New 1/48 Airfix P-40 B Warhawk 2nd Lt. George Welch at Pearl Harbor
Well here it’s finally finished. This one is hot off the work bench, and I doubt the paint has completely dried…
My original intent was to have this P-40 completed by the Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. I thought it would be a fitting tribute to the men involved on both sides on the “Day of Infamy”, especially since it was exactly 75 years ago.
I received the new Airfix P-40B kit in the mail a few days before December 7th, and got busy on it right away. I decided to build this plane with the decals provided in the kit for 2nd Lt. George Welch due to the upcoming anniversary.
I followed the advice in another “Imodeler” article written by Tom Cleaver. If you deviate from the kit instructions just a little, as described by Tom, you will end up with a very nice model and you shouldn’t need any filler at all. My plane required just a very tiny amount on the bottom of the radiator opening, by the coolant flaps. I’m 100 percent positive this was my fault and not the kit, simply because I was rushing in an attempt to get the model completed by my self imposed deadline. Overall I would rate this model as excellent. The fit and details are spot on.
On December 7th, I had the opportunity to stop by and see my friends at American Aero Services. Currently in their restoration hangar is the worlds only surviving plane from the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s a P-40B just like this one by Airfix. I was able to look at it very close and took some excellent up close photos of this plane. (They became invaluable during the detailing of my model.)
The real plane that I was able to photograph, was involved in a ground loop around October 1941, which caused some damage. Because of the damage it was in a repair hangar during the attack. This is probably the only reason it survived through the attack.
However on January 24th, 1942, the “Pearl Harbor Survivor P-40” was lost in a crash. The pilot was on a training flight and the plane was in a spin. The pilot, Lieutenant Wayne Sprankle, was unable to recover from the spin and lost his life when the plane struck the side of a mountain in Hawaii. After his body was recovered, they left what was remaining of the plane where it was. Because it was a very remote area and not easily accessible, the plane remained on the mountain until 1985, when a recovery effort was made.
The airframe had a total of 56 hours… I have included a photo I took on December 7th of this “Survivor” plane after it had been painstakingly restored.
In addition to my pictures of the “Survivor” P-40, I used a book by Dana Bell called “Aircraft Pictorial #5, P-40 Warhawk”. It’s an excellent source of information and has a lot of original pictures along with developmental history of the early Hawks.
I included pictures showing a P-40 that had burned outside a hanger during the attack on Pearl Harbor, a close up of Kenneth Taylor and George Welch (Welch is on the right), a photo of the pilots who managed to get into the air that morning during the attack, and finally a picture showing Welch and Taylor receiving Distinguished Service Cross medals for their actions that day.
To show how this new kit stands as far as accuracy goes, I have included a picture of the “Survivor” plane that I took on the 75th Anniversary, and one of the new Airfix model from a very similar angle. They look to be very close. It’s good enough for me. The new Airfix kit looks like a P-40. These are the second to last two pictures. You can look at these pictures and draw your own conclusions.
One last note about the model:
If you look close at the canvas wheel well liners on the main landing gear, you will notice a slight circular impression that almost looks like an ejector pin sink mark. It is very shallow in nature, and isn’t very noticeable once covered with paint. It is supposed to be there and is not a flaw with the kit.
In the very last picture I have included a photo of the wheel well liner on the “Survivor” plane. If you look close you can see the circle in the center of the liner. You will also see black marks on the liner. These were made by the main wheel tire. When the landing gear is retracted after take off, the wheels are still spinning as they fold up into the well. The sidewall of the tire rubs against the liner as it is spinning, causing these marks. I didn’t take the time to include these marks on my kit, but I might add them at a later date.
2nd Lieutenant George Welch and Taylor (still wearing their Dress uniforms from the night before) were returning from an all night big band dance and poker party in Waikiki, when the attack on Pearl Harbor began. Realizing what was happening, Welch telephoned an auxiliary field, Haleiwa Fighter Strip, and told the crews to prepare two P-40s. Then he drove his Buick at a “High Speed” until he reached the airfield. The ground crews had only enough time to arm the wing mounted .030 caliber guns. The nose mounted .050 caliber machine guns were empty on his FIRST flight. Yes they went back up again…There were only a small handful of American pilots that managed to get airborne that day. Some American planes were shot down by “Friendly” fire (if there is such a thing) that day. In fact a flight of F4F’s were inbound from the carrier Enterprise and if memory serves me, 5 out of the 6 Wildcats were shot down. The skies over Pearl Harbor were not a safe place to be that day.
On the first mission, Welch claimed two Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers. Then he landed at Wheeler Field and had the nose guns loaded too. On his second flight that day, he claimed another “Val” which crashed into a town called Wahiawa, then a Zero, about 5 miles west of Barbers Point.
For these actions, General Hap Arnold recommended Taylor and Welch for the Congressional Medal of Honor. This was denied, but they were awarded the DSC, which is the second highest award following the CMH.
Lt. Welch returned stateside after Pearl Harbor for War Bond tours. He repeatedly requested a combat assignment, and finally went back to war with the 8th Fighter Group in New Guinea flying P-38’s. While flying P-38’s he shot down 9 more Japanese planes. Welch flew 3 combat tours, flying 348 combat missions, and had 16 confirmed victories.
Eventually he contracted malaria and his combat days were over. He returned stateside, resigned his commission and became a test pilot for North American. As a test pilot he flew with men like Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover.
Later Welch flew several “Unofficial” missions in Korea in North American F-86 Sabre jets. While “instructing” his pupils, he managed to down several Mig-15’s.
On May 25th, 1953, while flying a F-100 Super Sabre, Welch became the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight in a F-100. Sadly a year and 5 months later on October 12th, 1954, Welch was killed when the F-100 he was flying disintegrated in mid air during a 7 G pullout. He was found still strapped into the ejection seat, barely alive. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Army hospital.
George Welch is buried in Arlington cemetery.
26 additional images. Click to enlarge.