The Bell P-63 Kingcobra

United States of America
United States of America

side view front view under view

The story of the P-63 Kingcobra is as sad as the story of the P-39 Airacobra, it's predecessor. Designed to be all that the P-39 was not, it still failed to be a good fighter: it's specifications were overclassed by the time it was ready for production. 3303 Kingcobras were built, of wich Russia received 2421. 300 Kingcobras went to France. The remaining Kingcobras (332) received the dubious honor to be adapted to armored target-practice aircraft.
The fuselage was very similar to the P-39, but the rest got changed drastically.

Versions:

Further pictures:

Row after row of P-63's await their last inspection before being shipped
Row after row of P-63's await their last inspection before being shipped

 

Technical data on the Bell P-63A-10 Kingcobra
Powerplant 1 × Allison V-1710-93, rated at 1325 hp (987.77 kW) Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
Length 32 ft 8.375 inch Height 12 ft 6.875 inch
Empty weight 6375 lb Operational weight 10500 lb max
Wing Span 38 ft 4 inch Wing Aspect ratio 5.925
Wing Area 248 sq ft Service ceiling 43000 ft
Maximum speed 410 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 376 mph at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 25,000 ft in 7 min 18 sec Range 450 miles typical,
2575 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 83.25 Imp gal (100 US gal) Fuel capacity external Up to 270.6 Imp gal (325 US gal) in 3 droptanks, in either 1 × 145.75 Imp gal (175 US gal) plus 2 × 62.5 Imp gal (75 US gal), or 3 × 62.5 Imp gal (75 US gal), or 1 × 62.5 Imp gal (75 US gal) plus 2 × 53.3 Imp gal (64 US gal)
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.50 in fixed forward firing in upper sides of the nose
  • 2 × 0.50 in fixed forward firing in underwing gondolas
Cannons 1 × 37 mm fixed forward-firing in a moteur-cannon installation, 58 rounds
Bomb load Up to 1,500 lb on 3 hardpoints. Typical load-out would be either 3 × 500 lb bombs, or 1 × 500 lb bomb plus rockets Torpedoes/rockets 6 × 5 in HVAR rockets
Crew 1 Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 7 December 1942 Operational Service October 1943 - 1957
Manufacturer Bell Aircraft Corporation Number produced 3,303 total, 1,725 this version
Metric system
Length 9.97 m Height 3.83 m
Empty weight 2892 kg Operational weight 4763 kg max
Wing Span 11.68 m Wing Aspect ratio 5.925
Wing Area 23.04 m² Service ceiling 13106 m
Maximum speed 660 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 605 km/h at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 7620 m in 7 min 18 sec Range 724 km typical,
4144 km max
Fuel capacity internal 378 liters Fuel capacity external Up to 1230 liters in 3 droptanks, in either 1 × 622 liters plus 2 × 284 liters, or 3 × 284 liters, or 1 × 284 liters plus 2 × 242 liters
Machine guns
  • 2 × 12 mm fixed forward firing in upper sides of the nose
  • 2 × 12 mm fixed forward firing in underwing gondolas
Cannons 1 × 37 mm fixed forward-firing in a moteur-cannon installation, 58 rounds
Bomb load Up to 680 kg on 3 hardpoints. Typical load-out would be either 3 × 227 kg bombs, or 1 × 227 kg bomb plus rockets Torpedoes/rockets 6 × 127 mm HVAR rockets

