NEW ORLEANS -- Even resting on a flat-bed truck, temporarily stripped of its wings, the shark's face with the menacing smile makes the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter instantly recognizable, especially to a World War II veteran.
'Pretty cool, pretty cool, yep,' was veteran Tom Blakey's reaction.
During World War II 14,000 of the planes were built, but now experts believe less than three dozen remain.
'Very tough, very resilient plane and saw action in all theaters in the war,' said National World War II Museum President & CEO Nick Mueller. 'Very hard to get, we're very lucky to have one.'
This one was almost brand new when it was shipped to Alaska in 1942 and crashed.
'It came in for a landing and the tires dug in mud, and probably flipped over, upside down,' described Tom Czekanski, the museum's curator.
It lay forgotten in a ditch with other wrecks, preserved by the cold until it was discovered 40 years later and completely restored.
'It brings a lot of emotion, and every time I see one, I'm always surprised by the emotion it brings up,' said Nell Calloway, director of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum of Louisiana in Monroe.
The P-40 paint scheme symbolizes the Flying Tigers, when Nell Calloway's grandfather, General Claire Chennault from Louisiana, fought with the Chinese during World War II, a lesson valuable today.
'We need to remember that, and to think how much better it was that we worked together, and not against each other,' said Calloway.
This rare P-40 aircraft will be one of the key exhibits in the new Pacific Theater Wing, part of the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, one of the final pieces of the National World War II Museum site.
'One is the Liberation Pavilion, where we contemplate 1945,' Meuller said. The P-40 goes on display next year, the $320 million museum expansion should be complete in 2016.