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FIRST AMERICAN JET PLANE

Posted 12/18/2008 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Bell P-59B
DAYTON, Ohio -- Bell P-59B Airacomet at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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On Friday, 5 September 1941, Mr. Bell and his chief engineer, Mr. H. M. Poyer, reported to my office, together with Mr. Shoults of General Electric and the AAF officers present the day before. The proposition was presented to Mr. Bell and after a brief discussion he stated his desire to participate in the project. It was then decided to build 15 engines, and 3 twin-engined airplanes designated as XP-59A. The Bell and General Electric companies were to work in close collaboration. The contracts, under absolute secrecy, were prepared by (the then) AAF Materiel Command. Col. D. J. Keirn was project officer.

Never has a plane been built in this country under greater secrecy. At both General Electric and Bell, the men who worked on the project were investigated even as to their personal habits, so that not even through careless conviviality could mention of the project leak out. The workers were segregated in blacked out, heavily guarded buildings; even so, some of the workers were unaware of what they were doing. For instance, the men at Bell who were fabricating the wing sections were never allowed to see the fuselage. A year later the first jet plane was disassembled, crated, and sent west with military police riding on the train with it. On the bed of a dry lake in the Western desert it was put together, ground tested and flown.

The plane was a success.

We have learned many things since then about jet propulsion. The absence of vibration and engine noise makes for less pilot fatigue. It appears that the planes are outstandingly safe -- the use of kerosene as a fuel greatly reduces the fire hazard, and the low center of gravity facilitates braking and minimizes ground looping. The jet engine is of simple construction -- it has only about 10 percent of the moving parts of the usual reciprocating engine, it has no ignition system, no carburetor, no automatic throttle control and since there is no propeller, there is no need for prop controls and instruments. No warm-up of the engine is needed -- a highly desirable feature militarily.

Since that first P-59 many other jet planes have been projected, built, flown. So rapid has been our advance that the P-59 is today classed as a trainer. Information on our latest type of jet-propelled airplane will be made public as soon as the security considerations permit.

This report was prepared by the Army Air Forces and is dated Feb. 27, 1945.

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