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Rare warplane that survived Pearl Harbor attack returning to US

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UNDATED: This photo provided by the Collings Foundation, shows a Buffalo, N.Y.-built American fighter that’s one of the few remaining still-airworthy planes to survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (AP)

A New York-built American fighter that's one of the few remaining still-airworthy planes to survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is being donated to a Massachusetts-based organization that flies World War II aircraft at living history events across the nation.

Robert Collings, executive director of the Stow, Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, said that the purchase of the Curtiss P-40B Warhawk from an aviation museum in England was completed this week. The plane will be disassembled and shipped to the United States, where it eventually will fly over Buffalo and other cities, with plans to participate in the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack in 2016, he said.

"The history that comes with it is pretty special," Collings said Friday, the day before the 72nd anniversary of the surprise attack in Hawaii that launched the U.S. into the Second World War. "It was obvious that we needed to get this airplane back to America."

Collings said a sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous bought the plane for several million dollars from The Fighter Collection in Duxford, England. He said the person who bought the warplane will donate the aircraft to the Collings Foundation, bringing its collection of World War II aircraft to a dozen, including a B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator, both bombers.

The Warhawk heading back to the U.S. came off the assembly line at the Curtiss Aircraft Co. plant in Buffalo in early 1941. Later that year, it was undergoing repairs in a hangar at Wheeler Field on Oahu when waves of Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. While more than 300 other U.S. planes were destroyed or damaged during the attack, the P-40B escaped unscathed.

But seven weeks after the attack, the plane crashed into a mountain on Oahu, killing the pilot. His body was recovered but the wreckage was left at the remote crash site. In the 1980s, a California warplane restoration group recovered the wreck and began working on the P-40B, rebuilding it with parts salvaged from two similar aircraft. The plane was flying again by 2004, soon after being acquired by The Fighter Collection.

Collings said the plane was purchased from the English museum for "several million dollars" but wouldn't divulge the sale price or who the sponsor is. He said only a handful of P-40Bs exist, including one owned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen. Curtiss produced nearly 14,000 P-40s at its Buffalo plant from 1939-44. It was a workhorse for American and Allied air forces early in the war, and it was the same plane flown by the famed Flying Tigers, the name given to the American squadron that fought for China against Japan before American entered the war.

The only other Pearl Harbor survivor still flying is a Grumman J2F-4 Duck, a privately owned, float-equipped biplane based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to vintage warplane experts. The few other surviving aircraft, such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Sikorsky JRS-1 amphibious search plane, are no longer airworthy.

"It's pretty important in terms of the rarity of that particular airplane," Jeremy Kinney, a Smithsonian aviation curator, said of the foundation's P-40B and its Pearl Harbor connection. "We don't even have one."

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