Friday, 11 May 2012

WWII fighter plane found preserved in the Sahara

WWII fighter plane found preserved in the Sahara

Hot on the heels of the twenty Spitfires discovered in Burma comes this equally remarkable, albeit far more bittersweet, story of a lone Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk that has been found in the Sahara desert.

Despite having crash-landed on the sand 70 years ago the aircraft is apparently in very good condition overall, the result of laying undisturbed in the dry and rarefied atmosphere of the Sahara for the last seven decades.

An important machine to many air forces, particularly with the famous "Flying Tigers" of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-42 and the USAAF in the first months of the Pacific campaign (as well as with the RAAF & RNZAF later in the same theatre), the Kittyhawk (and earlier Tomahawk) was also used in large numbers by the RAF in North Africa as part of the Desert Air Force.  Considered superior to the Hurricane and early marks of Spitfire in the dusty, arid conditions of the desert the Kittyhawk was the main Allied fighter aircraft in the North African theatre for several months of 1941-42.

World War II RAF Kittyhawk fighter plane found in the Sahara Desert in Egypt

It was in one of these RAF Kittyhawks that Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping (a native of my nearby town of Southend) was flying on the 24th June 1942 when he got in to trouble - probably lost - and was forced to belly-land many miles from civilisation.  Now, 70 years after he and his aircraft were last seen, the discovery of his crashed aircraft, discarded parachute and wireless equipment tell the sad story of what happened to him.  It seems fairly certain that having failed to summon help by radio he made a futile attempt to reach the nearest settlement but succumbed to the harshness of the desert.

Now this chance discovery has set the historic aviation world a-twitter and work is already underway to return the Kittyhawk to the UK for it to be put on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon.  A search is also being carried out for the remains of Flt. Sgt. Copping and it is to be hoped that, if he is found, he will be repatriated along with his aircraft or at the very least given a proper military burial.  It would also be nice if his aeroplane - restored or not - were kept as a permanent memorial to the man.  Although I can understand the feelings of some who think it should be left where it is (particularly if F/S Copping isn't found) as a sort of war grave, the ever-present threat of trophy-hunters and scrap merchants makes such a course of action undesirable.

World War II fighter found in Egyptian desert

Whether or not the pilot is found the momentous discovery of this aircraft has at least answered the question of what became of him and his memory can be forever honoured by the display of his Kittyhawk, an important historical find on its own and a fine tribute to the man.


  1. It's amazing it's still in such good condition, considering. Still a sad story though. X

  2. It is a sad story, but an amazing one too. I'm always in admiration of people who set out on journey in what, to 21st century eyes, were much more primitive boats/ planes... then I wonder what our boats and planes will look like to people 50 years from now!

  3. This is fabulous information! Thank you so much, I will pass this on to my boys who will be thrilled!


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