Curtiss P-40

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The Curtiss Hawk 81 and 87 single-engined fighters, collectively designated P-40 by the U.S. Army Air Forces, which saw widespread service in all theatres of World War II.  Because the U.S. Army designation “P-40” actually refers to two aircraft designs that were treated as different aircraft by the manufacturer and everyone else except the Army, they are described separately on this page.

Hawk 81 (P-40B, P-40C and Tomahawk)

The first P-40 prototype flew October 14, 1938.  It was essentially a P-36 (Hawk 75) fighter with an Allison V-1710 (a 12-cylinder inline engine) installed in place of the earlier Hawk’s radial engine.  The resulting performance improvement did not bring the P-40 into the front ranks of the world’s fighters, but extended the design’s usefulness into at least the first part of World War II.  The P-40 was the Army’s primary front-line fighter at the time of the U.S. entry into the conflict in December 1941.  Several new, early model P-40s were destroyed during the Pearl Harbor attack, and a few machines were able to launch and engage the attacking force before they were shot down.  By that time, a version of the P-40 built for the British, named the Tomahawk, had already seen combat in North Africa with the RAF.

By far the most famous use of the Hawk 81 was by the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, a group of government-authorized mercenary pilots flying for the Chinese Kuomintang forces against the Japanese.  The AVG was formed and prepared prior to the Japanese attack on Hawaii but saw combat only after this attack.  The AVG used P-40s with some success against Japanese forces early in World War II, relying on tactics suitable for the P-40s high diving speed and ruggedness, which compensated for its poor speed, climb, turning radius and altitude performance.  The AVG was disbanded in July 1942, with its pilots mostly returning to the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines from which they had been drawn, but was replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group which adopted the Flying Tigers name and distinctive shark’s teeth markings.

P-40B 41-13390

Until the 1980s, Hawk 81 aircraft were completely extinct, with not even an intact static example extant anywhere in the world.  These first-generation P-40s have made a remarkable comeback due to the efforts of dedicated wreck chasers and restorers.  One example is the Flying Heritage Collection’s 41-13390, restored from the wreck salvaged from Russia.  It was rebuilt by Fighter Rebuilders at Chino, California.  The first photos below, from the early 1990s, show the restoration in progress.  Later photos show it in two different iterations of American Volunteer Group markings, of which the latter is much more accurate.  The aircraft is currently registered N2689, having previously been assigned N80FR just after restoration and briefly G-TOMA when it was acquired by, but never delivered to, The Fighter Collection in Britain. 

Tomahawk Mk.IIB AK255

Recovered from a Russian crash site, this Tomahawk was rebuilt to represent an AVG aircraft for the National Naval Aviation Museum.  As of 2014, this is the only Hawk 81 restored to static display condition; static early P-40s are outnumbered by airworthy ones, 4 to 1.  

Tomahawk Mk.IIB AK295

Lewis Air Legends maintains Tomahawk N295RL, painted as the P-40C flown by George Welch of the 15th Pursuit Squadron in defense of Hawaii during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Unknown P-40B/C

This unidentified P-40B or C was photographed by Dick, apparently in the woods near Keesler Field, in 1947.  The signage next to it suggests that it was set up as a historical display.  I have never seen any other mention of its existence or of what happened to it. 

Hawk 87 (P-40D to P-40Q and Kittyhawk)

The second-generation P-40 or Hawk 87 was a substantial redesign of the airframe, and apart from the engine was much more different from the early P-40 than the early P-40 was from the P-36.  The later P-40s received the Army designations of P-40D and onward.  The wings and tails of the Hawk 87 were basically the same as those of the Hawk 81, except that two further machine guns were added in the wings, bringing the total of wing-mounted guns to six, and all guns were deleted from the fuselage.  Given the name Kittyhawk by British and Commonwealth forces, the Hawk 87s had a shorter nose and more refined fuselage with better armor protection.  These entered service in 1942 and were the dominant models of P-40.  Of the 13,738 P-40s built, only about 1,500 were the earlier Hawk 81s, and the rest Hawk 87s.  All P-40s were eventually given the name “Warhawk” by the U.S. Army, although by the time this name was bestowed, the second-generation Hawk 87 was already the dominant model in service.

