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"Kingcobra" in the Soviet Union

P-63 in Buffalo before being sent to the USSR

The P-63 fighters in Buffalo before being sent to the USSR

When the decision was made to launch the P-63 Kingcobra into series production, it was already quite clear that the main consumer "of these machines would be Soviet aviation. In December 1943, Bell sent detailed information about the P-63 to Moscow. In February 1944," Representatives of the Air Force Research Institute, engineers AG Kochetkov and FP Suprun, were sent to the United States to test the R-63A before the massive flow of these aircraft rushes into the Soviet Union.

Having smashed one "Kingcobra", Kochetkov managed to prove to the Americans the need to improve the anti-roll properties of the fighter - the hereditary misfortune of the descendant of the "Aircobra". Subsequently, the company made changes to the design, partially eliminating this drawback. Meanwhile, the "Kingcobra" was getting bigger and bigger. The dispatch of the P-63 to the USSR was planned by Protocol III on deliveries for the first half of 1944. Indeed, at the beginning of the summer, American ferrymen brought the first Kingcobras to Fairbanks and began to train our pilots on them. In Alaska, only squadron commanders of the ferry division were trained, the rest of the pilots mastered new fighters right in the regiments. In Yakutsk, 50 people who had previously flown A-20 bombers were retrained in 11 days. Soon fighters of this type flew along the ALSIB route to Krasnoyarsk. The first car was delivered in June 1944. Not everything went smoothly. One of the first lots was completely rejected by the Soviet military acceptance in Fairbanks due to defects in oil coolers and returned for revision. In October 1944, all Kingcobras traveling along the American part of the route were detained for a hasty reinforcement of the tail. To speed up the work, civil aviation mechanics were mobilized at all neighboring airports, not only American ones, but also Canadian ones. In total, 233 fighters were modified in this way. The same vehicles that managed to "cross" the border were subsequently altered at our Air Force re-bases according to the recommendations developed at TsAGI. Since September, the R-63A has been painted according to the standard of the Soviet Air Force right at the plant, applying new identification marks - red stars with white edging. By the end of 1944, the Kingcobr was already on the highway more than the P-39. Almost all Kingcobras were driven through Alaska. Distillation of "Kingcobr" was carried out until the end of 1945. The introduction of the new fighter into combat formation was somewhat delayed. Soviet aviation no longer suffered from an acute shortage of aircraft. Keeping in mind the defects of the "Airacobra", they wanted to study its successor thoroughly at first. From the end of 1944 to March 1945, the A-1, A-5, A-7 and A-10 series machines were flown at the Air Force Research Institute and the NKAP LII. In general, the P-63 was rated positively. High speed, good maneuverability, powerful armament recommended it from the very best side. The control system has become more reliable, partially transferred from cables to rigid rods. The comfortable tricycle chassis with effective brakes provided taxiing, takeoff and landing with good visibility and excellent handling on the ground. The P-63A was inferior in speed to the German Bf 109G-4 by only 9 km / h (1.5%) at an altitude of 5000 m, more significantly it lost in climb rate (by 2 m / s - 14%) at the same altitude. But in terms of horizontal maneuver, the American fighter was ahead of both the Messerschmitt and the Focke-Wulf FW 190A-4. The latter lost to “Kingcobra” and in speed. At the same time, the R-63 also had significant drawbacks. Compared to the R-39 of the latest releases, the new vehicle has decreased payload and fuel reserves, and its armor protection has worsened. On the A-1, A-5 and A-6 series aircraft, wing skin deformation was detected; starting with the A-7, the firm thickened the skin and reinforced the kit. The problem was also the insufficient stability of the aircraft at the exit from the dive and at the entrance to the vertical aerobatics. It was partially parried on the A-7 series by the introduction of a counterbalancer in the elevator control system and an increase in the keel area. This drawback was almost completely eliminated on the R-63C modification, which received a more powerful V-1710-117 engine and a ventral comb. These ventral keels "retroactively" began to be mounted on the previously released P-63A, for which they again "slowed down" the movement along the ALSIB.

