The end of World War Two was the dawn of the jet age. Every major nation was working on these next generation aircraft.
After the jump, a look at the United States first attempt at a jet fighter.
Let me start with the obvious, this was not a successful aircraft. But that doesn’t mean unimportant or uninteresting. In 1941 the British and Germans were both well along in jet engine development. So the head of the US Army Air Force, General Hap Arnold, arranged for a British W.1 jet engine to be delivered to the General Electric Company in the US to serve as a prototype for American production. He also order Bell Aircraft to begin design on an aircraft to use that engine. Because the new project was very secret, an old designation was recycled; the previously cancelled Bell P-59 would provide cover for the brand new P-59A.
Secrecy remained high when the new airframe was transported cross country to Muroc (later Edwards AFB) for flight testing and a fake propeller was attached to the aircraft. The new fighter was unremarkable structurally and aerodynamically, except it was the first production jet to have the engines buried in the fuselage. In theory, this should reduce drag and simplify handling in the event of a power failure in one engine. Unfortunately the flight testing was disappointing. The aircraft was actually slower than the Thunderbolt and the later Mustang.
The good news was that this was quickly recognized. The type was ordered in to limited production and used for training while studying the issues the new technology would bring to an operational environment. The “B” model of the Airacomet had many improvements, including a more powerful engine that allowed it to top 400 mph. Still behind the British Meteor, but fast enough for some valuable training and testing. Lockheed was at work on a much more sophisticated jet that would eventually become the P-80 Shooting Star (very competitive with other country’s first generation jets).
This subject is from the Hobbycraft kit with Cutting Edge decals. It represents one of three XP-59As built that started test flights in late 1942 (with no serial number displayed it is impossible to tell them apart!).