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Bell XP-59 (Model 20) - United States, 1943

Detailing the development and operational history of the Bell XP-59 (Model 20) Twin-Boom Fighter Proposal.

 Entry last updated on 12/21/2016; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Bell XP-59 (Model 20)  
Picture of Bell XP-59 (Model 20)

The Bell XP-52 evolved to become the larger XP-59 fighter form - but both were dropped from contention and the XP-59 designation reused for the jet-powered Bell P-59 Airacomet.

Bell provided its XP-52 design as a contender for a new United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighter requirement emerging in the late-1930s. Bell was already gaining notoriety in aviation circles for their rather forward-thinking designs such as the YFM-1 "Airacuda" bomber destroyer and the P-39 "Airacobra". The Airacuda of 1940 was a highly ambitious attack platform intended to tackle enemy bombers head-on but only thirteen were eventually built, the line dropped as soon as 1942. The P-39, on other hand, managed a more successful existence during World War 2 (1939-1945) as over 9,500 were produced and it primarily found success with the Soviets via Lend-Lease.

With that in mind, the XP-52 was another in the company's long line of unique wartime submissions. It utilized a twin-boom configuration not unlike the Lockheed P-38 "Lightning" heavy fighter and similarly sat its pilot in a centralized fuselage nacelle. The engine was placed at the rear of this nacelle to drive a pair of propeller units in contra-rotating fashion by way of "pusher" configuration. The engine would be aspirated through an intake at the nose. The wing mainplanes, swept slightly aft, were positioned at the rear of the fuselage nacelle and from their trailing edges originated the tail booms - each capped by a vertical fin and joined by a shared horizontal plane. As with other Bell aircraft products, a tricycle undercarriage would be featured in the design.

Power was to come from a Continental XIV-1430-3 V-12 inverted liquid-cooled piston engine. The same engine was selected for the experimental Curtiss XP-55, Lockheed XP-49, and McDonnell XP-67 prototypes (all detailed elsewhere on this site) but ultimately ran into issues by performing beyond expectations. Little more than twenty-three were produced.

The XP-52 never materialized beyond some preliminary work and was officially cancelled on November 25th, 1941 (America would enter World War 2 just one month later). Instead, it was decided to pursue an enlarged version of the same aircraft as the "XP-59" so the twin-boom configuration with pusher-propeller setup would be carried over. Power would come from a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-23 engine outputting 2,000 horsepower.

In the end, even this Bell product did not progress beyond preliminary work (a wind tunnel model was completed providing the general shape of the aircraft). Attention was now being paid to a jet-powered fighter that Bell was selected to design and build. General Electric was charged with manufacturing a local copy of the British Whittle turbojet for the new design intended to serve the now-United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The aircraft received the same designation of "XP-59" (effectively cancelling the original XP-59 Bell initiative) and became the P-59 "Airacomet" in service - America's first jet-powered fighter.

Performance figures on this page are estimates on the part of the author based on similar designs of the period.

Bell XP-59 Specifications

Service Year: 1943
Type: Twin-Boom Fighter Proposal
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Bell Aircraft Corporation - USA
Total Production: 0

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 34.12 feet (10.4 meters)
Overall Width: 37.73 feet (11.50 meters)
Overall Height: 12.47 feet (3.80 meters)

Weight (Empty): 7,055 lb (3,200 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 9,700 lb (4,400 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: XP-52: 1 x Continental XIV-1430-3 V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine developing 1,275 horsepower and driving a pair of propeller blades arranged in a "puller" configuration through a contra-rotating fashion.

Maximum Speed: 337 knots (388 mph; 625 kph)
Maximum Range: 378 nautical miles (435 miles; 700 km)
Service Ceiling: 26,247 feet (8,000 meters; 4.97 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,500 feet-per-minute (762 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

1 x 37mm M4 cannon with 2 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in nose.
2 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in wings (one to a wing).

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

United States (cancelled)

Model Variants

XP-52 - Initial prototype designation
XP-59 - Revised, dimensionally larger form based on the XP-52 design.
P-59 - Assumed USAAC in-service designation

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