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Bell XP-59A Airacomet

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This object is on display in the Milestones of Flight exhibition at the National Mall building.


The XP-59A is the first American jet aircraft. It did not see combat but it did give the U. S. Army Air Forces (AAF) and the U. S. Navy valuable experience with jet aircraft technology and helped pave the way to more advanced designs. The United States was slow to enter the field of jet propulsion. Political and military leaders wisely chose to forego rushing jet airplanes into service and concentrated instead on mass-producing and fielding more conventional designs that could contribute more quickly to the war effort. Britain's Gloster Meteor fighter served briefly at war's end and the Japanese flew the Nakajima Kikka twice (see NASM collection).

The Germans lead the world in jet-propelled airplanes and the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter and the Arado Ar 234 jet bomber (see NASM collection for these aircraft) both reached operational status. Other types also flew but the technology was so new that it had no measurable effect on the war.

America's first XP-59A, AAF serial number 42-108784, is preserved at the National Air and Space Museum. Shortly the jet's first flight, the Army recognized the need to have an observer on board to record flight test data. They converted the gun bays forward of the pilot to accommodate the observer, cutting a 20-inch hole in the upper skin and mounting a seat, small windscreen, and instrument panel in this rather cramped, open cavity. Flight tests resumed on October 30, 1942, and for the remainder of its AAF career, the aircraft flew in that configuration.

In February 1944, an AAF engineer assigned to the Airacomet project originated the idea of saving America's first jet aircraft for museum display. In August, the Army Air Forces notified Bell that they planned to store the airframe at Muroc and the original engines at Wright Field, Ohio, until they could determine final disposition. The airplane had amassed only 59 hours and 55 minutes of flying time. On April 18, 1945, the Smithsonian asked for the aircraft. Before opening the new National Air and Space Museum in 1976, the staff restored the plane to its original configuration and removed the observer's open cockpit. Befitting its history, the first Airacomet now hangs in the Milestones of Flight gallery.

Transferred from United States Department of War

Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Corp.

Country of Origin: United States of America

Dimensions: Overall: 380 x 1180cm, 3320kg, 1490cm (12ft 5 5/8in. x 38ft 8 9/16in., 7319.3lb., 48ft 10 5/8in.)

Physical Description:All-metal, single-seat, two engine monoplane with shoulder-mounted wing

Inventory number: A19450016000

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