Warbird Stories: The P-40 Warhawk of Maj. Gen. Charles Bond Jr.

May 22, 2019

The P-40 Warhawk anchored the Army Air Force’s fighter arsenal during the early years of World War II, but it was the volunteers of the Flying Tigers that made the plane a legend.

Instantly recognizable thanks to the shark-tooth design on the nose of their planes, the American Volunteer Group, as the Flying Tigers were officially known, proved to be an extremely effective fighting force in Asia. And the P-40 that will help kickoff the 2019 Indianapolis 500 this weekend brings that legacy into the present.

Owned by the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas, the Warhawk’s design is based on the plane flown by Maj. Gen. Charles R. Bond Jr. Bond entered the Army Air Corps in 1939, but left in 1941 to volunteer with the Flying Tigers. While serving with the AVG, Bond destroyed more than nine enemy aircraft and survived being shot down twice, according to the National Museum of the Air Force.

He was also the first Flying Tiger to paint his plane with the group’s iconic shark-tooth design.  

Bond, who rejoined the military after the AVG was disbanded in 1942 and went on to have a long and decorated Air Force career, became a regular at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum later in his life.

“When we first started the museum, we would seek out different aces or popular people from WWII, Vietnam, Korean, and he just stuck and starting coming around all the time,” said Doug Jeanes, Cavanaugh’s executive director and one of its pilots. “He became such a good friend to the museum.”

The Cavanaugh Flight Museum’s P-40N features a green and tan camouflage color scheme with the Flying Tiger’s fearsome shark teeth painted on the nose. The nine and a half Japanese flags mark Bond’s aerial victories.

The rear of the plane features a woman chasing a man across a green apple, which is encircled by a snake with the words “the first pursuit.” The apple is green because the pilots didn’t want anyone seeing a red dot and mistaking them for a Japanese fighter.

“Their squadron was the first pursuit squadron and - kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing - the first pursuit was Eve chasing Adam,” Jeanes said.

The underside of the wings features the blue sun insignia of the WWII Chinese Air Force, under which the AVG technically served.

The museum purchased the plane in 1995 from a collector, and it underwent a restoration to return it to peak flying shape. Because of their close connection, the museum wanted to honor Bond by replicating the design of his WWII fighter. Bond, who died in 2009 at 94-years-old, personally painted a tooth on the aircraft nose.

“He was really excited,” Jeanes said. “He’s a great guy, but really humble. He thought it was such an honor. The P-40 is synonymous with the Flying Tigers, so we wanted to do that.”

The museum’s P-40 was originally constructed at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Buffalo, New York and delivered to the military in May 1944. After serving at bases in the U.S., the plane was retired in June 1945.

The N-model, the final and most advanced version of the P-40, featured an Allison V-1710 engine that could power it up to 378 miles per hour with a range of 240 miles. It was equipped with six .50-caliber machine guns and could carry up to 500 pounds of bombs. Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s during the war, and 5,219 were N-models.

The Cavanaugh Flight Museum's P-40 will team up with a P-51 Mustang, the F-16 Viper Demo and the A-10 Demo Team to kick off the 2019 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26. 

Photo by the F-16 Viper Demo Team
Photo by the F-16 Viper Demo Team
Photo by Cavanaugh Flight Museum