Production of the P-40 ended in November 1944, by which time the type was completely obsolescent, yet it continued to serve in the less hotly contested war theatres through war’s end.  Besides the U.S. Army and Royal Air Force, the P-40 was used by Australia and New Zealand, by the USSR as a fighter and ground attack platform and by the Royal Canadian Air Force for home defense.  Handfuls of P-40s also were used by smaller nations.

P-40s saw little postwar service with the U.S., but were supplied to some allied countries, such as Brazil, which used them into the 1950s.  A couple of far-sighted individuals in the northwestern United States purchased many that were sold off immediately after the war by the Royal Canadian Air Force, and these served as the nucleus of the surviving P-40 population until the 1980s, when collectors began scouring Russian Tundra, New Guinea jungles, and other remote locations for wrecks to rebuild.  In the immediate postwar years, some surplus P-40s were used for racing, weather modification or as sport aircraft.  Approximately 30 P-40s remain airworthy with about the same number of static survivors in museums.

Kittyhawk Mk.I AK753

This Kittyhawk was diverted to the Soviet Union where it served during World War II.  Its identity and operational history in Soviet hands are unknown, but it was recovered from a crash site in Russia and restored during the 1990s using parts from multiple aircraft.  Registered N4420K, it was named “Shirley II” and flown in American Volunteer Group colors for some years, then completely re-restored by the Fagen Fighters Museum which operates it in the markings of the “checkertail” 325th Fighter Group which operated P-40s in Algeria and Tunisia from March to December 1943, at which time the P-40s were replaced by Republic P-47s.  In general, the 325th Fighter Group did not wear shark mouth markings on its P-40s; I don’t know whether this aircraft represents an exception or is inaccurate. 

Kittyhawk Mk.I AK803

Prescient warbird collector George Maude acquired this RCAF surplus Kittyhawk in August 1946 and kept it until his death in 2013; the aircraft now belongs to his son Chris.  Restored to airworthy condition and registered C-GHTM, this plane, actually a composite restoration of the fuselage of AK803 (RCAF 1304) with the wings of AK933 (RCAF 1057), is not flown, but is kept in pristine condition in a hangar near Victoria, British Columbia.  It is possibly the world’s best preserved and most lightly restored P-40. 

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK827

Yanks Air Museum restored this former RCAF (serial 1038) Kittyhawk to represent a U.S. Army P-40 with the faux serial 41-36483.  Registered N40245 (formerly N1223N), this plane spent the 1960s as an outdoor display at a drive-in movie theatre.  Today it is maintained in airworthy condition but not flown.

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK875 “Lope’s Hope”

The U.S. National Air & Space Museum P-40 is another example built for Canada, assigned the RCAF serial 1047.  Flown for sport as N1048N in the 1950s, it was acquired by the Smithsonian and was one of the original displays when the NASM’s Washington facility opened in 1976.  It has since been moved to the Udvar-Hazy facility in Virginia.  The markings are those of Donald Lopez, former deputy director of the museum, from when he flew with the 23rd Fighter Group in Burma during World War II.  “Lope’s Hope” was a play on Lopez’s nickname.

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK899

This Kittyhawk, former RCAF 1051, was displayed on an auto service station roof in the 1950s and 1960s, then acquired by a collector and restored in California.  Registered N9837A, it went through several owners until it was destroyed when its Long Island, NY owner crashed it into the ocean while practicing aerobatics in 2009.

