In June of 1942, Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, a 24-year-old British pilot, who was part of the 260 Squadron of the RAF Volunteer Reserves was tasked with flying P-40 Kittyhawk (serial code ET574), on a ferry flight to a neighboring British airbase to have the undercarriage repaired. The upcoming Summer Offensive that year, was to include the P-40s. Copping took off on June 28 and headed West. He was never seen again, even with extensive searches being undertaken. Both the aircraft and its pilot were reported missing. After a time, the search was called off, because they couldn’t find anything.

The lost flight stayed a mystery for almost 70 years. Then, in April 2012, workers of a Polish Oil company discovered the remarkably well-preserved remains of a P-40. It’s quite likely that they not only had no idea how it could have come to be there, nor when. Nevertheless, the desert’s extremely dry conditions had basically ‘mummified” the P-40, as it only showed minimal rust and decay.

The wings of the P-40 were half-buried under the sand, but they were still in very good condition, with the exception of the fact that the fabric-covered control surfaces had rotten away. Even the cockpit was still somewhat preserved, and the aircraft still had live ammunition loaded in the magazines of its six machine guns.

When the authorities were called in, they were easily able to link the downed P-40 Kittyhawk to Dennis Copping, because of its relatively good condition. They finally knew what had happened to Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping and his Kittyhawk exactly 69 years, 9 months, and 14 days later. The only thing missing was the pilot. It was then assumed that Copping had survived the crash, but where was he? The only thing they could assume was that he must have tried to walk out. The problem is that Copping was lost and alone in the middle of the largest desert on Earth. They began the search again, but this time with the plane as a starting point.

They found a small makeshift camp built next to the aircraft. Near it was the plane’s battery and radio. This meant that Copping probably attempted to broadcast for help. Unfortunately, the radio, or at least the internal workings of it had been destroyed by the crash landing. Finally, unable to call for help, Copping knew he would have to leave the plane and go for help. The teams continued their search, and a group of Italian historians uncovered a number of human bones five kilometers from the crash site. However, it was decided that those bones probably “did not belong” to Copping as they were “too old” to be his. Interestingly, the bones were never tested for any DNA. The historians were also able to find a section of the parachute, a keyfob, and a buckle stamped ‘1939,’ which were things Copping might have had with him at the time of his death.

Because of the desert’s dry conditions, the ET574 Kittyhawk was able to be fully restored. Of course, given the years and the fact that it was a crash, the restoration is far from perfect. and it sports a historically inaccurate camouflage scheme. Maybe someday, it will be restored to a historically accurate condition. Nevertheless, it is the last surviving example of a Desert Air Force P-40 Kittyhawk in existence. The mystery was finally solved.

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