Bell XP-59A "Airacomet"
1942 Bell XP-59A "Aircomet" (AF 42-108784) c.2004 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC (Photo by Jim Hough)
The Bell P-59A "Airacomet" was the first United States jet fighter aircraft, designed and built during World War II. The USAAF was not impressed by its performance and cancelled the contract when fewer than half of the aircraft ordered had been produced. Although no P-59's went into combat, it paved the way for another design generation of U.S. turbojet-powered aircraft and was the first turbojet fighter to have its turbojet engine and inlet nacelles integrated within the main fuselage.
The 13 service test YP-59A's had a more powerful engine than its predecessor, but the improvement in performance was negligible with only a five mph increase in top speed. One of these aircraft, the third YP-59A (s/n: 42-22611) was supplied to the RAF in exchange for a Gloster Meteor. British pilots found that the aircraft compared very unfavorably with the jets that they were already flying. (The YP-59A also compared unfavorably to the propeller-driven P-51 Mustang.) Two YP-59A Airacomets (42-108778 and 42-100779) were also delivered to the U.S. Navy where they were evaluated as the YF2L-1 but quickly found completely unsuitable for carrier operations.
Faced with their own ongoing difficulties, eventually, Bell completed 50 production Airacomets, 20 P-59A's and 30 P-59B's. Each was armed with one 37 mm M4 cannon and 44 rounds of ammunition and three .50 cal. machine guns and 200 rounds per gun. The P-59B's were assigned to the 412th Fighter Group to familiarize AAF pilots with the handling and performance characteristics of jet aircraft. While the P-59 was not a great success, the type did give the USAAF experience with the operation of jet aircraft in preparation for the more advanced types that would shortly become available.
Copyright © 1998-2016 Skytamer Images, Whittier, California