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK905

Purchased in a 1946 surplus sale in 1946 and stored on a farm until the late 1960s, former RCAF 1052 was restored by an Alberta owner and put into flying shape with the registeration CF-OGZ.  It then went to a Chicago owner as N11122 and then to Canadian collector Don Plumb, who had it restored in an attractive, though not especially accurate paint scheme representing an AVG P-40B.  Later it was obtained by Rudy Frasca, head of a commercial flight simulator company, registered N40PE, and continuously maintained by him in airworthy condition since 1976.  Ever since winning the Grand Champion Warbird prize at Oshkosh in 1976, this aircraft has been a regular visitor to the fly-in. 

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK933 “Sneak Attack”

Recovered from an Alberta farm in the 1960s, former RCAF 1057 was restored in California and first flew in 1970 with the registration N94466.  P-40 restoration specialist John Paul of Idaho has owned it ever since, painted to resemble an RAF Kittyhawk used in the north African desert, although with fictitious code letters.  It is seen at western U.S. airshows and sometimes races at the National Air Races at Reno.  

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Kittyhawk Mk.I AK940

Formerly RCAF 1058, this Kittyhawk was an automobile service station display in Alberta during the 1960s, then was restored in the U.S. as N940AK, flying again in 1980.  It was based in Geneseo, New York, for some years in prewar U.S. Army markings and then Flying Tiger colors, heavily damaged in a forced landing in 1995, then rebuilt by California owner Tony Banta in the early 2000s as a P-40, serial 41-13521.  It now appears regularly at west coast airshows. 

Kittyhawk Mk.I AK979

This Kittyhawk served as 1066 in the RCAF and had a long and varied postwar career as indicated by its string of U.S. civil registrations, N5672N, N151U, N9DA, N41JR, N41JA and N40FT.  In 1969 it was used in the filming of Tora Tora Tora and in 1980 was acquired by Flying Tiger International, an air cargo carrier that had been started immediately after World War II by ten pilots who were veterans of the American Volunteer Group.  This company was bought by Federal Express in 1988, and the Kittyhawk went with it.  Fedex loans the plane to the Pearl Harbor Air Museum in Hawaii where it is on display after many years at the San Diego Aerospace Museum.

Kittyhawk Mk.I AK987

Former RCAF 1068, Army serial 42-65406, is dressed up as a P-40E at the National Museum of the USAF.  It was flown as N1237N and N5673N in the 1940s and has been with the NMUSAF since 1965.  The paint scheme is that of Bruce Holloway of the American Volunteer Group at the time of the Group’s transition to becoming a unit of the Army Air Corps.  Holloway became the commander of the 23rd Fighter Group that had formerly been the AVG, being credited with 13 aerial victories, and by 1965, a career Air Force officer, he was commander of the USAF in Europe.  His final position in the Air Force was commander of Strategic Air Command, the nuclear bomber deterrent force.   

Kittyhawk Mk.Ia AL135

This Kittyhawk served as serial 1076 with 132 Squadron of the RCAF during World War II and was selected for museum preservation right after the war.  It was restored in the 1960s in an inaccurate interpretation of wartime RCAF camouflage and has been displayed ever since at the Canada Aviation & Space Museum.

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Kittyhawk Mk.Ia AL152 “Holdin’ My Own”

Ex-RCAF 1082 saw some agricultural service as N1207V after World War II and eventually was acquired by Frank Tallman’s historic aircraft collection in the 1960s.  In the late 1970s it was fully restored as the mount of Dallas Clinger of the 76th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, the U.S. Army descendant of the American Volunteer Group.  The tail art depicts a cowboy holding his “own” as he relieves himself on the rising-sun war emblem of Japan.  The plane is currently with the War Eagles Air Museum registered N95JB and does not seem to have flown for several years.

