|Pilot Lt. Thomas R. Huff
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Assigned Royal Air Force (RAF) Airacobra I serial number AP347 and painted in a three-color camouflage scheme. Instead, delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-400 Airacobra serial number AP347. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 8th Fighter Group, 36th Fighter Squadron "The Flying Fiends". No known nose art or nickname.
15, 1943 took off from Port
Moresby piloted by Lt. Thomas R. Huff on a mission to escort C-47 Dakotas to Tsili-Tsili Airfield. During the flight, this Airacobra experienced a lost
of engine power due to the failure of two cylinder heads on
the left side and made a wheels down emergency landing at Bulldog
Airfield. It is unclear if the date of its force landing was August
15, 1943 or August 20, 1943.
Fate of the Pilot
Afterwards, Huff was transported back to Port Moresby and returned to duty.
Until 1984, this Airacobra remained in situ at Bulldog
Ray Fairfield flew over the area in 1968:
"I remember the strip as just north of the village of Bulldog. I was told about some intact airplanes at Bulldog that survey crew had visited, and taken a few parts off. These planes had reportedly crashed before the strip was built. When I over flew the area in 1968 or 1969 I could not see anything. Finally, after carefully looking I could just make out the former runway - if the jungle was 80' tall, the trees on the former runway were about 40', they grew that fast. I could not see any wrecks. Later, Jack Taft went in there by boat and walked to the Airacobras. He later told me a story about when he walked there, the locals told him to stop. He wondered why, and they said he was at the aircraft. It was so overgrown, he had not seen it."
Recovered by Jack
Taft who donated the funds to recovery of two P-400s at
Bulldog, in exchange for an export permit for one of them. Recovered
by a RAAF Chinook on November 29, 1984 and flown to Jackson Airport.
This salvage was part of an agreement
between the PNG National Museum and
Aircraft Museum, for the recovery of P-400 AP347 for the museum and P-400
AP335 for export
to the United States.
Charles Darby adds:
"At one time Pacific Aircraft Ltd offered to build up a ready-for-static-display
P-40E in exchange for the (export of) ex-Bulldog P-400 at Jackson Field. Didn't
During the late 1980s or early 1990s, this Airacobra placed on display at the South Pacific Aero Club,
with a 5th Air Force memorial plaque describing technical
information related to the
Airacobra. It was erected as a memorial to Airmen of all nationalities who gave their lives during the WWII and civilian pilots killed in aviation accidents.
During 2015, the South Pacific Aero Club closed and the Airacobra was moved to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) aircraft area of Jackson Airport.
On March 6, 2016 this P-400 was lifted on a crane and transported aboard a truck from Jackson Airport over the freeway to the National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) PNG National Museum where the aircraft was placed at the front entrance of the museum.
Note, it is unclear if date of force landing was August 15, 1943 or August 20, 1943
36th Fighter Squadron History February 1942 - December 1943 (AFHRA IRISNUM: 00056238) does not mention the loss of Van Patten during August 1943
Weekly Status Report (Form 34) November 1942 - December 1943 (AFHRA IRISNUM: 00056268)
Airacobra I for RAF, P-400 - P-400 Airacobra AP347
"AP347 to USAAF. force landed Aug 20, 1943 at emergency strip with 36th FS of 8th FG. Retrieved by RAAF Chinook and now rests at the Jackson's Airport Pilots Club in a fenced enclosure."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-400 Airacobra AP 347
Attack and Conquor, page 144 (reference to Huff)
"On November 9, 1943 Huff flew a patrol between Wards Drome and Nadzab and claimed a Ki-43 Oscar shot down and observed to crash."
Note, it is unclear if date of combat when damaged was August 2 or August 3, 1943
Australian Aviation "Recovered PNG P-39 Story" with Dave Prossor November 1997
"aircraft was being flown on escort duty on August 20, 1943 (sic) when it suffered an internal engine failure. The pilot, Lieutenant Huff glided some 8,000' down to make a wheels down landing on a short 825m (2,700') airstrip at Bulldog at the entrance to Wau Pass, near Lakekaniu (sic) in Gulf Province. The aircraft overshot the landing and touched down well into the strip, stopping in a soft patch that snapped the nose gear leg. Lt. Huff removed the machine guns and ggave them to an American meteorology sergeant at the strip and in his own words, swipped the compass and altimeter. The next day he got a ride out in a Tiger Moth."
Facebook PNG National Museum & Art Gallery March 3, 2006
"A new addition to our Modern History collection is the P39 AP 347 Airacobra. Operated by the United States Fifth Army Air Force in Port Moresby- 1942-1945 Pilot: Thomas Huff. This Airacobra flew its last mission on 15th August 1945 when after suffering an inflight engine failure, the pilot carried out a dead-stick forced landing on the Bulldog Emergency Airstrip in Gulf Province. It was presented to the South pacific Aero Club by the PNG War Museum and has been erected as a memorial to Airmen of all nationalities who gave their lives during the WWII and civilian pilots killed in aviation accidents since the first flight by Frank Hurley in 1921 to the present time. The plane is now displayed in front of the entrance to the National Museum and Art Gallery here at Waigani."
Museum Dekenai Newsletter "Aira cobra P39 A new addition to our MH collection" July 2016 issue, page 11
Thanks to Ray Fairfield, Richard Leahy and Edward Rogers for additional information
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January 15, 2019