The P-39 was one of America's first-line pursuit planes in December 1941. It made its initial flight in April 1939 at Wright Field and by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, nearly 600 had been built. Its unique engine location behind the cockpit caused some pilot concern, but this proved to be no more of a hazard in a crash landing than with an engine located forward of the cockpit. The P-39's spin characteristics, however, could be quite a problem if recovery techniques were ignored.
The Airacobra saw combat throughout the world, particularly in the Southwest Pacific, Mediterranean and Russian theaters. Because its engine was not equipped with a supercharger, the P-39 performed best below 17,000 feet altitude, and it often was used at lower altitudes for such missions as ground strafing. When P-39 production ended in August 1944, Bell had built 9,584 Airacobras, of which 4,773 had been allotted to the Soviet Union. Russian pilots particularly liked the cannon-armed P-39 for its ground attack capability. Other P-39s served French and British forces.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force has a P-39Q on display.
TECHNICAL NOTES: Armament: One 37mm cannon firing through the propeller hub; two .50-cal. machine guns in the nose; two .50-cal. machine guns in packets under the wing; 500 lbs. of bombs externally Engine:Allison V-1710 of 1,200 hp Maximum speed: 376 mph Cruising speed: 250 mph Range: 650 miles Service ceiling: 35,000 ft. Span: 34 ft. Length: 30 ft. 2 in. Height: 12 ft. 5 in. Weight: 7,570 lbs. normal load