P-59 Airacomet

P-59 Airacomet

infobox Aircraft
name =P-59 Airacomet
type =Fighter
manufacturer =Bell Aircraft

caption = Bell P-59B Airacomet at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio.
designer = Harland M. Poyer
first flight =1 October 1942
introduced =
retired =
status =
primary user = United States Army Air Force
more users = United States Navy Royal Air Force
produced =
number built = 66
unit cost =
developed from =
variants with their own articles =

The Bell P-59A 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-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.

Design and development

Major General Henry H. Arnold became aware of the United Kingdom's jet program when he attended a demonstration of the Gloster E.28/39 in April 1941. The subject had been mentioned, but not in depth, as part of the Tizard Mission the previous year. He requested, and was given, the plans for the aircraft's powerplant, the Power Jets W.1, which he took back to the US. On 4 September, he offered the U.S. company General Electric, a contract to produce an American version of the engine. On the following day, he approached Lawrence Bell, head of Bell Aircraft Corporation, to build a fighter to utilize it. Bell agreed and set to work on producing three prototypes. As a disinformation tactic, the USAAF gave the project the designation P-59A, to suggest it was a development of a completely unrelated Bell XP-59 fighter project that had been cancelled. The design was finalized on 9 January 1942, and construction began. In March, long before the prototypes were completed, an order for 13 YP-59A pre-production machines was added to the contract.

On 12 September 1942, the first XP-59A arrived at Muroc Army Air Field (today, Edwards Air Force Base) in California for testing. While being handled on the ground, the aircraft was fitted with a dummy propeller to disguise its true nature. The aircraft first became airborne during high-speed taxiing tests on 1 October with Bell test pilot Robert Stanley at the controls, although the first official flight was made by Col Laurence Craigie the next day. Over the following months, tests on the three XP-59As revealed a multitude of problems including poor engine response and reliability (common shortcomings of all early turbojets), insufficient lateral stability [Green] , and performance that was far below expectations. Chuck Yeager flew the aircraft and was dissatisfied with the speed, but was amazed at the smooth flying. Nevertheless, even before delivery of the YP-59As in June 1943, the USAAF ordered 80 production machines, designated P-59A Airacomet.

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 unfavourably 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 rounds per gun. The P-59Bs were assigned to the 412th Fighter Group to familiarize AAF pilots with the handling and performance characteristics of jet aircraft. [ [http://www.nasm.si.edu/research/aero/aircraft/bellxp.htm Bell P-59] ] 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. [Baugher 2006]


;XP-59:Unrelated piston engine powered pusher propeller design developed from the Bell XP-52. Not built.;XP-59A:Prototype of the jet engine powered version, 3 built.;YP-59A:Series of test aircraft, 13 built.;;YF2L-1::Two YP-59A delivered to the US Navy for carrier evaluation.;P-59A:First production version, 20 built.;P-59B:Improved P-59A. 80 aircraft ordered but only 30 built, 50 canceled.


*Royal Air Force received one in exchange for a Gloster Meteor I.;flag|United States|1912
*United States Army Air Force
**412th Fighter Group
*United States Navy


*The original prototype XP-59A is on display the Milestones of Flight Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC;YP-59
*YP-59 is undergoing restoration to flying condition at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. The aircraft was acquired in 1991.;P-59A
*P-59A (44-22614) is on display at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California;P-59B
*P-59B (44-2650) is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

pecifications (P-59A)

aircraft specification

plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=jet
length main=38 ft 2 in
length alt=11.63 m
span main=45 ft 6 in
span alt=13.87 m
height main=12 ft 4 in
height alt=3.76 m
area main=386 ft²
area alt=35.9 m²
empty weight main=7,940 lb
empty weight alt=3,600 kg
max takeoff weight main=12,700 lb
max takeoff weight alt=5,760 kg
engine (jet)= General Electric I-A
type of jet=turbojets
number of jets=2
thrust main=2,000 lbf
thrust alt=8.9 kN
max speed main=413 mph
max speed alt=664 km/h
range main=240 mi
range alt=386 km
ceiling main=46,200 ft
ceiling alt=14,080 m
climb rate main=3,200 ft/min
climb rate alt=16,26 m/s
*1x 37 mm cannon
*3x .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns

ee also


similar aircraft=
* de Havilland Vampire
* Gloster E.1/44
* Gloster Meteor
* P-80 Shooting Star
* Messerschmitt Me 262
* Nakajima J9Y Kikka
* Sukhoi Su-9

* XP-56 - XP-57 - XP-58 - P-59 - P-60 - P-61 - XP-62

*List of military aircraft of the United States
*List of fighter aircraft
*List of World War II jet aircraft

see also=
*Heinkel He 178
*Heinkel He 280




* Baugher, Joe. [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher1/p59.html "Bell P-59 Airacomet".] Retrieved: 26 December 2006.
* Carpenter, David M. "Flame Powered: The Bell XP-59A Airacomet and the General Electric I-A Engine". Boston: Jet Pioneers of America, 1992. ISBN 0-9633387-0-6.
* Green, William. "War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Four: Fighters". London: MacDonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (Sixth impression 1969). ISBN 0-356-01448-7.
* Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. "WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: US Army Air Force Fighters, Part 2". London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1978. ISBN 0-354-01072-7.

External links

* [http://www.usmilitaryforum.com/showthread.php?t=21 P-59 Airacomet Pictures]
* [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher1/p59.html An article on the P-59 Airacomet]
* [http://www.globalaircraft.org/planes/p-59_airacomet.pl P-59 Airacomet specifications]
* [http://www.military.cz/usa/air/post_war/p59/p59_en.htm Photographs of various P-59s]
* [http://www.photovault.com/Link/Military/AirForce/Aircraft/P-59Aircomet.html A few photographs of surviving P-59s]
* [http://www.nasm.si.edu/exhibitions/gal100/XP59A.html Original XP-59A prototype at National Air and Space Museum]
* [http://www.marchfield.org/p59a.htm The P-59A at March Field Air Museum]
* [http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=579 The P-59B at the National Museum of the USAF]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIm4Dux5Xs8&feature=related America's First Jet Fighter]

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