Aircraft of the Pacific War
Bell P-39 Airacobra
First flown as a company prototype in 1939, this design by R.J. Woods and
O.L. Woodson was unique in having a nosewheel-type tricycle undercarriage,
and the engine mounted behind the pilot. The propeller was driven by a
long shaft underneath the pilot's seat, with a reduction gearbox in the
A powerful 37mm cannon and other guns were also mounted in the nose
- the first production aircraft had two .30 caliber and two .50 caliber
Browning machine guns, all of these synchronized to fire through the propeller.
Britain ordered this unconventional fighter in 1940, and in June 1941
the first Airacobra Mk. I arrived in the UK (with the 37mm cannon and its
15 rounds of ammunition replaced by a 20mm with 60 rounds of ammunition).
This version also carried six 0.303 Brownings, two in the nose and two
in each wing. It equipped 601 Squadron RAF, who did poorly with it,
and had difficulty in keeping the unusual aircraft serviceable. The
US Army Air Corps, by contrast, was to use the Airacobra in large numbers.
Altogether 9,588 units of the Airocobra were built, and they were used
with some success, especially in the Pacific theatre and North Africa.
In the Pacific they made an important contribution to the Allied effort
during the Guadalcanal campaign and later offensives in the Solomons and
New Guinea - mainly as a ground attack aircraft.
Approximately 5,000 - a good half of all production of the P-39 - were
supplied to the Soviet Union, mainly through Alaska and Iran. The aircraft
was to prove popular with Soviet forces, especially in the tank-busting
The most numerous variant was the P-39Q, of which over 4,900 were built.
In 1944 the Airacobra was succeeded in production by the P-63 Kingcobra.
Type: Single-seat fighter
and ground attack aircraft
2" (9.2 metres)Height:
10" (4.3 metres)
10,700 lb (4,853 kg) empty - 19,400 lb (8.800 kg) loaded
One 1,325 hp Allison V-1710-63 vee-12 liquid-cooled
37mm cannon with 30 rounds (15 rounds in earliest sub-types)
Two synchronized 0.5 Browning machine-guns in nose
plus two synchronized 0.3 Browning machine-guns in nose
Maximum speed 380 mph (612 km/hour)
Initial climb 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) per minute
Service ceiling 35,000 feet(10,670
Range 1,475 miles / 2,360 kilometres
A Note About These
I have gone to some trouble to illustrate
this site with profile drawings of a fairly high standard, but please be
arned that (for various reasons) there is
little consistency - at least as between one page and
another of the site - as regards the
of these drawings.
of the Pacific War
Battle for Leyte Gulf, 23-26 October 1944
P-39 profile drawings are reproduced, with thanks,from
'Combat Aircraft of World
War II" by Bill Gunston (Spring/Salamander)
which is also the main source
for the text of this site, as well as for data given for the P-39L