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Home > Fact Sheets > Bell P-39 Airacobra


Posted 2/4/2011 Printable Fact Sheet
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Bell P-39
Bell XFL-1 Airabonita, Navy version. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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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.

Type Number built/
XP-39 1 Prototype P-39
YP-39 13 Improved XP-39; service test aircraft
YP-39A 1 (cv) YP-39 with new engine; high alt. test only
XP-39B 1 (cv) XP-39 with new engine; no turbo-supercharger
P-39C 80 P-45 redesignated; 60 became P-39D
P-39D 60 (cv) Improved P-39C; 4x.30, 2x.50 mgs. and 37mm cn.
P-39D-1 863 Improved P-39D; self-sealing fuel tanks
P-39D-2 1 (cv) Improved P-39D-1; 158 ordered
XP-39E 3 P-39D-1 with new engine; XP-63 prototype
P-39E 0 Improved P-39D-1; 4,000 ordered
P-39F-1 229 P-39D with aero products propeller
P-39F-2 2 (cv) P-39F modified for photo reconnaissance
P-39G 0 1,800 ordered, became K, L, M, N models
P-39H 0 Designation not assigned
P-39J 25 Modified P-39D-1; new engine and auto boost
P-39K 210 P-39F with new engine
P-39L 250 Modified P-39K; Curtiss prop. and rocket rails
P-39M 240 Modified P-39L; new engine and prop. gearing chg.
P-39N 2,095 Improved P-39M; new engine
P-39P 0 Designation not assigned
P-39Q 4,905 Improved P-39N; 37mm cn. and four .50-cal. mgs.


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

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