Flying Tigers P-40 Recovery

Flying Tigers P-40 Recovery

A Chinese group plans to try to recover a fighter plane from the legendary Flying Tigers group of American pilots that crashed in a lake in China during World War II.

The Flying Tigers, who were sent to China in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt before Washington joined the war, have long been one of the most potent symbols of U.S.-Chinese cooperation. The Tigers fought Japanese invaders from December 1941 until they were absorbed into the U.S. military the following July.

The Curtiss P-40 crashed in 1942 in Dianchi Lake near Kunming, the southwestern city that was the Tigers’ base.

“We hope the project of salvaging the P-40 can be a warm current in the cold wave and ease people’s worries about Chinese-U.S. ties,” said Han Bo, chairman of the China Adventure Association, a non-government group that promotes outdoor activities and historical monuments.

The Tigers were credited with shooting down almost 300 Japanese aircraft while losing 14 of their own pilots. Their battles were some of the earliest American aerial victories in the war.

“Before the P-40 planes were deployed, the Japanese planes had the advantages in China,” said Han.

The body of the P-40’s pilot, John Blackburn, was recovered after the crash and returned to the United States. The plane sank into the lakebed.

Han said his group found the wreckage using magnetic surveying equipment in 2005 but couldn’t safely lift it out of the silt. He said divers recovered a shoe insole and a wire used to control the plane’s rudder.

The group plans to build a barrier around the aircraft, remove the silt and then lift it by crane to the surface, Han said.

“Now the technology is ready,” he said.

The group is trying to raise 30 to 40 million yuan ($5 to $7 million) in public donations to pay for salvaging the plane, Han said. The plan is to display it in a museum but it hasn’t been decided where.

Han said he is inviting surviving Flying Tigers and their families to visit for the raising of the wreckage.

Updated: October 14, 2020 — 10:05 AM


  1. I hate to be a dash of cold water on the parade but a Chinese “non-government” on … “historical monuments” can not exist in China. As much as I would like to see every casualty of war restored this seems to be unnecessary as the pilot’s remains have been returned and given the honors he earned. If there is a urge in your soul to honor a fallen warrior, let it be by sending a contribution to the Glenn Curtis Museum in Hammondsport, NY so they can finish the wreak they extracted from the Everglades of Florida and need your help in money and in your youth as the people that are laboring on it are beyond the ability to do the work. It was said that War is a young man’s game, but so is the restoration of the relics we honor. I volunteer at the Air Victory Museum and at almost 82 years it’s hard to climb on and inside an E2 Hawkeye and RH 53D,T-34, and an Aereon 26 to do repairs. I know you ask “An Aereon what??”

  2. The P-40 was the first combat fighter I flew. It came in the month following my completing flight training and being awarded those coveted silver wings. I was even more unforgettable than my first flight in a P-47, the aircraft I took into combat.

    Bob Huddleston
    Chapel Hill, NC

  3. I know the AVG got the idea for the “sharksmouth” markings from the RAF…but the article is about the Flying Tigers and the photo is of an RAF Tomahawk in the desert.

  4. Very interesting article. However, the picture shows a P-40E belonging to the 112Sqn RAF, Desert Air Force, thus not exactly the one operating with the AVG China

  5. When I read of the technical difficulties in raising the plane from the lake, I remembered the story, I think from Robert L. Scott’s book, about the Flying Tigers’ P-40 that crashed in a river. The American engineers wrote it off, saying that there was no way to raise it. The Chinese proceed to salvage the valuable aircraft, using bamboo and manpower. I don’t think it was restored to flying condition, but it was a source of valuable spare parts to keep the others flying.

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