> Strange Vehicles > Bell XP-59A 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
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
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
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)
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
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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