Bell XP-83

The Bell XP-83 was developed in an attempt to produce a long range jet powered escort fighter. The main problem faced by the designers was the high fuel consumption of early jet engines, and so it was decided to make the XP-83 much larger than the previous P-59 Airacomet. With a maximum take-off weight of 24,090lb the XP-83 was as heavy as many Second World War bombers (it was only 2,000lb lighter than earlier version of the B-26 Marauder). Bell were given the contract to produce the XP-83 on 24 March 1944, and the first prototype made its maiden flight on 25 February 1945.

The XP-83 was powered by two General Electric I-40 (J-33-GE-9) engines. It had been hoped that these engines would produce 4,000lb of thrust each, but they only achieved 3,600lb, making the XP-83 somewhat underpowered. Despite this the heavy fighter still achieved a top speed of 522mph at 15,000ft, but overall performance fell some way behind that of the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, and the project was abandoned. The AAF chose to develop the P-82 Twin Mustang as its new long range escort fighter.

The first prototype was armed with six .50in machine guns in the nose. For the second prototype the guns were increased in size to .60in, to increase the aircraft’s potential as a ground attack aircraft for the planned invasion of Japan.

Even though the engines failed to produce the expected level of power, they still ran so hot that they could buckle the tail plane when run at full power in preparation for take-off, and so during test flights the rear of the aircraft had to be sprayed with water.

The first XP-83 was later modified to test out ram-jets, with a second engineer’s station behind the pilot and ram jets below the wings. On 4 September 1947 the aircraft was destroyed after a ram-jet fire, although both the pilot and observing engineer escaped safely. Although this aircraft is sometimes referred to as the F-83, the change from P for Pursuit to F for Fighter came in 1948, after the crash of the first aircraft and so this designation can only ever have been applied to the second aircraft during its later career as a gunnery test aircraft.   

Wingspan: 53ft
Length: 45ft
Empty weight: 14,105lb
Maximum take-off weight: 27,500lb
Top speed: 522mph at 15,000ft
Ceiling: 45,200ft

Bell P-39 Airacobra, Robert F. Dorr with Jerry C. Scutts (Crowood Aviation). A detailed looked at the development and service history of this controversial American fighter aircraft. The P-39 had a poor reputation amongst British and American pilots, and Dorr examines the reasons why, as well as looking at why the same aircraft was so much more popular in Soviet Service. Scutts provides a chapter on the P-63 Kingcobra, and the book also covers the numerous Bell fighter projects that failed to enter production.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 July 2008), Bell XP-83 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_XP-83.html

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