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Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War

Bell P-39 Airacobra
Bell P-400 - a British P-39 requisitioned for the US Army Air Corps, still equipped with 20mm cannon and showing British serial number
Bell P-39L Airacobra - an interim model with Curtiss Electric propeller
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 nose.

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 role.

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.

(for P-39L)
Origin:  Bell Aircraft Corporation

Type:  Single-seat fighter and ground attack aircraft


Span: 34'  (10.37 metres)Length: 30' 2" (9.2 metres)Height: 11' 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

One x 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 metres)
Range 1,475 miles / 2,360 kilometres

Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War

The Battle for Leyte Gulf,  23-26 October 1944

The Battle of the Philippine Sea,  19-20 June 1944

Dave James' Naval & Maritime Pages

A Note About These Pages

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 scale of these drawings.


Aircraft of the Pacific War

The Battle for Leyte Gulf,  23-26 October 1944

The Battle of the Philippine Sea,  19-20 June 1944

Dave James' Naval & Maritime Pages

 The 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