Despite all the efforts of American designers, the Kingcobra suffered and a corkscrew. This was due to the same reasons as in the R-39: when the ammunition load of the cannon and fuselage machine guns was used up, the balance of the aircraft was violated and it was necessary to immediately compensate for this by adjusting the trim tabs, otherwise the P-63 went into a tailspin. Here is what was written in the report on the test results of the Kingcobra at the Air Force Research Institute: "With minor mistakes made in the process of aerobatics, especially vertical figures, the aircraft may stall into a spin." The corkscrew, however, was less insidious than that of the R-39: smooth, without jerking and beating of the handle. For all these reasons, many restrictions were imposed on piloting the "Kingcobra": fearing overloads, we prohibited an abrupt withdrawal from a dive and entry into vertical figures; piloting was generally allowed only with smooth rudder movements. Performing figures without ammunition or ballast was strictly prohibited. In the spring of 1945, the P-63 began to enter the combat units of the air defense. This is not surprising: at altitudes of over 7500 m, the King Cobra overtook both the Spitfire IX and our La-7. She had a good ceiling. The standard equipment of all P-63s was the MN-26Y radio compass, which greatly facilitated navigation at night and in the clouds. At the beginning of 1945, even one copy of the R-63A-10, equipped with a radar, was received. True, the radar was not a search one, but intended to warn of an attack from behind.

On May 1, 51 P-63s were already listed in the air defense regiments. First of all, the "Kingcobras" were replenished with units previously armed with P-39s. The first P-63 was received by the 28th regiment near Moscow. By August, a dozen vehicles each arrived at the 17th and 821st Air Defense Regiments. In the fall of 1944, several vehicles ended up in the 39th Aviation Regiment at the Malino airfield (also in the Moscow region). In the Air Force, the introduction of new fighters began in the summer. Priority was given to the Far Eastern air armies preparing for hostilities against Japan. The usual direction of movement along the ALSIB route has changed. From Markov, the planes went to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and from Krasnoyarsk, the ferry route extended to Ukkurey in Transbaikalia (via Chita) to re-equip the 12th Air Army. Some of the cars flew here directly from Yakutsk. The first, apparently, the P-63A was equipped with the 190th division of Major General V.V. Fokin, who relocated to Transbaikalia in June 1945. From June 24, she began to receive "Kingcobras" and by August 2, she finished retraining. During military operations in Manchuria, she flew from two airfields - "Ural" and "Leningrad" near Choibalsan in Mongolia. After the war, this division stood for some time near Ulan-Ude. In the same place, in the 12th Air Army on the Trans-Baikal Front, the 245th division fought, which included two regiments (940th and 781st) flying on the P-63. In July-August, the first "Kingcobras" entered the 128th mixed division based in Kamchatka. Arrived P-63 and the 9th and 10th air armies. For them, ferrymen paved the route to Khabarovsk. Here, by the beginning of hostilities, 97 P-63s had accumulated, which they did not manage to distribute to the regiments.

During a short campaign in the Far East, "Kingcobras" were used to escort bombers and scouts, air cover for troops and ships, attack and bombard Japanese positions. On the second day of the offensive, 40 Il-4s, under the cover of 50 P-63s, bombed the fortified area of ​​Suzhou, from where the Japanese shelled the Soviet city of Iman. Units of the 190th and 245th divisions supported the advancing Soviet and Mongolian forces, acting mainly as fighter-bombers and attack aircraft, as well as covering transport aircraft that delivered fuel to advanced tank and mechanized units. The bombs were taken by Soviet, FAB-100, for which the bomb racks were somewhat altered. Underwing large-caliber machine guns were usually not installed. The 888th and 410th regiments from Kamchatka struck at Japanese bases on the Kuril Islands, and then ensured the landing of troops on them. Japanese aviation did not provide serious resistance to the advancing Soviet armies, therefore, it was not possible to test the quality of the Kingcobra in air battles. The only successful battle on the P-63 was conducted by junior lieutenant I.F. Miroshnichenko from the 17th Aviation Regiment. On August 15, he together with his presenter. Hero of the Soviet Union V.F. Sirotin, attacked two Japanese fighters that attacked transport aircraft approaching landing near Vanemiao. One Japanese was shot down, the other disappeared, leaving on low level flight among the hills. The type of Japanese cars in various documents is indicated in different ways: both as "I-97" (ie Nakajima Ki 27), and as "Oscar" (according to the American code, Ki 43 was designated as such). But he and the other were long outdated aircraft, so that the outcome of the battle was actually a foregone conclusion from the very beginning.

At the same time, the first P-63s entered the 7th Fighter Division of the Pacific Fleet Air Force. By August 9, when the war with Japan began, the division had 10 Kingcobras. About two dozen more arrived already during the hostilities, until August 31. They did not take any part in operations against the Japanese.

