Robert Fairbairn graduated in the class of 43F (June, 1943) from Craig Field Alabama and with 7 ½ hours P-40 time, was the sent to the 30th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group, 6th Air Force, Panama where he flew P-40s, P-40Bs and C’s. Upon completion of 35 flying hours he was then assigned to the 43rd tactical fighter squadron, 16th Fighter Group, 26th Fighter Command, 6th Air Force until May, 1945.
After graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant from flying school in June of 1943, he arrived in Panama and realized the Panama Canal was a prime target for the enemy, it was protected by a four fighter squadron flying P-39‘s , barrage balloons, and elements of the U.S. Navy. Everything entering the canal zone was intercepted, identified, and reported to central command.
In November, Robert’s squadron was assigned P-40N-5s. As time passed, the threat to the canal lessened and squadrons were reassigned out of the area leaving the 24th and 43rd and continue the mission. At the same time they were relocated to La Cherrera, a dirt fighter strip just west of the city.
“The P-40N’s were a stable, effective fighter below 15,000ft.. I believe they were the last model mass produced and engineer’s did all they could to reduce weight and wing loading including removing starters so that the airplane had to be hand cranked by the ground crew.”
“In a contest with a fellow pilot, the highest I could coach the plane to was 27,500ft.. and so much as the P-39‘s and P-40‘s were all we had operational at the beginning of the war, they did a magnificent job, only with the introduction of the supercharger and the ability to fly much higher were they superseded. The Merlin engine in the P-51, the placement of the supercharger in the rear of the P-47 and the P-38′s twin engines allowed the supercharged planes to fly higher and faster, yet below 15,000ft. The P-40 Warhawk could hold its own with any of them.”
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