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Bell P-63  Kingcobra
Bell XP-63 Kingcobra First designated XP-39 E, later renamed XP-63. Differences from the P-39: better powerplant due to supercharger and propeller, laminar flow wings for reduced drag.
Number built: 2
Bell P-63A Kingcobra First production version of the P-63. It featured a number of subvariants:
  • P-63A-1 Kingcobra: Similar to the XP-63A, but with 87.7 lb (39.8 kg) of armor, and an internal fuel capacity of 83.3 Imp gal (100 US gal, 378 liters). 50 built
  • P-63A-5 Kingcobra: With 179 lb (81 kg) of armor, and one hardpoint to carry either a bomb or tank. 20 built
  • P-63A-6 Kingcobra: two additional underwing hardpoints to carry a bomb. 130 built
  • P-63A-7 Kingcobra: Provisions added to be able to carry underwing fueltanks. 150 built
  • P-63A-8 Kingcobra: With 189 lb (85 kg) of armor, and an Aeroproducts propeller with a smaller diameter. 200 built
  • P-63A-9 Kingcobra: With 198 lb (90 kg) of armor, and the 37 mm M$ was replaced by a 37 mm M10, with 58 rounds. 450 built
  • P-63A-10 Kingcobra: With 236 lb (107 kg) of armor, and underwing provision to carry rockets. 730 built

Number built: 1725
Bell RP-63A Kingcobra 5 P-63-A9's were converted to this version, a manned target practise aircraft. All armament was removed, and a lot or armor was added. It could detect hits by frangible bullets that disintegrated upon contact and furtherly it featured 110 microphones to record impacts and a nose flashlight to flash upon bullet impact,. There ware several subvariants:
  • Bell RP-63A-11 Kingcobra: as above. 5 conversions
  • Bell RP-63A-12 Kingcobra: the change of the above described subvariant made the design inbalanced. This subvariant corrected these problems.95 conversions

Number converted: 100
Bell QF-63A Kingcobra Redesignation of the Bell RP-63A
Redesignated aircraft
Bell TP-63A Kingcobra A number of Bell P-63A's were modified to be a two-seat trainer
Number converted: 9
Bell P-63C Kingcobra Similar to the Bell P-63A, this version had a ventral fin, and another powerplant: 1 × Allison V-1710-117, rated at 1,510 hp (1126 kW). Also armor was increased to 201 lb (91 kg). Two subvariants exist:
  • Bell P-63C-1 Kingcobra: as above. 215 built
  • Bell P-63C-5 Kingcobra: Revised underwing armament provisions. 1,012 built

Number built: 1227
Bell RP-63C Kingcobra Manned target version of the Bell P-63C variant. Two subvariants exist:
  • Bell RP-63C Kingcobra: as above. nr built: unknown
  • Bell RP-63C-2 Kingcobra: Revised powerplant (Allison V-1710-117) and armor (1,487 lb; 675 kg). nr built: unknown

Number converted: 200
Bell QF-63C Kingcobra Redesignation of the RP-63C in 1948
Redesignated aircraft
Bell TP-63C Kingcobra Conversion of the P-63C to two-seat trainer with an added cockpit
Number converted: 1
Bell P-63D Kingcobra This version ahd several improvements upon the P-63A and P-63C, among which a bubble canopy, and a more powerful engine: 1 × Allison V-1710-107, rated at 1,425 hp (1062 kW). Because of this the speed incerased with almost 30 Mph (50 km/h) compared to the P-63A.
Since the North American P-51D was already in full production, this fighter had only one example
Number built: 1
Bell P-63E Kingcobra Similar to the P-63C, but powered by the engine of the P63-D. Production was cancelled when VJ-day (Victory over Japan) arrived.
Number built: 13
Bell P-63F Kingcobra Based on the P-63 E, but powered by 1 × Allison V-1710-135, rated at 1,425 hp (1062 kW). Also the tail and wings were slightly adjusted.
Number built: 2
Bell RP-63G Kingcobra Another manned-target variant, based on the RP-63C. It had even more armor: 2,165 lb (982 kg)
Number converted: 32
Bell QF-63G Kingcobra Redesignation of the RP-63G in 1948
Redesignated aircraft

Remarks:

The Kingcobra was almost exclusively shipped to Russia in the Lend-Lease program. A small number has served for a short time in a number of squadrons, but not on any front (except the Russion front). Too late, just not good enough... These words describe why the Kingcobra was never used on any other front.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

 

© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 9/20/00