Design, Development, & HistoryEdit
When the Bell P-39 was designed in the late 1930’s, streamlining and small size and weight were one of the few ways to ensure a fast and maneuverable fighter. The US Army Air Corps was drawn to the radical design which featured a 37 mm cannon firing through the nose hub of the propeller. With the fuselage occupied by the pilot; the engine and its cooling system were mounted behind the pilot and the propeller driven by a long drive shaft, the only space left for fuel was in the wings. The P-63 models were afflicted by being produced at the wrong time; although outstanding on the drawing board it was already being outclassed by newer aircraft coming of the production lines. With the same general layout, the P-63 suffered the same limitation, thus most P-63A’s held only 100 gallons of fuel, and early on pylons were added under the fuselage and later the wings for external fuel tanks or bombs. Thus development of the King cobra moved toward a ground attack fighter-bomber, where a heavy ordnance load counted more than long range.
A Total of 3,303 P-63s, of all variants were built by Bell Aircraft between October 1940 and December 1944. Most were armed with the 37 mm cannon and four more 0.50" caliber guns in the wings. These aircraft saw great service with the Soviet Air force, as a matter of fact, of the 3,303 built a total of 2,397 went to the Soviet Union via "Lend-Lease". Although it fought with distinction shoulder to shoulder with the P-40, early in the war, the US Army Air Corp relegated the majority of its models quickly to photo reconnaissance and target tugs, as newer aircraft models were introduced.
The next production model King cobra was the P-63C, powered by an Allison V-1710-117 engine with water injection for greater war emergency power. Rated the same as the A model’s engine for normal use, the Allison V-1710-117 engine could be boosted from the usual 55 inches of manifold pressure to 78 inches for very short periods using water injection. Internal fuel capacity was slightly increased to 107 gallons, and deliveries of the first of 1,227 P-63C’s began in January 1945.
The P-63 Kingcobra is a reasonably versatile fighter with an exceptional rate of climb and great airspeed. It also has a decent level of handling which allows it to compete with most other multi-purposed fighter aircraft. The biggest distinction between the Kingcobra and many other fighters in the same or lower tiers is the fact that the P-63 has an extremely powerful, slowly fired 37 mm nose-cannon. This addition to its 4 12.7 mm guns allows the Kingcobra to be especially effective against bombers, attackers, heavy fighters, and often times even larger, but combat-effective fighters such as the F6F Hellcat. Because the cannon fires so slowly, however, it is difficult to take down small, agile targets such as BF.109's.
Despite being impressively armed and powerfully equipped, the Kingcobra is a large target itself. While faster and quicker to change direction than its predecessor, the P-39 Airacobra, the sheer size of the Kingcobra makes it an easy target if caught alone in a dogfight with a smaller plane at low altitudes. Because of this, and the fact that the P-63's main role is as a high-altitude interceptor, it is best to remain at high altitudes scouring for bombers rather than risking a battle with a Folgore.
Furthermore, due to the Kingcobra's heavy, centrally located cannon, it is an extremely dangerous opponent in head-on strikes, even against formidable foes like Do-217's and BF110's.