Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Jonathan Winkler, Ph.D. (Advisor); Kathryn Meyer, Ph.D. (Committee Member); Paul Lockhart, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


From 1938 until the end of World War II, the Curtiss P-40 fighter participated in the European, North Africa, and Pacific theaters of war. An aircraft’s success depends primarily upon the pilot’s expertise. Without skilled pilots, technology alone cannot win a war. Technological innovation still plays a crucial role in the success of a nation’s air force. Relative to technological developments, how impactful is a pilot’s skill on a fighter plane’s performance? My thesis structure is a deep look into each pilot’s experience and how victory was achieved with a plane that most military writings say is inferior. I investigate the narrative of the aircraft from development based on a pre-war U.S. air doctrine, its exposure and adaptation against enemy aircraft, and the period when piston-driven aircraft performance reached the pinnacle of performance. My analysis shows that due to the adaptability of tactics by fighter pilots, the Curtiss P-40 met Allied needs and aided in the overall contribution to changes in aerial combat. This write-up goes on to show a pilot’s expertise plays a crucial role in an aircraft’s success, regardless of statistical data or the purpose for which the plane was intended. Technological innovation causes an impact on the success of a nation’s air force, but without skilled pilots, technology alone cannot win a war.

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of History

Year Degree Awarded




Included in

History Commons