Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Bell P-76 “Airaconda” - This was really a fishing trip

By Ed Marek, editor

December 11, 2017
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The P-76 Airaconda project was an outgrowth of the P-39 Airacobra, and in fact was the P-39E. Recall the P-39 was to be single-engine high-altitude "interceptor," but it did not get its intended turbo-supercharger and therefore was not a very good air-to-air fighter above 12,000 ft., though it proved excellent under 12,000 ft.

So the P-76 Airaconda was meant to be an an advanced version of the P-39 by giving it a more powerful engine, a thicker, aerodynamically improved wing, and other refinements such as reducing weight so it could be effective at higher altitudes. The P-76 began as the P-39E.

The plan was to use a Continental I-1430-1 inverted-Vee supercharged liquid cooled engine. The Army ordered two aircraft on April 10, 1941, then a third on October 17, 1941. This engine required the fuselage be extended.

The airframes were ready before the engine. So Bell installed the 1325 hp Allison V-1710-47 engine. This engine used a two-stage mechanical supercharger to increase the engine power at altitude. If the P-39 would have gotten the Continental engine, the intent was to name it the P-76 Airaconda. To my knowledge there was really no P-76, only the P-39E

The XP-39E reached a maximum speed of 386 mph at 21,680 ft. altitude. She reached 20,000 ft. in 9.3 minutes. The Army saw some advantages in proceeding, so it redesignated the aircraft the XP-76 on February 24, 1976. The Army ordered 4,000 aircraft. But then it decided to cancel the contract in May 1942 because the XP-76, while it could go faster than the P-39, lacked other advantages offered by the P-39.

The XP-76 did provide data useful for the Bell P-63 “Kingcobra” project and it also freed up Bell Atlanta to go forward with building the Boeing B-29 “Superfortress.”

If you were to search the internet for the P-76 Airaconda you will find some people saying it was a pusher aircraft and was assigned to the 344th Fighter Squadron in the Aleutians. I do not believe any of this is true. The 344th was in the Aleutians but never flew the P-76.