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Posted on Dec 23, 2004 in War College

Profile: Bell P-39Q Airacobra

By Austin Vance


Span:  34 ft 
Length:  30 ft 2 in (9.2 m)
Height:  11 ft 10 in (3.63 m)   
Weight:  7,570 lbs. normal load     
Armament:  1 x 37mm T9 (Oldsmobile) cannon (Fires through the propeller hub)/ 2 x .50-cal. machine gun, nose mount/2 x .50-cal. machine gun, packet mount under wing/500 lbs. of external bombs.
Engine:  Allison V-1710-85 (E19) (1,500 HP)
Cost:  $46,000    


Maximum speed:  380 mph (612 km/h) 
Cruising speed:  250 mph   
Range:  675 miles (1,086 km) 
Service Ceiling:  35,000 ft. (10,670 m)


The Story:

The P-39 was one of America’s first-line pursuit planes in December 1941. It made its initial flight in April 1939 at Wright Field and by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, nearly 600 had been built. Its unique engine location behind the cockpit caused some pilot concern, but this proved to be no more of a hazard in a crash landing than with an engine located forward of the cockpit. However, the P-39’s spin characteristics could be quite a problem if recovery techniques were ignored.

The Airacobra saw combat throughout the world, particularly in the Southwest Pacific, Mediterranean and Russian theaters. Because its engine was not equipped with a supercharger, the P-39 performed best below 17,000 feet altitude, and it often was used at lower altitudes for such missions as ground strafing. When P-39 production ended in August 1944, Bell had built 9,584 Airacobras, of which 4,773 had been allotted to the Soviet Union. Russian pilots particularly liked the cannon-armed P-39 for its ground attack capability. Other P-39s served French and British forces.

The P-39Q on display was obtained by the Air Force Museum Foundation from the Hardwick Aircraft Co., El Monte, California in 1966. It is painted as a P-39J flown by Lt. Leslie Spoonts of the 57th Fighter Squadron in 1942 while based on Kodiak and Adak Islands during the Aleutian Campaign.


  1. I think it is the best looking of all the piston engine planes of WWII. Too bad they removed the turbo and replaced it with a super charger, if they would have left it alone it would have been as good as the p-38 and p-47. But I guess they needed production turbo’s for the Allison p-38’s instead.

  2. p.s the p-39 did have a supercharger it was the removal of the turbocharger and replacing it with a supercharger is what hampered it.