Pearl Harbor Veteran Aircraft

I was planning to post this article on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but as you can see I got a little sidetracked. I wondered if any aircraft surviving in museums or elsewhere were present at or around Pearl Harbor on the “date that will live in infamy” to use FDR’s words. I had the feeling that a P-40 in England was a Pearl veteran (I must have read about it in FlyPast when I used to subscribe), but I was unsure of any others.

My brief research indicates there are three (perhaps four) such aircraft extant.  While reading up for this article I noticed that a museum specialist from the NASM was quoted as saying there were about seven, so I’d be happy to hear about any others.  Here’s what I know.

Grumman J2F-4 Duck, BuNo 1649 – Mid-America Flight Museum, Mount Pleasant, Texas.

Grumman J2F-4 “Duck” Bu No 1649 – seen at Kenosha, WI in 2010, in the markings it would have worn on December 7th 1941. Photo by Glenn E. Chatfield – used with permission.

Most of the Grumman Ducks seen on the warbird preservation circuit are the later J2F-6 model, However BuNo 1649 is an earlier J2F-4. She was taken on charge by U.S. Navy in December, 1939 and served throughout the Second World war. Having been sold by the War Assets Administration in 1947, she acquired the civil registration N63850. In 1955 the aircraft crash landed and sank in the Bahamas, remaining underwater until salvaged in 1991. The restoration project went through two or three owners and consumed parts from another J2F before her first flight in 2005. She was restored in her original markings, and was grand champion at the EAA show at Oshkosh in 2007.  In the last few years, she has been sold to the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant, Texas. 

Ducks at Ford Island. “A view taken from a building at Ford Island Naval Air Station, looking over Hanger No. 37 toward the Navy Yard, during the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941. In the left distance are the mast tops of USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), in Navy Yard Drydock No. 1. The mast tops in center are those of USS Nevada (BB-36). The smoke is from Nevada and the burning destroyers USS Cassin (DD-372), USS Downes (DD-375) and USS Shaw (DD-373). The planes in the foreground include two Grumman J2F Duck and one Douglas RD-3 Dolphin. Two Douglas SBD Dauntless are inside Hangar No. 37.” (US Navy – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Coincidentally, the MAFM in Texas is also the home of a 1929 Ford 4-AT Trimotor N9612 / NC 9612 which is also alleged to have been in Hawaii at the time of the attack – having bullet holes to show for it – although no documentary evidence exists to demonstrate conclusively that it was there. Not only that, there are no photographs with suitable usage rights that I can track down on the web so this brief paragraph will have to serve.

Sikorsky JRS-1 BuNo 1063 at the National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly, Virginia

The Sikorsky JRS-1 was the military version of the civilian S-43, known colloquially as the Baby Clipper.  The US Navy received 17 of the 50-odd that were built. According to the NASM, ten of them were based at Pearl flying with VJ-1, a utility squadron doing everything from delivering parts and people to photographic duties, at the time of the attack.   BuNo 1063 is the only surviving JRS-1.

Sikorsky JRS-1 BuNo 1063 at the Uvar Hadzy center of the National Air and Space Museum – Photo by Aaron Headly, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a fairly utilitarian design and was doing a pretty mundane job. What may surprise the reader (as it surprised me) is that 1603 and four of its companions took off on December 7th and went looking for the Japanese fleet as this fascinating clip relates:

Wesley H. Ruth, CDR USN Ret., was an Ensign Duty Officer on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. He was ordered to make a reconnaissance flight in a JRS-1 unarmed, twin engine, amphibious plane (BuNo 1063!) after the two attacks and did so with a copilot, radioman, and three sailors armed with WWI Springfield rifles. For his valor he was awarded the Navy Cross. This is his story of that day.

The NASM site says that 1063 was taken off operations in the fall of 1942, and shipped to California for maintenance. It spent about a year assigned to the Commander Fleet Airship Wing 31 at NAS Moffett Field in California (now the NASA Ames Research Center) before being put into storage in the fall of 1944. For some obscure reason it was taken out of storage and flew for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Field in 1946.  Someone must have noticed the significant date in its logbook when it was returned to storage and talked to the Smithsonian Institute. 1063 was added to the Smithsonian’s collection in 1960 and moved to the Udvar-Hazy Center in March of 2011

Three U.S. Navy Sikorsky JRS-1 of utility squadron VJ-1 in flight, circa late 1930s. VJ-1 operated eight aircraft from San Diego, California (USA). USN – Official U.S. Navy photo UA 2015.05.01 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command – Public Domain via Wikimedia

Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, Serial Number 41-13297

Until I read a little more about Wes Ruth’s amazing mission in the JRS-1 I would have assumed that this was the aircraft which might have flown operationally against the Japanese attackers on December 7th. Sadly by a twist of fate, it was not the case.

P-40B Warhawk 41-13297 G-CDWH (as it was then) at the Duxford (UK) Autumn Airshow, 2013. At around this time, the aircraft was purchased for the Collings Foundation by an anonymous benefactor and has subsequently relocated to the USA. Photo by John5199, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Like so many P-40s, 41-13297 was built in Buffalo, New York and following acceptance by the USAAF was allocated to the Seventh Air Force’s 18th Pursuit Group, 19th Fighter Squadron, based at Wheeler Field, O’ahu, Hawaii. In October 1941, 41-13297 made a wheels-up landing at Wheeler and thus was under repair on the base on December 7th when the attack happened.

Photo is said to show P-40B Warhawk Serial Number 41-13297 on a dolly after its wheels-up landing in October 1941 (Public Domain)
41-13297, we assume, is inside one of the hangars. Several P-40s can be seen burning on the ramps. “Planes and hangars burning at Wheeler Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.” U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.488.029.041 also; Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 50473 (Public Domain)

In January 1942, 41-13297 crashed while on a training mission, killing the pilot, 1st Lt Kenneth W. Sprankle. The wreckage remained untouched until 1985. Full recovery of all components was completed in 1989.

The venerable P-40 had only flown a little over 50 hours at the time of its crash. Some assessment must have been made as to the condition of the wreck, and restoration commenced, using parts from two other machines.  Once the fuselage was restored, 41-13297 was purchased by the UK-based Fighter Collection in Duxford, England.  Additional restoration was completed and in July 2007 the P-40 arrived in the UK, with the civil registration G-CDWH where it took part in the airshow circuit.

However, an anonymous benefactor in the US may have recognized the machine’s significance and in 2013, purchased 13297 for a sum described coyly as  “several million dollars” on behalf of the Collings Foundation.  13297 is now on display at the American Heritage Museum in Massachusetts.

I couldn’t resist this picture! 41-13297 and friends at Duxford (UK) in 2011. “The development of the Curtiss Hawk monoplane fighter, all in one line! From far to near:- Radial engined Hawk 75 (G-CCVH), Allison engined P-40B Tomahawk (G-CDWH), Merlin engined P-40F Kittyhawk (VH-PIV), Allison engined P-40N Warhawk (F-AZKU). All parked together on the grass flightline. Flying Legends 2011.” Photo by
Alan Wilson , CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I would like to convey my special thanks to Glenn E. Chatfield for proving me with pictures of the J2F-4 BuNo 1649.

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