Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vintage warplane soars

Today while taking a walk, I snapped a couple of phtos of this plane that flew overhead near the airport and wondered what the Navy was doing in Sonoma!

Thu 1/29 7 PM

Vintage warplane soars
One of only 25 still flying


Eight years and 10,000 hours after Chris Prevost took possession of some of the pieces that made up part, but by no means all, of a Curtiss P-40, one of the legendary fighter planes of World War II, he gave it a public unveiling at his Schellville Airport in front of a small crowd of airplane aficionados, including some World War II vets.

A THRONG OF AIRPLANE BUFFS, including several World War II vets, await the P-40's take off. Among them was Sonoma's Doc Ross, wearing a genuine flight jacket worn by a member of the legendary Flying Tigers who flew P-40s in China against the Japanese invasion. For more photos, see CLICK HERE David Bolling/Index-Tribune

It was the plane's second flight, the inaugural launch taking place Jan. 22, for 22 minutes of airtime. On Wednesday Prevost stayed aloft almost twice as long. When Prevost's P-40, meticulously restored and mechanically perfect, roared into the late-morning air, it was a moving reminder to several assembled veterans of the role the U.S. Army Air Corps played in defeating the Japanese and German armies. While the enthralled throng watched with craned necks, Prevost brought the plane roaring across the airfield on several passes, one of which looked to be about 100 feet above the ground. It flew flawlessly.

The P-40, was slower and less maneuverable than the Japanese Zeroes and Oscars, or the German Messerschmidts it fought during aerial combat, but it was more durable, well-armored and by war's end it had a highly favorable kill-to-loss record. The plane was flown by some 28 nations and Prevost's came to California in pieces via New Zealand and Australia. With an original blueprint for the plane, he rebuilt it in a cold hanger during eight winters, fabricating numerous parts himself in his own machine shop. Prevost, who has flown 50 or 60 different kinds of airplanes, called his newly restored P-40, "Very relaxing, not a high strung airplane, it's an absolute pleasure to fly."

The General Motors-built, Allison V-12 engine generated 1,150 horsepower and could push the plane to a claimed top speed of 360 mph, but Prevost said normal cruising speed for his plane is something over 200.

The plane saw combat in the Pacific Theater and is credited with shooting down three Japanese planes. By extraordinary chance, Prevost has been put in touch with the American pilot who originally flew it during the war. His name is Ray Melikan, he lives in the Central Valley and Prevost has promised to reunite him with his plane in the weeks ahead.

Nearly 14,000 P-40s were built during the war, and Prevost said only 25 are still flying.

What's he going to do with it?

"I'm going to wear it out," he said, "and hopefully share it with pilots who want the experience."

There were numerous iterations of the P-40, and Prevost's is one of a handful converted into a two-seater with dual controls.

That means pilots with Walter Mitty fantasies and some money to burn may have the opportunity to go aloft with Prevost and take the stick themselves.

Prevost said the value of the plane is "about $2.5 million. Somebody would probably pay that for it, but I wouldn't sell it."

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Over the years my opinions have changed but this will never change: Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for my sin.