The P-59 was the first jet-powered aircraft in the U.S. Jet engine development had been proceeding in Germany since the mid-1930s. The Allies recognized that they needed to catch up quickly in this important technology.
In April 1941 General Hap Arnold, then chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps, had visited England's top-secret jet development facility, where the Whittle centrifugal design engine was under development. Upon returning to the United States, Arnold contacted General Electric about building the Whittle engine under license. Bell Aircraft was selected as the airframe manufacturer.
The first aircraft, the XP-59, was completed in August 1942, with the first flight taking place at Muroc dry lake bed (later Edwards AFB) on October 2, 1942, and piloted by Bell test pilot Bob Stanley. A total of three XP-59s were built.
On 26 March 1942, Bell was awarded a contract for 13 service test YP-59 airplanes, which were fitted with upgraded engines. These were followed by the YP-59A, which had minor modifications to the airframe. The program was canceled in March 1945, with a total of 66 P-59As produced. The P-59 was never used in combat; the distinction of first U.S. combat jet would go to the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star.
There are six surviving P-59s. The museum's aircraft was acquired from the California Polytechnic University of San Luis Obispo in the mid-1950s.
Of the 66 P-59As manufactured, the Planes of Fame Air Museum's was the seventh production model, which was used in early experimental testing and now is the oldest surviving Airacomet. When restored to flight, it will be the only flyable P-59 in the world.
Status: Restoring to Flight
Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft
Model: P-59A Airacomet
Serial Number: 42-108777
Max T/O Weight: 12,700 lb.
Span: 49 ft. 9 in.
Length: 38 ft. 10 in.
Height: 12 ft. 4 in.
Maximum Speed: 413 mph
Cruise Speed: 375 mph
Rate of Climb: 3,200 ft/min
Power Plant: 2 x General Electric 1-16 centrifugal-flow turbojet engines
Range: 500 miles
Service Ceiling: 46,200 ft.
Armament: One, 37-mm cannon and three 0.50-cal machine guns