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Kittyhawk Mk.I ET573

Restored in the markings of the 3rd Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group, the Military Aviation Museum‘s Kittyhawk, allocated the American serial 41-35927, saw military service first with Britain and then with the Soviet Union during World War II.  Recovered from its crash site in Murmansk, it was restored in the early 2000s and now flies as N1941P.  The paint scheme represents an early U.S. Army P-40E that was diverted to the American Volunteer Group in China in early 1942 shortly before that group merged with U.S. forces; thus it is painted in U.S. spec olive drab with a dark patch where the American fuselage insignia would have been painted out, and Chinese national insignia but with “U.S. Army” still lettered under the wing.  The pilot of the original “108” was David “Tex” Hill of the 2nd Squadron.  

You can get a die-cast model of Tex Hill’s “108” from Corgi, Oxford or Franklin Mint, but they have a different interpretation of the camouflage scheme.

P-40E 41-5709

Texas Flying Legends operates this P-40, N2416X, which served with the Army Air Forces in Alaska.  The plane was damaged in a landing accident at Fort Randall on September 26, 1942, written off and pushed to the side.  Recovered and restored in the 1980s, it now wears the markings of Robert L. Scott’s aircraft from the 23rd Fighter Group in China.

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Built from a wreck recovered in Alaska for the National World War II Museum, the identity of this Warhawk is unknown.  It reportedly logged 12 flight hours in the Aleutians with the 343rd Fighter Group but was wrecked in a 1943 taxiing accident.  Painted as Robert Scott’s personal aircraft with the 23rd Fighter Group in China, the plane is featured in the museum’s “Road to Tokyo” immersive exhibition.

P-40K 42-9749 “Burma Rascal”

The P-40K was a development of the P-40E easily recognized by its extended vertical tail fin, an unsuccessful attempt to cure the P-40’s lateral instability issues.

Crashed during the war in Alaska, this P-40 was recovered from a cold swamp and restored in the late 1970s, registered N67253 and then N293FR.   Initially it was painted in the distinctive skull markings of the 80th Fighter Group serving in India, circa 1944, wearing faux serial 42-105006 (which would really be a P-40N).  Currently it is with the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, now painted in the markings of a Tomahawk, P-8121 of the American Volunteer Group.  The original P-8121 “88” was flown by Kenneth Jernstedt, credited with 10.5 kills while with the AVG.  

P-40K 42-10256

This P-40 was supplied to the Soviet air force and was shot down by Messerschmitt Bf 109s on September 29, 1943.  The plane was recovered in the early 1990s and restored painstakingly over a 10-year period into one of the best airworthy P-40s, registered N401WH.  It is with Texas Flying Legends, restored in the Aleutian Tiger markings used by the 11th Pursuit Squadron in Alaska.

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P-40M 43-5795 “The Jackie C”

In the P-40M and subsequent models, still further attempts to correct the P-40’s stability issues were made by lengthening the rear fuselage to increase the effectiveness of the vertical stabilizer.  These long-tail P-40s had other improvements as well.  The stability issues still were not cured.  The P-40’s designer, Don Berlin, attributed the stability to turbulence created by the shape of the engine cowling and radiator housing and wanted to redesign these, feeling that Curtiss-Wright was “fixing the wrong end of the airplane” by making changes to the tail.  But under pressure to fulfill military orders, the tail was easier to modify so the P-40’s nose was not further revised in any production variant.  Today’s warbird pilots consider the P-40 one of the more challenging World War II fighters to fly, more so than higher-performance planes such as the P-51.

Sent to Canada as a Kittyhawk Mk.III serial 845, this P-40 did agricultural and weather modification work as N1232N, then was parked as a static display until restored in California in the early 1980s.  Initially painted in an inaccurate Royal Air Force scheme with the faux serial AK845, it was later acquired by the American Airpower Museum and painted in an equally inaccurate 23rd Fighter Group scheme.

P-40M 43-5802 “Lulu Belle”

After serving as 840 in the RCAF, this Kittyhawk Mk.III was restored in the late 1970s and sold to the United Kingdom in 1985, where it has been flying ever since.  Registered G-KITT (previous US registrations N1233N and N1009N), its current owner is the Hangar 11 Collection.  At the time of these photos it was painted in Aleutian Tiger markings, but more recently wears the skull head of the 80th Fighter Group and the name “Lulu Belle”. 

