P-59A Airacomet

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Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Corp
Designation: P-59
Version: A
Nickname: Airacomet
Type: Fighter
Length: 38' 10"  
Height: 11' 11 3/4"  
Wingspan: 45' 6"  
Max Take-off Weight: 13,700 lbs  
No. of Engines: 2
Powerplant: General Electric J31-GE-3
Pounds of static thrust (each): 2,000
Performance (below is for P-59B)
Range: 440 miles  
Cruise Speed: 320 mph    
Max Speed: 450 Mph    
Ceiling: 43,400 Ft  


The result of a top-secret project begun before the start of the Second World
War, the single-seat Bell P-59A was the United States first jet fighter.
Designed around a modified British 'Whittle' engine and a P-39 Airacobra
airframe, the P-59 series aircraft were constructed by Bell Aircraft at its
Wheatfield, New York factory. In order to disguise its advanced power plant, the
first XP-59 test aircraft was fitted with a removable false propeller whenever
it was on the ground. Despite the innovative design, the P-59 series was plagued
with continuing performance problems, centering on the aircrafts finicky General
Electric Model 1A turbo-jet engine. These difficulties prevented any P-59s from
seeing combat in World War 2.

Perhaps, the aircrafts greatest contribution to the advancement of aviation
came as a by-product of its developmental testing at Muroc Army Air Field,
California, now Edwards Air Force Base. There, aviation engineers used the
extensive flight data collected in the P-59 program to design the next
generation of American jet fighters including the successful P-80 Shooting Star.

Fifty-seven aircraft of the P-59 series were built, seven XP pre-production,
twenty A production and thirty B production models. Later, at least one of the
XP models was converted to an A. Of the original fifty-seven, only six are known
to exist today.

March Field Air Museum's P-59A Airacomet 44-22614 was accepted from Bell
Aircraft on September 25, 1944 and was assigned to the 412th Fighter Group,
located at Muroc Army Air Field. In November of 1945, the aircraft was
transferred to March Field where five months later it was removed from service.
First used as an instructional airframe at a technical school in Santa Maria,
California, 44-22614 later went into storage at Edwards AFB.

In 1980, P-59A Airacomet 44-22614 returned to March Field, this time as a
collection of parts on the back of a truck. Dedicated March Field Air Museum
volunteers and members of the 452nd Air Refueling Wing began the process of
painstakingly piecing the aircraft together. By the early 1990s, the Air Force
withdrew, leaving only museum volunteers to complete the task. In 1997,
seventeen years after returning to March, P-59A 44-22614, the only remaining
production P-59A in existence, was completed. P-59A Airacomet 44-22614, on
permanent display at March Field Air Museum, is on loan from the USAF.

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According to the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA/RSA), Maxwell
AFB, AL, the museum's P-59A has the following history:

P-59A-1, s/n 44-22614

Manufactured by Bell Aircraft, Buffalo New York and delivered to the U.S. Air
Force on October 5th 1944.

Oct 1944 - To 31st Fighter Squadron (Fourth Air Force), Palmdale AAF CA.

Dec 1944 - To 412th AAF Base Unit (Air Technical Service Command), San
Bernardino AAF CA.

Feb 1945 - To 31st Fighter Squadron (4th AF), Palmdale AAF (deployments to
445th Fighter Squadron, Barksdale AAF LA).

Jul 1945 - To Santa Maria AAF CA.

Oct 1945 - To 412th Fighter Group (Continental Air Force), Santa Maria AAF

Nov 1945 - To 420th AAF Base Unit (CAF), March AAF CA.

Apr 1946 - Dropped from inventory as surplus.