The surrender of fighters to the Soviet mission in Fairbanks stopped immediately after the surrender of Japan. We managed to get 2,400 Kingcobras out of 2,450 ordered by the Soviet side. Of these, 2,397 arrived through Alaska and only three were brought by sea through Murmansk. It should be pointed out that in Soviet documents there is sometimes a figure of 2,640 vehicles transported to Krasnoyarsk. But, apparently, she is wrong. The movement along the ALSIB highway continued for some time after the surrender of Japan. In Yelizovo, Kamchatka, the last "Kingcobra" was delivered on September 29, 1945.

After the surrender of Japan, there were hundreds of P-63s at the assembly points in Krasnoyarsk and Ukkurey. Their distribution to combat units continued until the fall of 1946.

The Kingcobras have not returned to the USA. This most modern Lend-Lease fighter took a firm place in Soviet aviation after the war — it was the most massive imported aircraft. "Kingcobras" also received units based abroad — in Germany, Austria, and China. So, they had units of the 1st Guards Fighter Division in Neuhausen, and the 83rd Corps in Port Arthur. Personnel retraining and staffing was mainly provided by the 4th and 6th reserve brigades.

The P-63 was also flown by naval pilots. How many planes of this type got into the naval aviation is still unknown, but after the war they were replenished with the regiments of the Air Force of the Black Sea and Northern fleets, previously armed with P-39s. On the Black Sea, they were partially received by the 6th and 11th Guards regiments. The 314th (previously 21st) and 246th Guards regiments flew in the Baltic on these machines. Our pilots respected the Kingcobras for their ease of operation, a spacious, comfortable heated cockpit with excellent visibility, good instruments and a rifle scope. However, in many aviation units, after 1948, engine wear began to affect. The use of forced modes was banned by locking the gas sector limiters. In Siberia and the Far East, there were cases of engine failure during takeoff due to freezing of the gas system. Here is what the Air Marshal Pstygo, in 1952, the deputy corps commander in Kamchatka, wrote about the P-63: perform vertical shapes ". "Kingcobras" remained in service until the arrival of jet fighters. Their replacement began in 1950. Finally, they played an important role in the massive retraining of pilots for jet technology - the MiG-9 fighters, and then the MiG-15. The fact is that both of them had a landing gear with a nose wheel, like the P-63, and all Soviet piston fighters had an old landing gear with a tail support. On the "Kingcobra" and set up training for takeoff and landing in a new manner. In some places, the task was further complicated: they practiced the landing approach without releasing the flaps at a speed of 400-500 km / h, imitating the MiG-15. Already after the removal of the P-63 from the armament of combat units, they remained for a long time in flight schools as transitional vehicles; in some places they were seen even in the late 50s.

In the USSR, two-seater training versions of the "Kingcobra" were manufactured, according to the scheme similar to the two-seater "Airacobra". The first versions of them were made handicraft in different places, and in 1948, the Air Force TsNEB proposed a typical project for such an alteration. We wanted to modify a large number of vehicles for training pilots in take-off and landing techniques with a three-wheeled chassis, which was becoming a distinctive feature of new jet fighters. Instead of an armament compartment, a second cockpit was placed. One machine gun was retained for aerial shooting exercises. One double R-63, converted by the 321st Rembase, from December 1948 to April 1949 was undergoing state tests at the Air Force Research Institute. V.E. flew. Golofastov. Changes in the centering of the two-seater aircraft improved its anti-roll properties. The program also included parachute jumps from the front cockpit, which were supposed to prove the possibility of its safe departure. The jumps were performed by the famous parachutist V.T. Romanyuk. After that, a massive conversion of fighters into a training version began at the rembases of the air armies and fleets. For the 3rd Air Army, such alterations were carried out by the Rembaza in Siauliai. They produced 25 training P-63Us; all of them were tested by pilot S.Ya. Tatushin. A similar modification was carried out by workshops in Tbilisi, where they were called R-63V.

Now in our country there is one such machine - a strange hybrid of P-63 and P-39 in the Air Force Museum in Monino, collected from the wreckage of several aircraft that crashed on the Siberian highway.


  • " Americans in Russia " / V.R. Kotelnikov, G.F. Petrov /
  • " US Fighters Part 3 " / Vladimir Kotelnikov /