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United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter

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Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter:
United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter
Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook
Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter:
United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter
Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook
Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter:
United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter
Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter:
United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter
Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter:
United States' Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter

Design

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was designed around the 37 mm T-9 cannon that was demonstrated in 1935.

The Army put out a specification for a fighter in 1937.

The Bell P-39 Airacobra's design team was lead by Robert Wood.

Engine

By using this gun the engine had to be placed in the middle of the fuselage and the drive shaft ran under the pilot's seat.

The engine wasn't able to perform well at high altitudes as the Army had removed the turbo chargers from production models.

Landing Gear

It also had a tricycle undercarriage which was a first for a operational fighter.

Cockpit

The P-39's pilot was well protected by armor. The cockpit door opened similarly to a car door.

Armament

The 35 mm gun was manufactured by the American Armament Corporation.

Prototype

The XP-39 made it's first flight on April 6, 1938 / April 6, 1939 / April 1939. The first order for 80 P-39s was placed on August 10, 1939.

Production

Production went on until May 1944.

  • Bell XP-39: 1
  • Bell XP-39E: 3
  • Bell YP-39: 13
  • Bell P-39C: 20
  • Bell P-39D: 923
  • Bell Airacobra I: 497
  • Bell P-39J: 25, 29
  • Bell P-39K: 210
  • Bell P-39L: 250
  • Bell P-39M: 240
  • Bell P-39N: 2,095
  • Bell P-39N and Bell P-39Q: 2,095
  • Bell P-39Q: 4,905
  • Bell P-49F: 229
  • Bell P-400: 179
  • Total: 9,558, 9,588, 9,594
    • Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Corporation
    • Manufacturing location: Buffalo, New York
    • Production: ? - August 1944

Variants

  • Naval XFL-1: Naval variant with a tail wheel and arrester hook. Wasn't successful in trials.
  • V-Tail: Experimental tail that had combined elevator and rudder functions. Reduced the P-39's handling.
  • Bell XP-39: Prototype.
  • Bell XP-39E: It had a square tail which was similar to a P-51. Powered by an Allison V-1710-47. Had laminated flow wings.
  • Bell YP-39: Thirteen were built for evaluation. Had an engine mounted 37 mm cannon, two fuselage mounted 12.7 mm guns, and two wing mounted 7.62 mm.
  • Bell P-39C: Initial production model that was basically the same as the YP-39.
  • Bell P-39D: Production model that entered service in 1941 / February 1942. Used Curtis propellar. Added self sealing fuel tanks, and two more wing mounted 7.62 mm MGs.
  • Bell P-39D-1 / Airacobra I: Used a 20 mm M1 instead of the 37 mm M4.
  • Bell P-39D-2: Used V-1710-63 (1,325 HP) engine.
  • Bell P-39F: Used Aeroproducts propellar.
  • Bell P-39J: Used V-1710-59 engine. 1,100 HP.
  • Bell P-39K: Used V-1710-63 engine. Used the Aeroproducts propellar.
  • Bell P-39L: Used V-1710-63 engine with Curtis propellar. New nosewheel.
  • Bell P-39M: Used V-1710-83 engine and a large diameter propellar. 1,200 HP. Started to be used in November 1942.
  • Bell P-39N: Used V-1710-85 engine. 1,200 HP.
  • Bell P-39Q: Used V-1710-85 engine. Wing guns were removed and 12.7 mm machine guns were mounted beneath the wings.

Usage

Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States used the P-39.

French Order

France ordered some P-39s but they were taken over by the United Kingdom.

Royal Air Force Disappointed

The RAF tested the P-39 but it didn't perform up to the standards of the British fighters at the time. However, 675 were ordered, but only the No. 601 Squadron received them. 250 of them were sent to the Soviet Union.

Fighting With the United States

The United States needed to use any available fighters against Japan in 1942 and 1943 and in the early combat in the Middle East.

The first combat was in April 1942 against the Japanese.

The 12th Air Force, in the Middle East, used P-39s for straffing. They were also used to support landings in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy.

"Shaving" With the Soviet Union

Approximately 5,000 (4,773, 4,925) were supplied to the Russians and they were nick named "Shaving" as it was slang for ground strafing. It was well liked for its ability to destroy German vehicles.

The Soviets replaced the American armament with the 20 mm B-20 cannon and 12.7 mm UBS machine guns.

Free French and Italian Co-Belligerent

Some French and Italian pilots (of the Italian co-belligerent Air Force in 1944) also flew the P-39.

Australians

The Australians used 22 P-39s.

North Korea

During the early months of the Korean War the North Korean Peoples' Air Force had some P-39s.