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P-40N 42-104827

This Kittyhawk was assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force as A29-414, where it flew combat missions during World War II with RAAF 78 Squadron coded HU-Z and named “Come In Suckers.”  Recovered from an accident site in the Pacific in 2001, today it is with Vintage Wings of Canada in the RAF 260 Squadron markings of Canadian ace James “Stocky” Edwards wearing serial FR350 (which was actually a Kittyhawk Mk.III, equivalent to the P-40K model).

P-40N 42-105192

Supplied to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Kittyhawk Mk.IV, serial 858, this Kittyhawk defended the west coast of Canada during World War II.  After the war it was adapted for cloud seeding.  In 1960 it was acquired by Ed Maloney and by 1980 his Planes of Fame collection had it flying.  Since then it has been a regular at west coast airshows painted in a variety of different paint schemes over the years, some of which are shown here.  As of 2014, it is painted in the desert camouflage and yellow and black checkered tail of the 325th Fighter Group based in Algeria and Tunisia in 1943.  The shark mouth is an added marking not really worn by this unit.

P-40N 42-105306

This P-40 was assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force and shipped to the south Pacific after manufacture.  Its combat history there is not fully known, but on February 25, 1944, it experienced a collision with a P-47 at its base at Iron Range (today Lockhart River) in Australia (location shown in first image below).  The incident was fatal to its pilot, Marion Hawke, and the aircraft was abandoned.  It was retrieved in the 1970s and was eventually painstakingly restored by owner Chris Prevost, who registered it N540TP and bases the machine in Sonoma, California.  As part of his North Coast Air Museum fleet, the plane has had dual controls installed and is available for rental.  The paint scheme is a generic 49th Fighter Group scheme with inauthentic shark teeth recently added, and the plane bears the name of Ray Melikan, who commanded the 7th Squadron at the time this plane served with it, and shows his three victory tallies. 

P-40N 42-105861

Pieced together from bits of 42-104959 and 42-105861 recovered in Papua New Guinea, this P-40 was beautifully restored by a Louisiana owner, first flying in 2008 as N49FG.

P-40N 42-105867

The Commemorative Air Force has owned N1226N since 1965. This plane spent the war on the west coast of Canada as serial 867 of the Royal Canadian Air Force, then was modified for weather modification attempts. The first vintage aircraft collector to acquire it was I. N. Burchinall of Texas in the late 1950s and it went through a few owners before joining the CAF. It has always worn American Volunteer Group colors appropriate for a Hawk 81 while with the CAF, first bearing the fuselage number 26 and more recently in two different representations of a plane flown by David “Tex” Hill. The camouflage colors of the current iteration have been criticized harshly by colors-and-markings buffs but the CAF has staunchly defended their accuracy.

P-40N 42-106396

Flown as serial 880 in the RCAF, this Kittyhawk Mk.III has for many years been operated by John Paul of Idaho.  Registered N1195N, it appeared in plain factory paint for many years but in the 2010s was given a colorful parrot-nose insignia, faithfully replicating a marking applied to stateside P-40Ns used as trainers late in World War II.  The aircraft has been modified to feature dual controls.  It is one of the P-40s flown in the 2000 Pearl Harbor movie shot in Hawaii.

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P-40N 43-24033, 43-24362, 44-7305 (composite)

The Glenn Curtiss Museum is restoring a P-40 out of three wrecks purchased in 2011.  Two, 43-24362 and 44-7305, were recovered from crash sites in Florida in the 1980s and the third was from a crash site in Georgia.  43-24362 is said to be the most complete of the airframes, but even taking the three together, most of the P-40 will have to be fabricated.  Meanwhile, visitors are invited to inspect this ambitious long-term project. 

