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P-39 Airacobra on the Soviet - German Front

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

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

The story of the planes that fought on the Soviet-German front would not be complete without mentioning the American P-39 "Airacobra" - a multi-role fighter produced by Bell Airlines. In maneuvering battles at low and medium altitudes, it showed itself quite well, although in terms of speed, rate of climb and maneuverability at low and medium altitudes it was inferior to domestic fighters. In the bow compartment there was a cannon battery (37 mm cannon), and two 12.7 mm machine guns. The aircraft engine was located behind the cockpit, near the aircraft's center of gravity. Rotation to the propeller was transmitted using a set of transmission shafts.

By the end of World War II, the P-39N and P-39Q aircraft were the main fighters supplied by the allies to the USSR under Lend-Lease. It was on the P-39N fighter with tail number 100 that Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin ended the war. Without underestimating the merits of other pilots who fought on the P-39 aircraft, it must be said that Aerocobra was lucky in the sense that it went to A.I. Pokryshkin, an outstanding pilot and leader with outstanding abilities. He creatively approached the capabilities of the aircraft and developed tactics for the combat use of fighters against German aircraft. AI Pokryshkin, flying on "Airacobras" since the spring of 1943, destroyed 48 enemy aircraft in air battles, bringing the total score to 59 victories. Together with Pokryshkin, such famous aces as G. Rechkalov, G. Golubev, K. Sukhov, the Glinka brothers and others fought on the Airacobra. By the end of the war, Rechkalov's Aerocobra had 56 stars showing the number of aerial victories; 53 enemy aircraft were shot down by Georgy Golubev, 50 - by Dmitry Glinka. N. Gulaev, who also flew on the P-39 fighter, was slightly inferior to Pokryshkin in terms of the number of aircraft shot down. On his personal account, 57 enemy aircraft shot down. The high skill of the Soviet pilots who flew the Airacobra is also confirmed by the fact that none of the Allied pilots, who flew even the more advanced Mustang or Spitfire fighters, could achieve such results. For example, the famous American aces Bond and McGuire shot down 40 and 38 aircraft, respectively, the Englishman Johnson - 38, and the Frenchman Klosterman - 33 enemy aircraft.

It should be noted that the American 37mm cannon had an extremely low rate of fire. So ace Pokryshkin connected from one trigger switch for firing both cannons and machine guns. The results were not long in coming. By the way, the British replaced it with a British Hispano 20-mm cannon on their models.

After the delivery of P-39 aircraft to us, several accidents were recorded due to a breakdown in flight of the stabilizer. After meetings with the specialists of the "Bell" firm, repair work was urgently carried out in the units to strengthen the stabilizer. In the subsequent P-63 "Royal Cobra", most of the defects were taken into account and eliminated, taking into account the operation on the Soviet-German front, and in this improved version the USSR continued to receive these machines.

A total of 4924 P-39 "Airacobra" aircraft were delivered to us under Lend-Lease, 9558 fighters were assembled before the end of serial production.

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

P-39 Modifications

  • 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.

Read More


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