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P-59 "Airacomet"



P-59 Airacomet

The Bell Model 27 or P-59A Aerokomet was the first turbojet fighter developed in the United States. It must be said that of all the belligerent countries, perhaps only the Americans paid little attention to the development of jet aircraft. This is primarily due to the specificity of the doctrine of the use of the Air Force. The war did not really threaten the territory of the United States, and high-speed interceptors were not needed to protect cities and factories from enemy raids. In the fight against Japan, powerful piston fighters and bombers would be enough. The industry was oriented mainly towards the production of long-range bomber aircraft capable of flying across the ocean. And only the fact that the US armed forces are more and more involved in hostilities on the European continent forced to turn to new approaches. The successes achieved by Germany and England in the development of jet aviation also played a role.

At the end of the 30s, the Americans experimented rather sluggishly with combined motokopressorny installations. The result was a unit based on a piston motor combined with an axial compressor. But he was never put on the plane, he weighed too much, was very bulky and consumed too much fuel.

To make up for lost time, I had to turn to overseas experience. Help came from England in the form of blueprints, technical documentation and several prototypes of Wheatle's turbojet engine. Work on the design of an aircraft for these engines began immediately.

Initially, the designation XP-59 belonged to another project of the Bell piston fighter - a two-boom aircraft with coaxial propellers. However, in December 1941, the US Air Force abandoned the construction of such an option, and the number "fifty-nine" subsequently passed to the company's first-born jet.

The creation of aviation technology is always associated with mystery. In addition to the fact that for the new aircraft they left the index belonging to the earlier piston machine, all work was carried out in the strictest secrecy. The designers involved in the project were isolated from the rest of Bell's employees and housed not in the KB, but in a building on Elnwood Avenue in Buffalo (owned by Pierce Arrow). The construction of the prototype began in one of the institutions rented from Ford. It was from this building with barred windows and tinted glass that the first XP-59A was rolled out in September 1942.

Construction The XP-59A had an all-metal structure with a trapezoidal wing and a tricycle landing gear with a nose wheel. The main struts were retracted by electric motors into the wing, and the nose - into the landing gear compartment in the bow. Two power spars in the wing went along the entire length, and the third reached half the span. The fuselage consisted of two parts. The front to the end of the cockpit consisted of frames, stringers and skin. The back was a monocoque with a working casing. All steering surfaces were covered with a canvas, and the flaps were extended from the electric motor. General Electric 1-A engines were located at the root of the wing on the sides of the fuselage and had unregulated oval air intakes. This placement of the turbojet engine ensured ease of operation and maintenance, which is very important when testing an experimental vehicle. In addition, stopping any of the engines in flight did not cause significant thrust asymmetry, since the nozzles were located close to the aircraft axis. With this arrangement, there was no need for long air ducts, which made the structure heavier and reduced traction. Air bleeding from the engines was used in the aircraft's high-altitude and anti-icing systems. The cockpit canopy was classic for fighters of those years - with side-folding glazing. The self-sealing fuel tanks were housed in the wing, and their total capacity was 1,097 liters. Of the small arms, it was planned to install two 37 mm M4 cannons in the nose with 44 rounds of ammunition per barrel (no weapons were installed on the first prototype).

& nbsp; As already mentioned, the assembly of the first XP-59A was carried out in January 1942 in a building rented from Ford in Buffalo. Here the car received engines and on September 12, through a gap in the wall, it left its "cradle". That same night, disassembled and packed in large boxes, the XP-59A set off by rail to the secret Muroc base, located at the bottom of the dried-up Rogers Dry Lake in Southern California (now the famous US Air Force test center).

The engines were working reliably. But soon the experienced motors showed their temper. The technicians were worn out with the GEI-A turbojet engine: very often, after their launch, flashes of flame flew out of the nozzle, and the engine did not produce the calculated thrust. Engine deficiencies such as unreliable fuel pump operation, overheating of the shaft bearings and rupture of turbine blades continued to be a major challenge in testing.

Specification P-59A
Crew 1
Wing span, m 13.87
Wing area, m² 35.86
Length, m 11.62
Height, m 3.66
2 TJE General Electric J31-GE-3 (I-14) kg 2 х 748
Weight, kg:
Empty weight 3606
Maximum takeoff weight 5902
Maximum speed at altitude 10670m, km/h 658
Time to level 9150 m, min 15.5
Service ceiling, m 14090
Maximum range, km 837
2 × 20-mm cannon (37-mm cannon M4 and 3x 12.7-mm machine gun)

The XP-59 made its maiden flight on October 1, 1942. It was powered by two General Electric 1-A engines with a thrust of 590 kgf, built according to the Whitl's patent. The Americans had high hopes for the XP-59. But they didn't come true.

