The P-40 Ghost Plane: An unsolved mystery of World War II

The P-40B is believed to be the only survivor from the Pearl Harbor attack. There are plenty of stories of ghost planes and strange sightings in the sky surrounding World War II, but perhaps none are as astonishing as the “Pearl Harbor ghost plane.” On December 8, 1942—nearly a year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor—an unidentified plane was picked up on radar headed toward Pearl Harbor from the direction of Japan.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk Aircraft in Flight
Curtiss P-40B Warhawk Aircraft in Flight © Wikimedia Commons

When U.S. planes were sent to investigate, they saw that the mystery plane was a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the kind that had been used by American forces in the defense of Pearl Harbor and not used since. They said that the plane was riddled with bullet holes, and that the pilot could be seen inside, bloody and slumped over in the cockpit, though he is said to have waved briefly at the other planes just before the P-40 crash-landed. However, the search teams had never found its wreckage. The entire plane just vanished with its pilot.

Radar Reflections

Pearl harbour radar
The date was December 8, 1942; a year and a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American Navy was on duty at Pearl Harbor when suddenly, its radar picked up an odd reading. It seemed as if a lone plane was making its way from Japan and heading right into American airspace.

On December 8, 1942, over a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, radar in the United States picked up an unusual reading. What appeared to be an airplane was heading for American soil from the direction of Japan. Radar operators knew this bore none of the usual markings of some sort of aerial attack. The sky was overcast, it was late evening, and no prior attack had occurred in these types of conditions.

Pearl Harbour Explosion
Pearl Harbour Explosion: The attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 Americans and acted as the catalyst for the United States’ entry into World War II. © Wikimedia Commons

Fighters Scrambled

Two American pilots were sent to intercept the mysterious plane. As they approached the plane they radioed back to the ground to report that the aircraft was a P-40 and bore markings that had not been used since the attack on Pearl Harbor. When they pulled up alongside the craft they were shocked to find a bullet-riddled plane with landing gear blown away. Puzzled as to how a plane in this condition could even fly, they noticed the pilot was slumped in the cockpit, his flight suit stained with fresh blood. As they peered into the window the pilot raised slightly, turned in their direction, and smiled offering a meek wave towards his two allies. Moments later the mysterious craft plummeted from the sky smashing into the ground with a deafening roar.

Evidence At The Crash Site

American troops swarmed the crash site but found no trace of the pilot or evidence of who he may have been. Neither did they find identifiable markings from the plane. But, they did find a document which was assumed to be the remains of some sort of diary. From this diary, researchers were able to deduce that the plane must have originated from the island of Mindanao, located about 1,300 miles away. The rest of the story is a mystery.

Possible Explanations

Some speculated that the craft may have been downed over a year earlier and the pilot managed to survive on his own in the wild. He could have possible scavenged parts from other downed aircraft, repaired his airplane, and managed to somehow navigate his way back to his homeland over 1000 miles of hostile territory. What they could not explain, is how the heavy P-40 aircraft could have ever taken off without the aid of any sort of landing gear.