Bell P-63 Kingcobra
U.S. Fighter & Ground Attack

P-63.jpg (12576 bytes)  

The Ghost Squadron's P-63 Kingcobra.

Image source: The Confederate Air Force Ghost Squadron CD-ROM produced by Corel. Photos by Bill Crump.

Developed from the earlier Bell P-39 Airacobra, the P-63 featured laminar flow wings and a more powerful version of the Allison V-12 liquid-cooled engine, both combining to give a higher speed. Neither the P-39 or P-63 were successful as high-altitude fighters, but both found their niche as ground-attack aircraft.

Both the P-39 and later P-63 were unusual in design and appearance, compared with other contemporary American fighters. With the engine mounted behind the cockpit, the propeller was driven by a long driveshaft, which passed under the pilot and between his legs. The cockpit also featured automobile-like doors, complete with roll down windows on many models. Finally, the aircraft sat on a tricycle landing gear, with a nosewheel instead of the more common tailwheel.

The prototype Kingcobra, the XP-63A was first flown on 26 April, 1943, and delivery of production P-63As began in October of that year. More than 3,300 P-63s of all types were built, but more than 2,400 went to Russia and another 300 to the Free French Air Force. It is unlikely that any P-63s were used in combat operations by the USAAF.

With its 37-mm automatic cannon firing through the engine’s crankshaft, the P-63 packed a potent punch when used as a ground attack aircraft, the cannon shells being able to destroy enemy trucks, trains and even tanks with just a few hits. Early versions of the Kingcobra carried only 30 rounds of ammunition for the cannon but later versions increased this to 58.

Probably the oddest use of a fighter aircraft came with the modification of a number of P-63s for Operation Pinball, fitted with extra thick skin over the top of the fuselage, bulletproof glass for the cockpit and steel grills and guards over engine air intakes and coolant radiators.

This "armor" allowed the Pinball aircraft to be fired at by aerial gunners in training, with special frangible (breakable) bullets. The idea was that the gunners would get practice at shooting at real live fast-moving aircraft attacking their training bombers. Each frangible bullet was supposed to advance a hit counter in the target aircraft, showing how often the gunner was on target. In addition, a light mounted in the nose of the propeller spinner was supposed to flash with each hit!


One Pilot

One Allison V-1710-93/95 Engine
Liquid-cooled Supercharged V-12 Inline
1,325 hp @ 3,000 rpm

One 37 mm Cannon
Four .50 caliber Machine Guns
Up to 1,500 lbs of Bombs

Max. Speed 408 mph @ 25,000 feet
Cruise Speed 378 mph
Landing Speed 100 mph

Climb to 25,000 ft in 7.3 minutes
Service Ceiling 43,000 ft

Length 32' 8"
Height 12' 7"
Wing Span 38' 4"

Max. Weight 10,500 lbs
Empty Weight 6,375 lbs

Normal Fuel 126 gallons
Max. Fuel 451 gallons

Normal Range 450 miles
Maximum Range 2,200 miles


Back to Ghost Squadron Aircraft Index

Ghost Squadron is a registered trademark of the Commemorative Air Force
All material not specifically credited is Copyright by Randy Wilson.