Bell FM-1 Airacuda

As large as a medium bomber, Bell’s Airacuda was designed to meet enemy bombers as far out from US airspace as possible. The aircraft”s unorthodox configuration had V-1710-13s in wing nacelles driving pusher props, with the forward portions of the nacelles forming glazed positions for gunners, each manning one of the large T-9 37mm cannon. As bailing out from these positions would be impeded by the propellers, the gunners would have had to crawl back into the fuselage via wing tunnels before exiting the aircraft in an emergency. Additional armament took the form of .30-caliber machine guns in ventral and beam positions in the fuselage, and a retractable dorsal turret. The prototype Airacuda was flown in September 1937, and was followed by eight YFM-1s (a pair of which later received -41 engines as YFM-1Bs) and three YFM-1As with tricycle gear and a revised canopy.

Bell Airacuda model Kettering Collection Air Force Museum

The Airacuda was never to match expectations, as the V-1710 engines, which were insufficiently powerful for the heavy airframe in the first place, were also prone to overheating. Essentially uncontrollable with only a single engine operating, the Airacuda would lose both engines if the balky APU were to quit, as fuel pressure to the engines (as well as the hydraulics) would be lost. Although the Airacudas were nominally in service for two years, they were recognized as dead ends, and saw little flying. Even after the US entered WWII, there was no use for the type and no further development was carried out, with the nine remaining aircraft being broken up in 1942.

Airacuda Bibliography:

“The New Bell XFM-1 Fighter” Popular Aviation November 1937 p.33 Includes a 3-view diagram.

Röhm & Haas Company ad, showing an XFM-1 in flight. Aviation February 1938 p.114

Photo: frontal shot of an Airacuda Popular Aviation July 1939 p.53

Bell Aircraft Corporation ad, with artwork depicting an Airacuda overflying a dam Aviation November 1940 p.100

Photo: lineup of three YFM-1s Flying & Popular Aviation December 1940 p.48

XFM-1 3-view with YFM-1A side view Flieger Revue 09-1976 p.395

Andy McCabe “Bell YFM-1 Airacuda” Scale Aviation Modeller April 2008 p.330 Review of the 1/72 Valom kit


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