For its day, the Bell P-39 was quite an unusual fighter. It had a car type cockpit side door, a cannon firing through the propeller hub, a tricycle undercarriage and the engine was placed behind the pilot. First flights were made in April 1939, and the fighter was ordered by the RAF as the Airacobra I (P-400). These export versions were equivalent to P-39Ds except that they mounted the more rapid firing 20 mm cannon in lieu of the standard 37 mm cannon. Unfortunately, the Airacobra's high-altitude performance was inadequate and most RAF versions were transferred to Russia. The first USAAC operations occurred when the P-39s defending Australia went into action from Port Moresby on April 30, 1942. These American P-39s were soon augmented by a number of Airacobras (including P-39Ds with 20 mm cannon and P-39Fs with 37 mm cannon) which were diverted to the RAAF.
On July 27 1942, 14 Airacobras (A53-1/14) were received at No 2 AP Bankstown, and these aircraft subsequently, operated with Nos 23, 24, 82 and 83 Sqns. A further five Airacobras arrived in May 1943 (A53-15/19) and three more were received in July 1943 (A53-20/22). Except for A53-19 which went to No 82 Wing, these last seven aircraft remained at No 3 AD. By November 1943, all the Airacobras had been returned to the 5th Air Force, with the exception of A53-1, -3, -5 and -8, which were written off in accidents. Like the Buffalo, the Airacobra was supplied to the RAAF as an emergency measure to counter the threatening invasion of Australia which, fortunately, did not eventuate.
Length: 30 ft 2 in (9.2 m)
Wingspan: 34 ft 0 in (10.4 m)
Height: 12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
Wing area: 213 ft² (19.8 m²)
Empty weight: 5,347 lb (2,425 kg)
Loaded weight: 7,379 lb (3,347 kg)
Powerplant: 1× Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12, 1,200 hp (895 kW)
Maximum speed: 376 mph (605 km/h)
Range: 1,098 miles (1,770 km)
Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,700 m)
Rate of climb: 3,750 ft/min (19 m/s)
Wing loading: 34.6 lb/ft² (169 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 6 lb/hp (3.7 kg/kW)
Guns: 1 x 20 mm cannon firing through the propellor boss
2 x 0.303 guns in nose
4 x 0.303 guns in wings
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