Wednesday, October 24, 2012

P-40 In My Backyard

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.

My daughter Alexandra, in the cockpit of the Curtiss P-40

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. 


  1. Kare; I wonder, does your grandfather's logbook specifically note P-40K-1-CU, sn 42-45004? Could it be sn 42-46004?

    Dave Neal

  2. Thanks so much for this post! You've not only helped me to learn so much more about Ernest, who I am also related to (his mother was my great-great aunt Margaret), but also I've learned more about his daughter Kay. I had no prior history of her and just was able to learn more about my family tree, which I'm currently busy researching.
    Thank you!
    Amy Burns

    1. Amy, I am so thrilled to hear about the familiar discovery. This just inspires me to keep writing. I look forward to hearing more about Capt. Hickox as well.

  3. Kare,
    My name is Kaye D. Hickox. I am the daughter of Capt. Ernest Hickox. Your blog helped connect me with my lost cousin Amy Burns and with my grandmother's family. I am very grateful to you for that. I am thrilled that you actually went to see my father's plane. I have written a book about the plane and about his history. The book is called "Warhawk, In the Shelter of his Wings". It is currently at a publisher and I hope it will be in print this year. It will also be available as an e-abook. If you are interested in previewing the book, please let me know. Again, thank you for caring about my father's airplane. My husband and I are hoping we can get to Florida to meet Chris and Gail and see the plane fly.

    When did your father fly in the Aleutians? Perhaps they knew each other.

    Kind Regards,
    Kaye D. Hickox

    1. Kaye! Great to hear from you. I believe I have tried to call you on several occasions. I would absolutely LOVE to preview the book. Please email me, so we discuss this further. It was an honor to go and see the plane and I would love to share your fathers story on my site. My grandfather flew mostly out of Umnak, Kodiak and on a few occasions- Adak. He was there from June 1942- June 1943. Please email me so we can connect!