Jet-Powered Escort Fighter Aircraft Prototype
The ultimately-cancelled Bell XP-83 Escort Fighter was developed from the disappointing Bell P-59 Airacomet series during the immediate post-World War 2 years.
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In 1942, with World War in full swing across Europe and the Pacific, work began on an American turbo jet-powered aircraft to keep pace with developments around the world. This formally became the Bell P-59 "Airacomet" which achieved first flight on October 1st, 1942, becoming the first American jet-powered aircraft in history. However, it was deemed limited from a performance standpoint and production lasted just 66 total units.
In March of 1944, the war was reaching feverish pitches and jet programs were evolving along all fronts - particularly in Germany and in Britain. The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) contracted Bell once again, this time to build a new jet-powered aircraft for the fighter escort role. By this time, American bomber raids were a regular occurrence over enemy held territory and piston-engined mounts were being used in defense of these masses of bomber formations being sent against enemy targets daily. A jet-powered fighter escort would provide technological superiority and allow for unheard of performance gains if the design could be harnesses properly and optimized to the extreme. The USAAF charged Bell with two prototype aircraft on July 31st, 1944.
The main challenge of the era concerning turbojet powered flight was in the rather thirsty nature of the new engine technology. Turbojets allowed for unprecedented performance gains to be sure but they proved short-term creatures that severely limited many tactical benefits. Bell took their underperforming P-59 and had attempted to introduce longer operational ranges as the "Model 40" company product. It was this derivative that the company would further into the XP-83. The XP-83 was slightly reminiscent of the original P-59 design with various aerodynamic and structural differences to clearly differentiate the types. Overall, however, the P-59 origins could clearly be identified in the Model 40 to the discerning student. Wings remained straight appendages while the empennage was capped by a conventional tail surface. Construction of the aircraft included metal skin left in an unfinished silver - consistent with many experimental aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s. The pilot managed a rather excellent view from his cockpit position at the front of the aircraft under a tear-drop style canopy. Design of the XP-83 was attributed to Charles Rhodes and the engine of choice became 2 x General Electric J33-GE-5 turbojets of 4,000lbs thrust each.
After some initial ground testing, the prototype achieved first flight on February 25th, 1945. Overall, the flight was a modest success but after-mission reports detailed the design as lackluster, underperforming and requiring much management. A follow-up prototype given a new tail assembly was debuted t o correct instability issues encountered by the first. In either case, the XP-83 was severely lacking in most respects. The type survived the end of the war in September of 1945 and continued on as a ramjet testbed into 1946. In 1947, with the war years over and many-a-production-contract slashed or outright cancelled, the XP-83 project died. The American military ultimately invested $4.2 million dollars into the cancelled program that yielded all but two prototypes. The straight-wing, jet-powered Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star - adopted in 1945 - was firmly entrenched as the primary jet-powered fighter of American forces for the time being until replaced by the North American F-86 Sabre during the Korean War.
All told, the XP-83 would see a top speed of 522 miles per hour and range was 1,700 miles on internal fuel though external drop tanks could be fitted for an increase of 2,000 miles. Its operational service ceiling was 45,000 feet which of course required use of a pressurized cockpit. Rate-of-climb was 5,600 feet per minute.
Over her short development cycle, the XP-83 was envisioned to stock a variety of armament options for the production versions. These included 6 x 12.7mm M2 Browning heavy machine guns as standard. The 15.2mm T17E3 prototype heavy machine gun was also considered as were 4 x 20mm Hispano cannons. A 37mm cannon could also have been fitted in the nose assembly for a truly potent offensive punch.