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WWII (USAAF) United States »  P-39 Bell Airacobra
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Bell Aircraft

 Country: United States

 Industry/ Capability:
Aircraft and helicopter production.

 Head Office:
Bell Aircraft Corporation
Buffalo, New York


 Noteworthy:
P-39 Airacobra
P-63 Kingcobra ...
* partial list


Bell made the first American jet fighter aircraft designed and built during WWII, the P-59 Airacomet.

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service when the United States entered WWII.
the P-39 was used with great success by the Soviets.


 Additional Notes:

Bell was one of four main assembly factories manufacturing the Boeing B-29
— and Bell Aircraft won contracts to build hundreds of Consolidated B-24 Liberators.

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P-39 Bell Airacobra

Unique pre-war design, flown by many Russian aces


Aerial warfare over the Eastern Front was particularly suited to the Airacobra. On this battlefield the P-39 had no trouble dispatching Ju-87 Stukas or twin-engine bombers.
— from 1943 'til the end of the war the so-called "Iron Dog" enjoyed much success in the hands of its Russian masters.

This is a real blueprint, expertly restored from original plans and vintage design drawings. — measuring a generous 42"x 30".

Bell P-39D Aircobra - Unique in its design and power plant the P-39 Air Cobra was the first US Army fighter to be fitted with a retractable tricycle type landing gear. These features were imposed by a desire at the time of the middle and late 1930s to mount heavy armament ...   continues: Click here


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ww2_p-39-aircobra-a.jpg ww2_p-39-aircobra-c.jpg ww2_p-39-aircobra-b.jpg

The P-39 design was handicapped by lack of an efficient supercharger, limiting it to low-altitude work.
— used with great success by the Soviets -- five out of the ten highest scoring Soviet aces logged the majority of their kills in P-39s.

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History and Description: P-39 Bell Airacobra...
P-39 Bell Airacobra

This is a real blueprint, expertly restored from original plans and vintage design drawings. — measuring a generous 42"x 30".

Bell P-39D Aircobra - Unique in its design and power plant the P-39 Air Cobra was the first US Army fighter to be fitted with a retractable tricycle type landing gear. These features were imposed by a desire at the time of the middle and late 1930s to mount heavy armament... continues below

Continued from above…    mount heavy armament in the nose.

Generally a very pleasing aircraft to look at, the P-39 design came about at a time when streamlining aircraft shapes were just coming into their own. The P-39 was a vast departure from most aircraft being conceived of at the time and featured several design elements that distinguished the type from her contemporaries. Chief among these was in the internal layout, the Allison series engine mounted in the middle of the fuselage just aft of the cockpit. Engineers ran an extended shaft from the engine through a center bearing underneath the pilots feet to the front fuselage section where the three-blade propeller and reduction gear were mounted. As a result of this engine placement, the engine had to be fed through intakes mounted along the fuselage as opposed to a conventional placement in the nose.

Although heavily armed and armored and very tough, this plane was a bust in its original design role as an interceptor. However, it was very successful as a ground attack aircraft.

Half of all production of P-39s went to the Soviet Union, which used it with great success as a tank buster. Operational losses of this type in the Southwest Pacific were extremely high because of its unusual engine placement and 37mm armament, which made maintenance difficult. The engine placement also seems to have degraded the maneuverability. About 60% of American P-39 crews were deployed to the Pacific.

The first large order for 369 P-39Ds was placed in September 1940, and the initial deliveries of these began several months later. A total of 675 aircraft ordered by a British purchasing commission were exported to Great Britain arriving in April of 1941. These differed only in armament as the 37-mm cannon was replaces with a 20-mm, and the six-.30-cal. Machine guns were replaced by 0.303-in caliber. In September that year No. 601 squadron exchanged its Hawker Hurricanes for these new aircraft. Immediately they were introduced into service, the full implication of the decision to delete the turbo charger was appreciated for the first time, for the aircraft had an inadequate rate of climb and its high altitude performance was completely unacceptable for deployment in the European theatre.

Fact File:

Bell P39 Airacobra

American fighter / bomber

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of a group of fighters that pioneered the tricycle undercarriage. Another distinctive feature was the position of its engine, which was carried in an unorthodox siting beneath and behind the pilot's seat. The propeller was driven through an extension shaft that was linked to a gearbox in the fighter's nose. Although an American product, Airacobras were first used operationally by the RAF, in October 1941. The prototype had appeared in 1939, but to begin with there were no American orders. The French were interested, however, and after the fall of France their contract was taken over by the British.

The RAF wanted to use the P-39 in a ground-attack role, but after a short proving period the planes were withdrawn from service. Then, as the United States entered the war, the remainder of the Bell factory's initial output was taken up by the USAAF for training duties.

Once it had established itself, the P-39 served throughout the war in various modified states, the model numbers reaching as far as 'Q' by 1944; by July of that year the total production figure had reached 9,558. Of these, some 5,000 were supplied to Russia under the Lend-Lease agreement. Following the Torch landings of late-1942, the P-39 made its mark as a ground-attack or recce machine specializing in 'rhubarb' missions that involved strafing or reconnoitring enemy positions at low altitude. When the fighting began in Sicily and Italy, the P-39s' limited range proved something of a problem. Although the official range figure for the Q model is set at 675 miles, in practice it was pegged much lower at 150 miles there and 150 back plus 10 minutes' combat time; these figures also allowed for use of an auxiliary tank. In their favor, however, it could be said that the P-39s were stoutly resistant to AA fire, and the USAAF continued to use them profitably on convoy escort and patrol duties.

P-39 details (Q model)

Length: 30 ft 2 ins. Span: 34 ft 0 ins. Combat weight: 8,300 lb. Crew: 1. Top speed: 385 mph. Ceiling: 35,000 ft. Range: 675 miles. Armament: 1 x 37-mm cannon and 4 MGs: 1 x 500 lb bomb optional.

By Debs McCaffrey