Model Airplane News
January, 1945

Model Airplane News Cover for January, 1945 by Jo Kotula Bell P-59B Airacomet

Bell P-59B "Airacomet"
Model Airplane News Cover Art for January, 1945
by Jo Kotula
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The Bell P-59 Airacomet was the first American jet fighter aircraft, designed and built during World War II. The United States Army Air Forces was not impressed by its performance and cancelled the contract when fewer than half of the aircraft ordered had been produced. No P-59s went into combat.

 The Bell P-59B Airacomet    The Bell P-59B Airacomet      The Bell P-59B Airacomet

Bell P-59B "Airacomet"
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During the worst part of the Blitz, the British wanted to share their technological advances in jet power with the U.S. They gave General Electric a contract to produce an American version of their engine and Bell Aircraft Corporation was engaged to build a fighter to use it. 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 canceled.

In 1942, the first XP-59A was sent to Muroc Army Air Field for testing. While being handled on the ground, the aircraft was fitted with a dummy propeller to disguise its true nature. 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 and performance that was far below expectations. Chuck Yeager was dissatisfied with the speed, but was amazed at the smooth flying. 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. Two YP-59A Airacomets were also delivered to the U.S. Navy where they were evaluated as the YF2L-1 but quickly found completely unsuitable for carrier operations.

Eventually, Bell completed 50 production Airacomets, 20 P-59As and 30 P-59Bs. Each was armed with one 37 cannon and three 50 cal. machine guns. The P-59Bs were assigned to the 412th Fighter Group to familiarize AAF pilots with the handling and performance characteristics of jet aircraft 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.

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