Bell 27 / P-59 Airacomet / XF2L-1
The XP59 Airacomet project was launched by USAF Major General Henry (Hap), Arnold on the 5th September 1941 began when he approached Bell Aircraft and asked them to build a new fighter based around the GE-1, a license made Whittle W2/B engine. The contract was signed on the 30th September with a deadline of eight months to produce the first of three prototypes designated XP-59A's.
The Bell designers adopted a conventional approach which resulted in a preliminary design in just two months. This was approved and construction of the first prototype started which was shipped to Muroc Dry Lake (Now Edwards Air Force base) on the 12th September 1942 for ground tests. The engines called GE-1's were built at the same time by General Electric and had an initial thrust of 1,250 lbs. This meant that two engines were required and in the Airacomet these were mounted side by side in the fuselage.
After being trucked out to Muroc Dry Lake, California, draped in tarpaulin with a fake propeller attached, the Airacomet was first flown on the 1st October 1942 by Robert M. Stanley, chief test pilot for Bell aircraft, although the official first flight was recorded as the 2nd of October.
The Airacomet was kept secret and it was only announced to the public in 1943.
Named Airacomet, 13 development YP-59A aircraft followed during 1943-4 with the more powerful General Electric 1-16 (131) turbojet, and these were used primarily to provide basic flight data on turbojets. Production orders for 20 P-59A aircraft with J31-GE-3 engines and 80 P-59B aircralt with J31-GE-5 engines were awarded but, as a result of successful development of the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star the last 50 of the latter were cancelled as superfluous, All production had been completed by the end of the war and many of the aircraft were issued to a special USAAF unit, the 412th Fighter Group, for use as drones or drone controllers, some aircraft having a second open cockpit in the nose for an observer. No P-59 ever achieved operational status, being found to lack adequate performance.
One XP-59A, a trade for a Gloster Meteor flown by the USAAF, was evaluated briefly by the RAF at Farnborough and wore British markings. Three more were flown by the US Navy under the designation XF2L-1.
Bell XP-59 Airacomet
Span: 45ft 6in (13.87m)
Length: 38ft 2in (11.63 m)
Height: 12ft 4in (3.76 m)
Powerplant: Two General Electric I-A's (each 1,250lb (567kg) thrust)
Maximum speed: 404 mph
Weight: Empty 7,320lb (3,320 kg), Loaded 12,562lb (5,698 kg)
Armament: 2x 37mm cannons
Range: 400 miles
Bell P-59A Airacomet
Engines: 2 x General Electric I-A turbojet engines generating 2,800lbs of thrust each.
Length: 38.16ft (11.63m)
Width: 45.51ft (13.87m)
Height: 12.34ft (3.76m)
Maximum Speed: 413mph (664kmh; 359kts)
Maximum Range: 240miles (386km)
Rate-of-Climb: 3,200ft/min (975m/min)
Service Ceiling: 46,194ft (14,080m)
Armament: 1 x 37mm cannon, 3 x 12.7mm machine guns
Empty Weight: 7,937lbs (3,600kg)
Maximum Take-Off Weight: 12,699lbs (5,760kg)
Type: single-seat interceptor fighter
Powerplant: two 907-kg (2,000-1b) thrust General Electric J31-GE-5 turbojets
Span 13.87 m (45 ft 6 in)
Length 11.62 m (38 ft 1.5 in)
Height 3.66 m (12 ft 0 in)
Wing area 35.84 sq.m (385.8 sq ft)
Maximum speed 658 km/h (409 mph) at 10670 m (35,000 ft)
Cruise speed: 560 km/h / 348 mph
Climb to 3050 m (10,000 ft) in 3 minutes 20 seconds
Service ceiling 14040 m (46,200 ft)
Range 644 km (400 miles)
Empty weight 3704 kg (8,165 lb)
Maximum take-off 6214 kg (13.700 lb)
Armament: one 20-mm M4 cannon and three 12.7-mrn (0.5-in) machine-guns in the nose