EAA Airventure at Oshkosh in 2017 saw a rare gathering of Bell Aircraft Cobras. Three P-63 Kingcobras and a P-39 Airacobra attended the ‘World’s greatest Aviation Celebration’, amongst them all Cobras belonging to the Commemorative Air Force (CAF): the P-39Q of the Central Texas Wing, the world’s sole flying P-63F of the “P-63 Sponsor Group” and the most recent addition, the P-63A of the Dixie Wing from Peachtree City, Georgia.
Where? Oshkosh, WI, USA
Bell P-63 and P-39 Cobra Flight
Oshkosh was the first official presentation of that P-63A, which underwent a major restauration effort in recent year. This work included also a new paint scheme, depicting its former use for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the mid-1940s. being used by the precursor of today’s NASA this P-63 was extensively used in aerodynamics research when the speed of propeller-driven aircraft reached their limits in the dawn of the jet age.
Based on a photograph from December 1945 showing that very same airframe wearing serial 42-68941 at Moffett Field, California, the CAF Dixie Wing wisely decided to also put the striking yellow “TEST” markings on its nose. As such this P-63A Kingcobra proudly reflects its NACA test history rather than showing off an imaginary ‘warbird scheme’.
Despite very advanced aerodynamics Bell Aircraft Cobra’s never really fought for the American Forces during World War II. Already when the P-39 Airacobra was introduced into service, their range was too short to really support American air strikes, and due to only a single-stage supercharger they lacked power at higher altitudes. Their main success was on the Eastern Front in the hands of Russian pilots, who fought in the aircraft at low level and close to their own airfields.
The P-63 Kingcobra tried to compensate that lack of power, but due to the basic design achievable combat ranges just stayed too short and it could not cope with Mustangs or Lightnings. As a consequence more than 70% of the aircraft produced were subsequently provided to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease agreement. In USAAF service a certain number was used as manned aerial targets to train bomber crews before they were being sent into combat.
This P-63F Kingcobra is owned by the CAF P-63F Sponsor Group and based in Houston, Texas. It is one of only two F-models ever produced and the only one flying. Compared to the P-63A ist main external differences are the air inlet on top of the fuselage and the enlarged tail fin.
Looking at such a ‘not-so-famous’ combat history it is no wonder that Airacobras and Kingcobras are not in the same spotlight as a Mustang or Spitfire. Out of more than 3.000 P-63 Kingcobras ever produced five airworthy examples remain flying in the United States, and only three P-39.
Four Cobras at EAA Airventure Oshkosh were thus a major feat, showing off the whole Bell Cobra family under the wings of the CAF, strengthened John Bagley’s P-63C (S/N 43-11223) that has its home at the Legacy Flight Museum at Rexburg, Idaho.
The idea to perform a post-restauration photo flight was strongly supported by the Dixie Wing of the CAF, and getting the remaining two Bell Cobra’s up in the air for that shoot was an opportunity not to miss. Thanks to Mo for the setup, Doug of 3G Aviation Media, Scott for the photoship and last but not least Mark, Craig and Bill for flying such a nice formation!