|Manufacturer||Bell Aircraft Corporation|
|Designed by||Harland M. Poyer|
|Maiden flight||1 October 1942|
|Status||Retired after brief service|
|Primary user||United States Army Air Force|
The USAAF was not impressed by its performance and cancelled the contract when fewer than half of the aircraft ordered had been produced. Although no P-59s went into combat, it paved the way for another design generation of US turbojet-powered aircraft and was the first turbojet fighter to have its turbojet engine and inlet nacelles integrated within the main fuselage.
Design and development
USAAF Major General Henry H. Arnold became aware of the United Kingdom's jet program when he attended a demonstration of the Gloster E.28/39 in April 1941. The subject had been mentioned, but not in depth, as part of the Tizard Mission the previously year. He requested, and was given, the plans for the aircraft's powerplant, which he took back to the US. On 4 September, he offered General Electric a contract to produce an American version of the engine. On the following day, he approached Lawrence Bell to build a fighter to utilize it. Bell agreed and set to work on producing three prototypes. As a disinformation tactic, the USAAF gave the project the designation P-59A, to suggest it was a development of a completely unrelated Bell fighter project that had been cancelled. The design was finalized on 9 January 1942, and construction began. In March, long before the prototypes were completed, an order for 13 YP-59 pre-production machines was added to the contract.
On 12 September 1942, the first XP-59 arrived at Muroc Army Air Field (today, Edwards Air Force Base) in California for testing. While being handled on the ground, the aircraft was fitted with a dummy propeller to disguise its true nature. The aircraft first became airborne during high-speed taxiing tests on 1 October with Bell test pilot Robert Stanley at the controls, although the first official flight was made by Col Laurence Craigie the next day. Over the following months, tests on the three XP-59s revealed a multitude of problems including poor engine response and reliability (common shortcomings of all early turbojets) and performance that was far below expectations. Nevertheless, even before delivery of the YP-59s in June 1943, the USAAF ordered 80 production machines, designated P-59A Airacomet.
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. One of these aircraft, third YP-59A (S/n: 42-22611) was supplied to the RAF in exchange for a Gloster Meteor. British pilots found that the aircraft compared very unfavourably with the locally-produced jets that they were already flying. (They also compared unfavorably to P-51 Mustangs.) Two YP-59A Airacomets (42-108778 and 42-100779) were also delivered to the USN where they were evaluated as the YF2L-1 but quickly found completely unsuitable for carrier operations.
Faced with their own ongoing difficulties, eventually, Bell completed 50 production Airacomets-20 P-59As and 30 P-59Bs. Each was armed with one 37-mm M-4 cannon and 44 rounds of ammunition and three .50 cal. machine guns and 200 rounds per gun. 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 that would shortly become available.
The original XP-59A prototype is preserved in the Milestones of Flight Gallery of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, along with the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 command module Columbia. A P-59A resides in the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, while an example of the P-59B model is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In 1991, the Planes of Fame Museum located in Chino, California acquired a P-59A and has been in the process of slowly restoring it to flying condition. The restoration is nearly complete and the aircraft is expected to begin appearing at air shows in summer 2006.
- Baugher 2006
- Baugher, Joe. Bell P-59 Airacomet.  Access date: 26 December 2006.
- Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War - Fighters (Vol 4). London: MacDonald, 1961.
- P-59 Airacomet Pictures
- An article on the P-59 Airacomet
- P-59 Airacomet specifications
- Photographs of various P-59s
- A few photographs of surviving P-59s
- Original XP-59A prototype at National Air and Space Museum
- The P-59A at March Field Air Museum
- The P-59B at the National Museum of the USAF
- de Havilland Vampire
- Gloster Meteor - The first Allied operational jet fighter aircraft.
- P-80 Shooting Star
- Messerschmitt Me 262 - The world's first operational jet fighter aircraft.
- Nakajima Kikka
- Sukhoi Su-9
- List of military aircraft of the United States
- List of fighter aircraft
- List of World War II jet aircraft
- Heinkel He 178 - The world's first aircraft to fly under turbojet power.
- Heinkel He 280 - The first turbojet-powered fighter aircraft built in the world.
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