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P-39 "Airacobra"

Multipurpose Fighter


The P-39Q from a structure of 11-th Guards Wing, air force of the Black Sea Fleet, summer 1944. © Michael Bykov

The P-39Q from a structure of 11-th Guards Wing, air force of the Black Sea Fleet, summer 1944.

The story about the airplanes struggled on the Soviet-German front would be not full without a mention about American P-39 "Airacobra" - a multi-purpose fighter, manufactures of Bell. In manoeuvrable fights in small and mean altitudes it has proved to be well enough. In a nose bay the 37-mm cannon, and two 12,7-mm machine guns were placed. The engine of an airplane placed behind a cabin, near to the centre of gravity of an airplane, in result the fighter was very manoeuvrable.

By the end of the World War 2 airplanes P-39N and P-39Q were the main fighters delivered by allies in the USSR. On fighter P-39N with onboard number 100 Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin has finished war.

Alexander Pokryshkin, flying on "Aerocobras" since the spring 1943, has destroyed in air fights of 48 airplanes of the opponent, having finished a joint account up to 59 victories. Together with Pokryshkin on "Aerocobras" such glorified aces, as N. Gulaev G. Rechkalov, G. Golubev, K. Suhov, brothers Glinka and others were at war also. On "Aerocobra" N. Gulaev by the end of war was 57 asterisks showing number of air victories; 56 of air victories of G.Rechkalov; 53 - George Golubev, 50 - has brought down Dmitry Glinka.

In total 4924 airplanes P-39 "Airacobra" were supplied to USSR in accordance to Lend-Lease terms. Before completion of series production 9558 fighters were built.

Crew 1
Wing span, m 10.36
Length, m 9.2
Height, m 3.8
2 X PE V-1710-85 Allison, hp 1,420
Weight, kg:
Empty weight 2,620
Maximum takeoff weight 3,750
Maximum speed, km/h 615
Time to 4,500m, min 5
Service ceiling, m 10,620
32-mm cannon and 2 X 12.7-mm machine guns in the nose and two in the wing, underwing bombs, kg 227

Modifications of Р-39

  • Airplane P39N became first mass fighter (2095 airplanes were built). Almost all of them have been directed to Soviet Union where were popular owing to reliability of a design and ability to come back after battle with damages. The majority of machines had four wing fuel tanks, delivered in addition. If the big range of flight was not required, it was possible to improve accordingly flight performances. The back armored plate has been replaced with the bent bulletproof glass, and as a whole the take-off weight of the plane has been reduced with 4128 up to 3969 kg.
  • The basic production version became P-39Q (was issued 4095). Thus the common issue of "Airacobras" has achieved 9558 airplanes. Two 12,7-mm of a machine gun have been established on modifications Q-1 instead of four wing machine guns in nacelles underneath the wing. Reserve of fuel and weight of armament remained in former limits, some modifications had four-blade screws. Since modification Q-20, wing machine guns frequently were not established: the Soviet experts counted presence in one 37-mm cannons and two 12,7-mm machine guns sufficient and appreciated some increment of flight performances and a manoeuvrability more.


  • "Encyclopedia of military engineering" /Aerospace Publising/
  • "American Warplanes of World War II" /under cor. David Donald/
  • "Stories of the aircraft designer" /Alexander Yakovlev/