process. Even the “pistol”
[dispenser] at the end of the oil filler hose had two covers, a thin
white one and a thick canvas cover over the top of it. In principle we
did need to improve our handling of oil, even while flying the
Hurricanes. Its engine also was sensitive to oil, and when the Allisons
arrived we had to raise our “oil culture” even higher.
horsepower, of course, it would have been nice to have more power in the
P-40 air frame. But the genuinely noticeable deficiency of
thrust-to-weight ratio became palpable only toward the end of 1943.
A. S. Was
there a special high-output regime?
no supercharger per se, but it had a special regime called “full
rich”—which delivered an enriched fuel mixture. This capability was
employed to achieve especially high output, and this system was not
abused. The mixture selector had three positions. MIN [minimum] was for
economical flight. AUTO RICH was for normal flight. FULL RICH was for
maximum power. The majority of flights were executed on AUTO. Over the
ocean or during routine patrols we normally placed the selector at a
position midway between AUTO and MIN. This was both economical and
enabled us to maintain sufficiently high speed.
Could these regimes be used at all altitudes?
altitudes. The engine smoked a bit on FULL RICH, but the power was
A. S. Was
this engine capable of higher altitudes than the Hurricane’s engine?
we could freely climb up to 8,000 meters. It was particularly good at
A. S. What
about the propeller?
had two types of propeller. With the electric propeller, the pitch was
regulated by an electric motor, and with the mechanical propeller,
conventionally with levers and rods. The electric propeller was
automatic, with combined control by the throttle and pitch. The throttle
quadrant had a rheostat and the movement of the lever automatically
regulated the pitch. The Tomahawk had the electric propeller, while the
latest Kittyhawks had mechanical propellers. Both types of propeller
I did not
fly with the mechanical propeller because by this time I had
transitioned to the Cobra. Regarding the linked control I can say the
following: sometimes this linked control was a hindrance.
A. S. Strange. German fighters had a system of linked control of
throttle and pitch. In fact, this system was considered a great
advantage of German fighters. The pilot was less distracted in combat.
say. Normally, pitch and throttle are coordinated in the following
manner: more RPMs—reduce pitch. This is how the linked system worked.
However, when we were trying to overtake the enemy in a dive or
conversely to break away, for maximum acceleration we needed to increase
RPMs sharply. Initially the propeller was loaded up and only later was
pitch reduced. If in a dive, with the increase of RPMs the propeller
pitch was reduced immediately, the propeller would begin to function as
a brake. German aircraft were good in the dive. In a fighter with a
linked throttle-pitch system in a dive we either fell back or he caught
up to us. Therefore we always preferred a separated or de-linked system.
A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, how would you evaluate the speed, rate of
climb, acceleration, and maneuverability of the P-40? Did it suit you?
again, the P-40 significantly outclassed the Hurricane, and it was far
and away above the I-16.
speaking, the P-40 could contend on an equal footing with all the types
of Messerschmitts, almost to the end of 1943. If you take into
consideration all the tactical and technical characteristics of the
P-40, then the Tomahawk was equal to the Bf-109F and the Kittyhawk was
and vertical and horizontal maneuver were good. It was fully competitive
with enemy aircraft.
acceleration, the P-40 was a bit heavy, but when one had adjusted to the
engine, it was normal.
later types Bf-109G and FW-190 appeared, the P-40 Kittyhawk became
somewhat dated, but not by much. An experienced pilot could fight an
equal fight with it.
somewhere around 50 combat sorties and participated in 10—12 aerial
engagements in the P-40. Then the regiment became the next in line to
replace its equipment—for the P-39 Airacobra.
Text © AndreySukhorukov
Translation © James F.