(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

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.

Cobra Flight Bell P 63
Where? Oshkosh, WI, USA
When?July 2017

Bell P-63 and P-39 Cobra Flight

1OSH17 Formation 7371 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 Formation 7371 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7149 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7209 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7286 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7312 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7342 Zeitler 100 67 85

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.

1OSH17 Formation 7416 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 Formation 7416 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7393 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7437 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7466 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7478 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 Formation 7523 Zeitler 100 67 85

P-63A Kingcobra

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’.

1OSH17 P 63A 3991 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 P 63A 3991 Zeitler 100 67 85
1OSH17 P 63A 4141 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 3958 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 3973 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 4136 Zeitler 100 67 85
1OSH17 P 63A 4185 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 P 63A 4185 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 4161 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 4180 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 4217 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A 4243 Zeitler 100 67 85

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.

P-63F Kingcobra

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.

1OSH17 P 63F 4268 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 P 63F 4268 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63F 4132 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63F 4282 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63F 4302 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63F 7587 Zeitler 100 67 85

P-39 Airacobra

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.

1OSH17 P 39 4338 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 P 39 4338 Zeitler 100 67 85
1OSH17 P 39 4411 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 4093 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 4319 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 7608 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 7638 Zeitler 100 67 85
 

0OSH17 2 Ship 4118 Zeitler 700 470 90
0OSH17 2 Ship 4118 Zeitler 100 67 85
1OSH17 P 63A 7546 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A Details 5063 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A Details 5070 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A Details 6316 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 63A Details 6552 Zeitler 100 67 85

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.

1OSH17 P 39 P 63 6320 Zeitler 700 470 90
1OSH17 P 39 P 63 6320 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 P 63 5149 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 P 63 6178 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 P 63 6179 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 P 63 6284 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 Details 7690 Zeitler 700 470 90
OSH17 P 39 Details 7690 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 Details 7921 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 Details 7928 Zeitler 100 67 85
OSH17 P 39 Details 7934 Zeitler 100 67 85

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!

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