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Bell XP-59B Airacomet

The Bell XP-59A Airacomet was America's first jet aircraft. Its production was ordered by USAAF General Henry 'Hap' Arnold, who had been impressed by the British-built Gloster E.28/39 jet aircraft at an RAF demonstration in 1941.

On request, the British provided General Arnold with the blueprints for the jet engine. Arnold then took the plans to General Electric and tasked them with the job of replicating them. The airframe of the the XP-59A Airacomet was designed and built by Bell Aircraft.

In order to disguise the XP-59A Airacomet's true power source - it was the middle of WWII after all - when the Airacomet was being transported on the ground it was fitted with a fake propellor over the nosecone. To provide extra confusion, and help safeguard the secrecy surrounding the project, the XP-59A designation was actually the same as a previous experimental aircraft which had been terminated (XP-59).

The Bell XP-59A Airacomet first took to the skies on 1st October 1942, piloted by Bell test pilot Robert Stanley. However it wasn't until the next day that the official first flight of an American jet aircraft was recorded, the pilot was USAAF Colonel Laurence Cragie.

Shortly after the Bell XP-59A Airacomet prototype's first flight it underwent some surgery, and a second cockpit was installed below and forward of the pilot's cockpit so an observer - who monitored the instrumentation - could be carried.

The relatively low power output of the turbojet engines meant the Bell XP-59A Airacomet didn't have the performance to match its contemporary propellor-driven counterparts. Also, when comparison flights were made with the British Gloster Meteor jet, the Airacomet proved to be the weaker aircraft.

Later pre-production prototypes, and the production aircraft had slightly more power and other improvements. In total 3 XP-59A Airacomets (prototypes), 13 YP-59A (pre-production test aircraft), 2 YF2L-1 (Navy version), 20 P-59A (production aircraft), and 30 P-59B (improved production aircraft) were built.

AIRCRAFT IDENTIFICATION: "X and Y aircraft had rounded vertical stabilizers and wingtips while the production A and B models had squared surfaces. The YP-59A can be distinguished from the XP-59A because Ys had nose armament."

Although the Bell XP-59A Airacomet was never flown in combat, and its performance was never considered to be exemplary, it was critical in helping train the first generation of jet fighter pilots, engineers and designers.

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Bell XP-59A Airacomet
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Bell XP-59A Airacomet

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