Bell received an order in March 1943 to build a batch of 13 YP-59A pre-production prototype fighters. The cars differed from the prototypes with a new canopy with sliding back glazing. Instead of the I-A engines with a thrust of 590 kgf, the experimental YР-59А should have been equipped with a more powerful modification of the J31 with a thrust of 748 kgf. The Air Force command demanded that the first nine UR-59A weapons remain armed with two 37 mm M4 cannons, and the last four vehicles would have received four barrels - one 37 mm cannon and three 12.7 mm machine guns.

The head pair of YP-59A arrived at Murok in June 1943, and on August 18 the first flight took place (it was YP-59A under number “2”). Unfortunately, the new engines were not delivered on time - the plane flew with less powerful I-A. Therefore, the data of the jet fighter was not very high. The YP-59A accelerated at an altitude of 10,717 meters to 626 km / h, and at ground level, the maximum speed was 563 km / h.

The plane numbered "3" went by ship across the ocean so that the British could get acquainted with it. They, in turn, sent their latest jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, to the United States.

The operational reliability of the YP-59A left much to be desired, and the Aerokomet made only 11 flights overseas until April 1944 (which was also facilitated by the difficulty in delivering spare parts from America). Finally, in early 1945, the plane was returned to the United States. In the future, the British considered the issue of serial production of a more advanced modification of the R-59V, but due to the low data of the aircraft, these plans were not realized.

February 5, 1944. in Murok conducted comparative flights of the jet "Aerokomet" and the serial piston fighters P-47D "Thunderbolt" and P-38J "Lightning". The first-born jet was outright losing to its piston competitors in all parameters - maneuverability, range, reliability and even speed.

The first P-59A made its flight in August 1944. A total of 20 vehicles of this series were built. They also used turbojet engines, the General Electric J31-GE-3 with a thrust of 748 kgf each. On the serial R-59A, the wingspan (from 14.9 to 13.87 m) and the area (from 37.16 to 35.86 m) of the wing were reduced in comparison with the experimental machines. The rudder was made of a different shape - more square, and a profile remained at the bottom to improve directional stability. The fuselage structure was strengthened. Ailerons and flaps received duralumin sheathing. More reliable locks of the retracted position appeared on the landing gear, the LDPE was moved to the keel. The maximum speed was 660 km / h. But the flight characteristics of the R-59A turned out to be not better than the corresponding samples of fighters with piston engines. At the same time, attempts were made to increase the thrust of the engines, to increase the range due to the additional amount of fuel, and some other minor alterations and improvements were made.

The modified version was designated R-59V. An order was received for 80 vehicles, but they did not achieve a fundamental improvement in performance characteristics, and after the release of 30 P-59Vs, the order for them and all production was canceled.

Thus, the first-born jet of the Bell company stood in service for only a year, and by June 1946, not a single P-59 remained at the base in March. One aircraft was used in Murok until October 1948 for auxiliary and communication purposes - it changed its designation to 2.Р-59В. Three R-59Vs were transferred to the Navy. Having received the designation XF2L-1, they briefly outlived their brethren. One was written off in December 1947, another in the same month fell into disrepair after a rough landing, and only the third fighter remained in flight condition the longest and was in operation until the end of 1949.

The fate of the first jet fighter firm "Bell" in many respects repeated the fate of all the first jet aircraft. These aircraft had similar disadvantages - unreliable operation and insufficient engine thrust, low speed and difficulty in maintenance. But despite the fact that the R-59 had a maximum speed lower than it was planned to get in the piston fighter project, the Aerokomet jet played its role in the US military aviation. Not becoming a full-fledged combat fighter, the R-59 served well for pilots who received the skills of piloting jet aircraft on it. The operation of the Aerokomet became a school for the designers who tested many technical solutions on the first-born jet of the Bell firm.

Photo Description
Drawing P-59B-1

Drawing P-59B-1

Bell YP-59A in flight

Bell YP-59A in flight


  • "Encyclopedia of military engineering" /Aerospace Publising/
  • "American Warplanes of World War II" /under cor. David Donald/