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  • Bell XP-52 (Model 16) Twin-Boom Single-Seat Heavy Fighter Proposal

    Little work was completed on the Bell XP-52 before the company and the Army moved on a more promising design.

     Updated: 12/21/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    As Europe was being pushed down the path of Total War in the late 1930s, the United States forged ahead with strengthening its various military services. This led to a period of considerable testing and growth in the field of military aviation which benefitted the classic designs of the World War 2 era (1939-1945). Bell, a relative newcomer to the field, was one of the most forward-thinking aviation concerns of the time and, while many of its designs never saw the light of day, the company certainly did its part in attempting to keep America ahead of its potential adversaries.

    In November of 1939, the United States Air Corps (USAAC) set about a requirement for a single-seat, single engine fighter with performance specifications to include a speed of 425 miles per hour at 15,000 feet and a rate-of-climb of2,857 feet-per-minute. Armament would center around 4 x autocannons (or machine guns) and there would be provision for six 20lb bombs carried externally. Rough-field operations would also factor into the robust design and a mission endurance window of 1.5 hours was sought - allowing the heavy fighter to reach far-off areas or loiter when needed. All told, the requirements were considerable for the technology of the period and would require much experimentation and engineering prowess to bring such a design to fruition.

    The Pratt & Whitney XH-3130 liquid-cooled inline piston engine was at the forefront of USAAC thinking to power its next-generation fighter but this engine remained developmental. Its origins lay in a United States Navy (USN) program of the late-1930s and featured 24-cylinders with and expected power output over 2,500 horsepower. In time, this engine evolved to become the larger XH-3730, though still in a developmental state, and it was thought that the engine could reach an output level of 3,000 horsepower.

    The new aircraft design was collectively filed under Pursuit Specification "XC-622" and the USAAC wanted it operational as soon as 1941.

    Bell began by working on their "Model 13" and this design was more or less centered on various engine installations to their P-39C "Airacobra" pusher-engined fighter. The rear-mounted arrangement of the engine helped to streamline the airframe and relieve the nose assembly of clutter, allowing a powerful armament battery to be fitted (cannon for example). The propeller was still mounted at the nose and driven by the engine through a shaft running under the cockpit floor. When this phase reached its apex, the company moved on the "Model 16" which involved an all-new airframe design.

    Bell XP-52 Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1940
    Type: Twin-Boom Single-Seat Heavy Fighter Proposal
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Bell Aircraft - USA
    Production Total: 0

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 34.78 feet (10.6 meters)
    Width: 34.78 feet (10.60 meters)
    Height: 9.28 feet (2.83 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 6,614 lb (3,000 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 8,201 lb (3,720 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): PROPOSED: 1 x Continental XI-1430-5 inline piston engine of 1,250 horsepower OR 1 x Pratt & Whitney R-2800 inline piston engine; driving 2 x three-bladed propeller units in pusher configuration.

    Maximum Speed: 430 mph (692 kph; 374 knots)
    Maximum Range: 960 miles (1,545 km)
    Service Ceiling: 40,000 feet (12,192 meters; 7.58 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 3,175 feet-per-minute (968 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    2 x 20mm cannons in the nose
    3 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in portside boom lead.
    3 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in portside boom lead.

    Global Operators / Customers

    United States (cancelled)

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    Model 16 - Bell company designation

    XP-52 - USAAC project designation