It was the Kittyhawk that captured the world’s interest.
In 2012, Polish oil exploration workers came across this eerily well-preserved WWII P-40 Kittyhawk in the Egyptian Sahara desert. Dubbed the ‘Tutankhamen’s Tomb of aviation,’ the story of this plane and its pilot has grown into a saga with a passionate following.
The preservation of this P-40 is incredible. When it was found, most of its instruments were intact. Its guns and ammunition were still present, although removed by the Egyptian military for safety. Even a small temporary shelter constructed next to the plane was still apparent.
The identity of the pilot is presumed to be Essex-born serviceman Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping of No. 260 Squadron RAF who served in the North African Campaign in 1942. Copping went missing on June 28, 1942.
Evidence such as a key fob and a button dated 1939 found nearby suggest that the remains are those of Copping. Also compelling is the location of the remains in the vicinity of the wreck.
In 2015, Egyptian authorities ran DNA tests on the remains and concluded, controversially, that the bones were too contaminated to extract any samples. Copping’s family, along with experts and public opinion wholeheartedly challenge this claim.
The Kittyhawk is again at the center of turbulent times.
It was salvaged in 2012 by a private team paid for by a London museum in exchange for a £200,000 Spitfire for their services. However, the Kittyhawk is at present in a shipping container outside a museum at El Alamein, but is unlikely to return to Britain.
All these controversies do not detract from the mournfulness of the scene. A lone plane, lying in state as the desert sands shift; a somber monument to a pilot’s courage and sacrifice.