Bell P-59 Airacomet Color Photographs

The Bell P-59 Airacomet was America’s first jet fighter design. It used a copy of Britain’s W.1 engine, which was produced by General Electric as the GE J31. It flew for the first time on 01OCT42. Pictured here is the prototype at Muroc Dry Lake in late 1942.
Like most early jets, the P-59 was underpowered and had a short range. Engine reliability was also an issue, constant maintenance was required. In fly-offs the P-59 was out-matched by both the P-38 Lightening and P-47 Thunderbolt.
On the other hand, the Airacomet was designed with a heavy armament carried in the nose. The first aircraft were equipped with two 37mm cannon. This was later changed to one 37mm cannon and three .50 caliber machine guns.
Cockpit layout was conventional. This is a photograph of the restored P-59B cockpit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, Ohio.
A total of 66 Airacomets of all types were built, including 20 P-59A and 30 P-59B production aircraft. The lackluster performance prevented the type from ever being used in combat and the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star being selected for service.
Two YP-49A development aircraft, 42-108778 and 42-108779 were delivered to the Navy for carrier compatibility trails. The Navy designated the type YF2L-1 and assigned them BuNo 63960 and 63961 respectively. Here 42-108778 is being examined by Navy personnel.
A fine study of two YP-59A’s in flight. While the type was not successful, it was used for training and familiarization flights to introduce USAAF personnel to the new technology.
This overhead view shows extensive wear to the Olive Drab over Neutral Gray finish of one of the the YP-59A development aircraft.
A 1947 photograph of a YP-59A named “Mystic Mistress” at an open house at Wright Patterson AFB. If you look closely, you can see an open observer’s cockpit has been fitted forward into the armament bay. Five Airacomets were converted in this manner, and were used during flight tests and to control other Airacomets configured as drones.