Bell P-39 Airacobra Color Photographs Part I

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was originally intended to be a high-altitude interceptor, featuring a turbo-supercharger and heavy armament centered around a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller hub. To allow for a heavy concentration of guns in the forward fuselage, the engine was mounted behind the pilot and drove the propeller via a long transmission.
Wind tunnel tests resulted in several refinements to the design, and Bell delivered a total of thirteen YP-39 development aircraft, one of which is seen here. The USSAC preferred aircraft optimized for low-altitude work, so the turbo-supercharger was dropped from the design. This Airacobra is unarmed.
Bell submitted a modified design for competition for a U.S. Navy requirement for a carrier-borne interceptor. The result was the XFL-1 Airabonita, which was designed using a conventional tricycle landing gear configuration. Note the tailhook under the fuselage.
The Airabonita failed its carrier qualifications due to weak landing gear. Only a single prototype was produced.
A flight of P-39Ds, the large “buzz numbers” on the forward fuselage denoting training aircraft. Note the prominent exhaust stains along the length of the fuselage.
A pair of P-39Cs of the 8th Pursuit Squadron are seen here participating in the 1941 Carolina Maneuvers in 1941. The red cross markings are carried in six positions and designate the aircraft are part of “Red Force”. The individual aircraft numbers are repeated on the leading edge of the wings. (NASM, Hans Groenhoff collection)
A posed photo purported showing the loading of the guns of a P-39C armed with a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub. A close examination reveals the “armorer” on the wing is a Captain. Modelers note the overspray where the white band on the nose was masked off. (NASM, Rudy Arnold collection)
P-39Ds at Selfridge Field during the Summer of 1941. They belong to the appropriately-named “Cobras” of the 39th Pursuit Squadron, 31st Pursuit Group.
A close-up showing the emblem of the 39th Pursuit Squadron on the “car door”, along with details of the fuselage.
Diorama bait as a P-39F of the 54th Fighter Group is being serviced in the open at Adak, Alaska. The effects of the harsh environment are evident in the condition of the paint and weathering of the camouflage.

Part II here: