Home Articles Conversations with N.Golodnikov. Part Two. P-40 Kittyhawk and Tomahawk

Conversations with N.Golodnikov. Part Two. P-40 Kittyhawk and Tomahawk

by Andrey Suhorukov

Senior Lt. N. G. Golodnikov – August 1943.
Photo from Golodnikov’s personal file.

A. S. In which types of P-40 were you trained? Which ones did you fight?

N. G. I fought 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 green cadets.

Our 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?

N. G. There was 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.

A portion 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?

N. G. Of course, 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 modern fighter.”

The 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.

Visibility 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.

The 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?

N. G. 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.

The American radios did not have hand microphones, rather throat microphones. These were good throat mikes, small, light, and comfortable.

A. S. With two radios mounted in it, wasn’t Safonov’s P-40 too heavy?

N. G. No, these foreign radio sets were light. The receiver and transmitter together weighed perhaps 15—20 kilos.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, what kind of armaments did the P-40 have?

N. G. 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?

N. G. Yes, more than enough. I already told you how powerful they were.

Later they 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.

The P-40 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.

Our sight was American. Collimator. It was a normal sight.

No 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?

N. G. Not on ours.

A. S. So your P-40s did not have wing-mounted machine guns?

N. G. No. Ours had only the [nose-mounted] synchronized machine guns.

A. S. The engine—powerful, reliable, good altitude capability?

N. G. 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.

Our “oil 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.

In 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?

N. G. There was 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.

A. S. Could these regimes be used at all altitudes?

N. G. Yes, all altitudes. The engine smoked a bit on FULL RICH, but the power was there.

A. S. Was this engine capable of higher altitudes than the Hurricane’s engine?

N. G. Somewhat; we could freely climb up to 8,000 meters. It was particularly good at 4,000—5,000.

A. S. What about the propeller?

N. G. The P-40 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 were reliable.

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.

N. G. So they 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?

N. G. I say again, the P-40 significantly outclassed the Hurricane, and it was far and away above the I-16.

Personally 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 slightly better.

Its speed and vertical and horizontal maneuver were good. It was fully competitive with enemy aircraft.

As for acceleration, the P-40 was a bit heavy, but when one had adjusted to the engine, it was normal.

When the 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.

I flew 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. Gebhardt

< Part One. I-16 and Hurricane | Part Three. P-39 Airacobra and Yaks >

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