BELL’S LAST FIGHTER

In trying to improve on its P-59 jet fighter, Bell experienced more struggles with its XP-83

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This image of the first Bell XP-83 prototype, 44-84990, is well-known but remains one of the best of the type, since relatively few air-to-air photos of it appear to have been taken.
VIA TONY BUTTLER

Being first doesn’t always guarantee success. That much the Bell Aircraft Corporation discovered when it built its first jet fighter, and indeed America’s first jet aircraft, the P-59 Airacomet. So disappointing was its performance that an initial military order was cut, and there was to be no combat employment Clearly a major improvement was needed if Bell were to stay in the fighter game.

One objective for what became the XP-83 was to produce a jet fighter similar in appearance to the P-59 but with better performance. Some undesirable aerodynamic characteristics were to be eliminated, the new fighter was to be larger, and it would use more powerful engines. Early jet engines were heavy, lacked power and consumed fuel at a ferocious rate, which limited range and endurance quite severely. As the largest and heaviest jet fighter design flown to date, the XP-83 was intended to be the first of its breed to offer a decent amount of range.

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