Specifications

  Bell XP-39
Type  
Crew  
Engine (Type) Allison V-1710-17
Cylinders 12
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,150
Propeller blades  
Dimensions  
Span  
Length  
Height  
Wing area  
Weight  
Empty  
Loaded  
Performance  
Speed  
Climb  
Service ceiling  
Range  
Armament  
  Bell P-39 Airacobra
Type Fighter, Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 1: Allison
1: Allison V-1710-63
Cylinders  
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,150, 1,200
Propeller blades  
Dimensions  
Span 34'
10.36 m
Length 29' 9", 30', 30' 2"
9.19 m
Height 9' 4", 11' 10", 12'
3.6 m, 3.78 m
Wing area 213 ft2
19.79 m2
Weight  
Empty 5,645 lb
2,566 kg
Loaded 7,500 lb, 8,145 lb
3,702 kg
Performance  
Speed 375 mph, 400 mph
642 kph
Climb  
Service ceiling 38,500'
11,735 m
Range 750 miles, 965 miles
1,207 km
Armament  
Propeller hub 1: 37 mm M4
30 rounds
1: 37 mm
Nose 2: 12.7 mm
Wings 4: 7.62 mm MG
Bombs - under fuselage 500 lb
227 kg
  Bell P-39D Airacobra
Type Fighter
Crew 1
Engine (Type) Allison V-1710-35
Cylinders V 12
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,150
Propeller blades  
Dimensions  
Span 34'
10.36 m
Length 30' 2"
9.19 m
Height 11' 10"
3.6 m
Wing area 213 ft2
19.79 m2
Weight  
Empty 5,462 lb
2,477 kg
Loaded 8,200 lb, 8,850 lb
4,014 kg
Performance  
Speed  
Speed @ 5,000' /
1,524 m
335 mph
539 kph
Speed @ 13,800' /
4,200 m
368 mph
592 kph
Speed @ 15,000' /
4,572 m
360 mph
579 kph
Climb to 15,000' /
4,575 m
5.7 minutes
Service ceiling 32,100'
9,785 m
Range 800 miles
1,287 km
Range - internal
@ 300 mph / 483 kph
@ 25,000' / 7,620 m
450 miles
724 km
Armament 6: MG
Propeller hub 1: 37 mm
Nose 2: 0.5"
Wings 2 or 4: 0.3" MG
Bombs 1: 500 lb
1: 227 kg
  Bell P-39N Airacobra
Type Fighter
Crew 1
Engine (Type) Allison V-1710-85 piston
Cylinders Inline, V 12
Cooling  
HP 1,200
Propeller blades 3
Dimensions  
Span 34'
10.36 m
Length 30' 2"
9.19 m
Height 12' 5"
3.78 m
Wing area 213 ft2
19.79 m2
Weight  
Empty 5,657 lb
2,566 kg
Loaded 8,200 lb
3,720 kg
Performance  
Speed  
Speed @ 9,700' /
2,955 m
399 mph
642 kph
Climb to 15,000' /
4,570 m
3.8 minutes
Service ceiling 38,500'
11,735 m
Range 750 miles
1,207 km
Armament  
Propeller hub 1: 37 mm
Nose 2: 12.7 mm
Wings 4: 7.62 mm MG
2 or 4: 0.3" MG
Bombs - under fuselage 1: 500 lb
1: 227 kg
Bombs 1: 500 lb
1: 227 kg
  Bell P-39Q Airacobra
Type Fighter, Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) Allison V-1710-85
Cylinders 12, V 12
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,200, 1,325
Propeller blades 3 electrically controlled
Dimensions  
Span 34'
Length 30' 2"
Height 12' 5"
Wing area 213 ft2
Weight  
Empty 5,645 lb
2,560 kg
Loaded 7,650 lb, 8,300 lb
3,765 kg
Performance  
Speed  
Speed @ 11,000' /
3,350 m
385 mph
620 kph
Speed @ 15,000' 376 mph
Cruising speed 250 mph
Climb to 15,000' /
4,570 m
4.5 minutes
Service ceiling 32,100', 35,000'
10,670 m
Range 650 miles
1,046 km
Range - loaded 525 miles
Range - max 1,075 miles
Armament 4: MG
Propeller hub 1: 37 mm
Nose 2: .50 cal MG
Wings 2: .50 cal MG
Under wing 2: 12.7 mm
Bombs 500 lb

Sources:

  1. Aircraft of WWII, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  2. Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Editor: Karen Leverington, 1995
  3. The Great Book of Fighters, William Green, Gordon Swanborough, 1994
  4. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  5. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, General Editor Chris Bishop, 1998
  6. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  7. Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook, Ensign L. C. Guthman, 1943
  8. American Attack Aircraft Since 1926, E. R. Johnson, 2012
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site