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Bell P-39 Airacobra

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was a very unusual aeroplane for a number of reasons.

It was the first fighter to adopt a tricycle undercarriage. The very large bore cannon which fired through the propeller boss required that the engine be mounted well aft, behind the cockpit.

Early production aircraft were intended to be supplied to the French Armee de l'Aire but when France fell these aircraft were supplied to Britain. However due to a US embargo on exporting superchargers to Britain, the performance of the aircraft proved inadequate as a fighter.

The Bell Airacobra served with the Royal Air Force in the ground attack mode for just a few months in late 1941, taking part in just one operational sortie before it was withdrawn from operations.

Over 5,000 Bell Airacobras were supplied to the Russians. Much of the air fighting in the Soviet sphere was at relatively low level and the Russians used them with some success against the Ju87 and in the ground attack role where its heavy cannon proved very effective.

Due to the location of the engine, the pilot sat high up in the cockpit where he had a very good view. However the method of entry and exit, by doors either side of the cockpit made the aircraft very difficult to exit in emergency.

The positioning of the engine also caused some very odd handling problems with the aeroplane sometimes tumbling end over end if violent maneuvers were carried out after its ammunition had been depleted.

The engine was also very vulnerable to gunfire from attacking aircraft which approached from the rear.

Sounds like a fun aeroplane!!

Bell Airacobra pictures
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Bell P39 Airacobra
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All images Copyright Avery Little