Bell YP-59A in flight. X and Y aircraft had rounded vertical stabilizers and wingtips while the production A and B models had squared surfaces. The YP-59A can be distinguished from the XP-59A because Ys had nose armament. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Bell XP-59A 3/4 rear view. Note the bars have been painted onto the National Insignia of this image. The original National Insignia appearing on the image was the star on blue circle. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Development of the P-59 Airacomet, America's first jet-propelled airplane, was ordered personally by Gen. H.H. Arnold on Sept. 4, 1941. The project was conducted under the utmost secrecy, with Bell building the airplane and General Electric the engine. The first P-59 was completed in mid-1942 and on Oct. 1, 1942, it made its initial flight at Muroc Dry Lake (now Edwards Air Force Base), Calif. One year later, the airplane was ordered into production, to be powered by I-14 and I-16 engines, improved versions of the original I-A.
Bell produced 66 P-59s. Although the airplane's performance was not spectacular and it never made it into combat, the P-59 provided training for AAF personnel and invaluable data for subsequent development of higher performance jet airplanes.
TECHNICAL NOTES (P-59B): Armament: One 37mm cannon and three .50-cal machine guns Engines: Two General Electric I-16s of 1,650 lbs. thrust each Maximum speed: 450 mph Cruising speed: 320 mph Range: 440 miles Service ceiling: 43,400 ft. Span: 45 ft. 6 in. Length: 38 ft. 10 in. Height: 11 ft. 11 3/4 in. Weight: 10,532 lbs. loaded