Sunday, November 22, 2020

Last plane from Pearl Harbor comes to American Heritage Museum: 79 years after its base was attacked, the final P-40B Tomahawk finds new home

HUDSON, Massachusetts — Eight battleships, over 300 airplanes and more than 2,400 American lives. That’s what was lost Dec. 7, 1941, the date of the attack on Pearl Harbor where Japanese fighter planes bombed American military forces and set the two nations to collide with each other in World War II.

But despite all the damage and death that took place 79 years ago, there are still plenty of pieces of that history preserved as a tribute to what’s gone.

One of those pieces is a true survivor: a Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk fighter plane that was stationed at the Wheeler Army Airfield on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii.

That American aircraft base was one of the additional targets of the Japanese due its extensive supply of hangars and fighter planes the enemy believed could assist those under attack. Though two pilots were able to get their P-40s off the ground when the Japanese attacked, most of the rest of the planes were destroyed.

Today, only one P-40 remains in pristine flying condition and it’s in Hudson. The American Heritage Museum is the current home of the final P-40, sitting with wings out and cockpit open in the attraction’s Pacific War Gallery displaying other vehicles from World War II.

Rob Collings, president of the museum, said the plane has been through decades of moving and restoration before coming to Hudson. After Pearl Harbor, the plane crashed during a routine training flight on Jan. 24, 1942, and the wreckage was later abandoned. Its remains were found in 1985 and then, in 1989, the Curtiss Wright Historical Association in Torrance, Calif., began restoring the plane. It was then moved to the The Fighter Collection, another historical plane collection at the Duxford Airfield in Cambridge, U.K., in 2003 where it stayed until 2013.

“With the anniversary of Pearl Harbor coming up, we thought it was important for it to be here,” Collings said Sunday.

Colin Rixon, a volunteer coordinator at the museum, said this is the first time the P-40 will be on display at American Heritage and it only arrived a week ago from a Worcester hangar. It was transported via low-loading tractor in the dead of night to avoid any traffic congestion. Rixon said the museum will honor the anniversary of Pearl Harbor with audio and video displays throughout the building with presentations on the attack and its longstanding impact on American history.

The P-40 is not the only WWII machinery on display at the museum, as vehicles from both sides of the war are featured in the collection. Visitors can see a wide variety of tanks, including an SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer, a German Panther A tank and the American M4 Sherman tank.

For the aviation enthusiasts, the museum features everything from a PBY Catalina used by the U.S. to destroy U-boats to the Fieseler Fi-156 Storch used by Germans for quick landings and take-offs. The museum also has military vehicles used in conflicts from World War I all the way to the War on Terror, which started in 2001, the upkeep of which requires constant attention.

“It’s about cleaning them, mainly,” Rixon said. “Occasionally, we’ll turn the engines over. Ninety percent of the vehicles here will and can run, it’s just a question of putting the batteries and fuel in and doing service on them. We do take them out occasionally and do exhibitions. People can pay extra money to drive them, but it’s well worth it. How often do you get to drive a tank?”

There’s so much world history embedded in the museum’s vehicles that stretch across multiple generations. Rixon himself has military history, being a former member of the British Army Cavalry. As he walks along the museum floor, seeing the likes of tanks used in Afghanistan and hearing the stories of soldiers in combat, he still feels a bond regardless of rank or location.

“Until you’ve lived it and been there, you don’t understand the camaraderie in the unit of military,” he said. “The bond is there for the rest of your life.”


  1. "Today, only one P-40 remains in pristine flying condition..." I think that the number flying is more than a dozen, probably closer to 20. Not to mention, at least another dozen in restoration for flight.

    1. Please re-read the story headline and third paragraph. This is the last flying survivor of *Pearl Harbor*. Also, just for clarification, there are 53 airworthy and flying P-40s around the world between US/Canada, UK/Europe, and Australia/New Zealand (30 alone in the US, 23 in other nations mostly between AUS/NZ/GB). However, none of those airworthy survivors were stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack other than this last one. I volunteered at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum back in the 1990s when they were restoring one of them along with the Enola Gay at the time.


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