Many days on this journey so far have been filled the most wonderful and amazing encounters. My belief has always been that every person you meet has a reason for crossing your path, divine timing, I like to call it. And this journey has, time and time again, been a prime example of that.
For weeks, I had been thinking about and had begun researching where I can find an actual, rebuilt P-40, like the one my grandfather, and so many other brave fighter pilots flew. Well ask and you shall receive. Here, in my neck of the woods was a man, Chris Kirchner, who was in the final process of rebuilding a WW2, P-40 Warhawk. But this P-40 was particularly special because it was a WW2 wreck that had been recovered from the Aleutian Islands. Yes, just two hours North is a plane that my grandfather would have flown 70 years ago. Without hesitation, I immediately contacted Chris to see if he would allow me to come and see it.
Chris and his wife Gail, both pilots, were thrilled at my phone call and were happy to receive us at their Ocala Air Ranch, an aviation community where all houses come with their own hangers.
|Greeted with a 14th AAF Col. Chennault Flying Tiger.|
|Backside of the hanger. In view- his rebuilt T-6 (Harvard) WW2 trainer,|
which my grandfather also flew.
|The runway. Mini Harvard wind sock.|
Chris bought the wreck in 2004 and began the process of rebuilding the veteran P-40 back to it's rugged glory. Prior to seeing action in the Aleutians, the plane had seen action in China as well. Ultimately, the plane was flown by Capt. Ernest Hickox of the 11th AF, 343 Fighter Group. He was escorting a Navy amphibian to an earlier crash site when he went down near Unalaska Island on July 25th, 1945.
|Capt. Ernst Hickox, 11th AAF, 343 Fighter Group|
Chris and Gail have had the pleasure of connecting with the daughter of the fallen pilot, Kay Henning, who supplied them with the photo above. Kay found them while doing an internet search of her father, when the article about Chris's work, repairing Captain Hickox salvaged Warhawk, came up. That to me was the most spectacular part of the story, that the family of the lost pilot from 70 years ago could now go and see the plane that he flew! In a sense, it is a way that part of him can still live on in that plane. I am not sure if Chris is truly aware of this gift he has provided the family with but I do know that he is grateful to know them.
|Chris and Alexandra|
|Chris Kirchner standing next to his near completed P-40 Warhawk|
Chris is nearing completion of the P-40. I just saw updated pictures on his site. He now has the nose and prop on. It is looking good. Not sure how many of you know this but the cost to undertake such a project is immense. Once completed, this piece of history will be for sale, so ears open out there. It would be nice to find this P-40 with a story a permanent home.
|Papa in one of his planes- Kittyhawk (P-40) AK-905|
Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska June 1942
Boy, what I would do to see my grandfathers plane,"Snookums"a pet name for his wife Eileen. So the search for his plane- P-40K1 #42-45004, the one that he flew out of Adak to Kiska, begins now...but of course.