P-59 Airacomet

The first American turbojet-powered aircraft, and one of the first in the world to be built in (relative) quantity, Bell’s Airacomet was too slow and unstable to use as an operational fighter, but at least helped introduce pilots and ground crews to a type of propulsion that had heretofore been the stuff of comic books and pulp novels.

Well before Pearl Harbor, General Electric was supplied with the details of Frank Whittle’s turbojet, and was able to make use of this to develop and American version, the I-16/J31. A pair of these 2,000lb thrust powerplants would be fitted to Bell’s Model 27 airframe design, which would receive the military designation XP-59. This was something of a cover, as the designation had previously been associated with the company’s stillborn Model 16 piston engined design.

The first XP-59 flew, with British-supplied engines, in October 1942, and it was soon evident that the Airacomet was no world-beater, lacking the performance to truly stand out from piston-engined aircraft. The 13 YP-59As had I-16 engines rated at 1,650lbs thrust, with a pair of aircraft being transferred to the USN, receiving the Navy style designation of XF2L-1. The YPs were followed up by twenty P-59As with a single 37mm cannon (vs the two fitted to earlier aircraft) and three .50-cal machine guns. Airacomet deliveries were finished with thirty P-59Bs, with fifty more airframes of this mark being cancelled. the P-59B was visually distinctive by its squared off wing and tail, as well as a ventral strake.

P-59 Airacomet


Photo: P-59 with nacelle and fuselage panels removed   Aviation  December 1945  p.115

P-59A cutaway drawing   Royal Air Force Yearbook 1984

Tim Large  “Comets’ Tales”   Scale Aviation Modeller  October 2005   building the 1/72 Special Hobby and 1/48 Hobbycraft P-59 kits

David Mondey  The Hamlyn Concise Guide to American Aircraft of World War II  p.15-16: color profiles include YP-59A Mystic Mistress all black drone controller, P-59B Reluctant Robot drone, the third XP-59A, a USN YP-59A, and RAF evaluation aircraft RJ362

Bill Norton   U.S. Experimental & Prototype Aircraft Projects: Fighters 1939-1945   p.226: Closeup of an Airacomet engine installation