Bell P-59A Airacomet
United States — USAAF Single-seat Jet Fighter

Archive Photos

1944 Bell P-59A-1-BE "Aircomet" (AF 44-22614) at the March Field Air Museum, Riverside, California


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 canceled the contract when fewer than half of the aircraft ordered had been produced. Although no P-59s 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.

Operational Service

The 13 service test YP-59As 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-59As and 30 P-59Bs. Each was armed with one 37 mm M4 cannon and 44 rounds of ammunition and three .50 cal. machine guns and 200 rpg. The P-59Bs 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.




Specifications (P-59A)

General Characteristics




  1. Shupek, John. Photos via The Skytamer Archive, copyright © 2009 Skytamer Images. All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. P-59 Airacomet
  3. Gunston, Bill. Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Cresent Books, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-517-67964-7


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