P-40N 44-7084 “Miss Josephine”

The Palm Springs Air Museum‘s N999CD was displayed at the National Museum of the USAF in the 1960s, basically painted in the same inaccurate American Volunteer Group paint scheme that it now wears.  It was traded for another aircraft and ended up with Palm Springs founder Robert Pond.  This P-40 was flown, temporarily painted plain olive and gray, in the Pearl Harbor film in 2000.

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P-40N 44-7192 “O’Riley’s Daughter”

Installed as a monument in Griffith Park in Los Angeles in 1946, this P-40 was retrieved in 1960, registered N4161K, and exhibited at museums around Southern California.  In the 1970s it was sold to collector Doug Champlin, registered N10626, and became part of his airworthy but grounded collection in Arizona.  Like most of the collection it was acquired by the Museum of Flight which now displays it.  The original “O’Riley’s Daughter” was flown by Jack Fenimore of the 7th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group in China.  It did not have the Chinese markings or shark teeth that are painted on thsi aircraft.

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P-40N 44-7369

Rescued from an aeronautical college in the 1960s, this P-40 was restored in California and briefly registered N94500 before being passed to Canadian collector Don Plumb as C-GTGR.  It later went through a few U.S. owners as N40PN and has found a home at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum where it is dressed in an overly garish version of a P-40B Tomahawk American Volunteer Group paint scheme, serial P-8104.  

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P-40N 44-7619

This P-40 suffered some neglect as an item of high school playground equipment and then as a service station curiosity before being modified for racing in the 1950s.  It was restored in the 1970s for the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and operated by Suzanne Parish, part of the husband-and-wife team that started that collection.  Parish had been a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II; these were female pilots who flew military aircraft in non-combat roles such as testing and ferrying, freeing up male pilots for combat jobs.  Now retired after flying through the 1980s and 1990s, this plane was painted in a lurid interpretation of the faded sand “desert pink” of U.S. Army aircraft operating in North Africa, with additional insignia representing the American Volunteer Group and the WASPs.  It was registered N5038V, N1251N and finally N222SU.

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TP-40N 44-47923

Some P-40s were rebuilt as dual-control TP-40N trainers.  The sole surviving example is N923, owned by Fantasy of Flight, whose restoration was completed in the early 2000s.  This was one of many aircraft that FoF acquired from the estate of film and stunt pilot Frank Tallman, who flew this plane in the 1960s in movie and TV work.  The first few photos here show the plane in imaginative AVG colors in 1969 with Tallman.  The newer photos show it in its current scheme, accurately representing the Curtiss factory paint scheme.


Modeling Notes (with links to targeted eBay searches):  Hawk 81.  In 1/72 scale, after many years of having only poor options to build the early P-40s, modelers now have it good.  The best option, especially considering availability and value for money, is the recent Airfix kit.  The Trumpeter P-40B/C is also a good kit; your next best choice would be the Hobby Boss/Easy Model.  Don’t touch the old FROG or Academy-Minicraft offerings (although if you must, the FROG is the better of the two).  In 1/48 scale, the old Monogram/Revell is a true classic still worth building, but the Academy P-40C kit is more up-to-date.  Trumpeter also makes a beautiful 1/32 kit.
Hawk 87.  The best P-40E and P-40N kits in 1/72 scale still are the old Hasegawa issues from the 1970s.  Academy (and its Hobby Boss clones) has a series of kits that are newer and more detailed, but they have accuracy problems, especially around the canopy area.  AZ Models/Legato are a more expensive, limited-run solution that might be the best option for the advanced modeler.  In 1/48, Hasegawa and AMT/Hobby Craft both offer reasonable kits.  In 1/32, there is a very old but not terrible Revell kit.  And in 1/144, the best option for a P-40E is the F-Toys pre-assembled model, while for the P-40N, you’re limited to two rather poor options in the Bandai pre-assembled model or the old Revell kit.


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