Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1/72 Curtiss P-36A Hawk by Tribute to Valor

Sixty-nine years ago today, the morning of the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese naval air forces launched a suprise attack against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the airfields on Oahu, thus forcing the United States into WWII. The US Air Army was responsible for the protection of the island and their arsenal included several Curtiss P-36 fighter planes. Although the "Hawk", was allready being replaced by the updated Curtiss P-40, it played a pivotal role on the day of the attack. Despite the loss of 150 US planes on the ground, among the few which managed to take-off and engage the Japanese fighters, were six P-36s. Their pilots were credited with taking down three of the superior A6M Zero fighters; a considerable feat, considering that until that morning the P-36 was untested in American combat.

On that Sunday morning, 2d Lt. Philip Rasmussen stationed at Wheeler Air Base, most probably awaken by the bomb blasts, scrambled immediately after recognizing the red insignia on the attacking Japanese planes. Still in his pajamas, he ran for the airfield together with three other pilots, managed to get into a group of P-36s loaded with fuel and ammunition and took off. At 9,000 feet, while flying towards Bellows Field, they spotted some 11 Japanese planes over Kaneoha Bay, most of them, "Val" dive bombers. 1st Lt Lewis Sanders and Rasmusses, each took down an enemy aircraft while 2d Lt. Gordon Sterling, Rasmussen's roommate, was shot down and killed in action, only after taking down an other Japanese figher. During the encounter, Rasmussen's P-36A suffered heavy damage by A6M Zeros, with his canopy, rudder and brakes damaged; and the tail wheel which had been shot off. After escaping through the clouds and on his way back to Wheeler, he was also fired upon accidentely by US anti-aircraft guns, but managed to land safely. With a total of 544 holes which were counted in the fuselage, his P-36 proved to be rugged enough in absorbing heavy hits in a dogfight.

Rasmussen was eventually awarded the Silver Star for his bravery shown on that day and went on to fight in other Pacific campaigns, in which he managed to shoot down a second Japanese aircraft. He survived the war and retired as an Air Force colonel in 1965.

The P-36 Hawk or Hawk 75, was eventually replaced in the US Air Force, by the faster P-40 Warhawk, which had better speed, range and firepower. Being exported to other countries during WWII, the Curtiss fighter saw action in various theatres of war and served distinguishably with both Axis and Allies.

Today's model has been a gap filler in my collection for about 4 years now. My work in progress kits never included this plane but it's also true that no diecast company has ever attempted this tooling in 1/72 scale; which is a shame, considering the many markings options. This one is made entirely of plastic, features extended/retracted landing gear and rotating propeller. Flaps & canopy are fixed and no stand is provided. Many flaws starting from the missing pitot tube on the left wing and the missing tail wheel doors. Rivets are way too big and there are some wide gaps in the canopy section and underneath the fuselage. Wheels are simply toyish-like and panel lines are not engraved. The manufacturer, "Tribute to Valor", simply don't specialize in aircraft models, but for those diecast companies out there...HobbyMaster, Skymax, Falcon Models...please give us diecast collectors a decent 1/72 P-36!

The one above is the only flyable Curtiss 75 Hawk in the world and part of The Fighter Collection's fleet at Duxford. It's a beautiful restored example which originally took part in the Battle of France, hence the French markings. It has been taking part in UK airshows since 2005 and despite I haven't seen it flying on that occasion, this example it's still a unique sight, considering that there are only 3 other examples in static display.

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