Pulled from a Russian lake in 1997, a Curtiss Kittyhawk has returned to the sky over New Zealand. Gavin Conroy reports on the lengthy restoration of this combat veteran
I remember seeing photos in the 1990s of a P-40 being flown out of a remote location in Russia and was amazed at the lengths the team went to in order to recover it. At the time, it was difficult to know what the future held for this aircraft, and I thought it would be nice to see it in the flesh one day – I never thought this would happen in New Zealand. Seeing the aircraft fly and photographing it several times in flight, just 30ft off our wing tip was a dream come true and the story of this fighter is quite remarkable.
Built in late 1941 as Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk, serial 41-13570, with construction number 814, it was accepted by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) on January 23, 1942, on the same day it was assigned to Defense Aid. It was then sent to the Soviet Union as part of the lend-lease programme. Once in Russia, it became tactical number White 51.