Aviation Historian 30
K.Hayward - Decline & Fall
The ’Cobra’s bite - USAAF officers pose in front of a P-39N in the USA, holding examples of the type’s powerful armament, comprising a Browning M4 37mm autocannon (centre), which fired through the propeller hub, plus two 0-50in machine-guns mounted in the nose behind the prop and four wing-mounted 0-303in machine-guns.
Originally to be called Caribou in RAF service, the P-39, or P-400 as the export version was designated by Bell, was ordered by the British in April 1940, and one of the first to be evaluated in the UK was AH573 in August 1941. Although found to suffer from poor performance at altitude, the type served with No 601 Sqn until March 1942.
American airman R.S. Berry hands over P-39N-5 Buffalo Belle to Colonel Engineer Nikolai Kalinnikov of the Soviet Military Acceptance Commission at Ladd Field, near Fairbanks, Alaska, in preparation for the aircraft’s flight to the Soviet Union using the ALSIB route.
Командир 1 эскадрильи ст. лейтенант А.И.Свистунов, командир 2 эскадрильи ст. лейтенант Н.В.Стройков и командир звена лейтенант М.И.Орлов у P-39Q-25 N 44-32386 Н.В.Стройкова. 213 гв. иап, сентябрь 1944г., аэродром Развадув, Польша.
Soviet pilots of the 508th IAP compare notes beside P-39Q-25-BE serial 44-3286 in Poland in 1944. The Q variant was the final and most numerous version of the P-39, some 4,095 being produced, of which 2,849 were sent to the USSR, the P-39Q serving well into the early 1950s. Note the four-bladed propeller, fitted only to the P-39Q-21 and -25 sub-variants.
Captain Fedor Shikunov, a commanding officer with the 69th GIAP and 21-victory ace, stands beside his Airacobra adorned with red-star "kill" markings and Order of Alexander Nevsky emblem on the type’s distinctive “car door”. Awarded the Order in April 1944, Shikunov was killed in March 1945.
The vast distances covered by the ALSIB delivery route called for extra ferry fuel provision for the P-39, and a Soviet Air Force example is seen here carrying a non-jettisonable 145 Imp gal (660 lit) belly tank. The tank provided much-needed extra range, but any attempt at a belly landing with one attached would have been suicidal.
Dmitry Glinka was one of two brothers who went on to become Airacobra aces, the other being Boris, both serving with the 45th IAP (later 100th GIAP) during their wartime careers. Dmitry accounted for a total of 39 enemy aircraft while flying the P-39, and Boris 27 plus two shared. Dmitry is seen here wearing a “kubanka” beside a P-39K, probably 42-4403 “White 21”, circa March 1943.
Pilots of the 9th IAP (later 211th GIAP) at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia with P-39Ns freshly delivered via the ALSIB route. The Airacobras are inscribed “Krasnoyarsk collective farm member” (foreground) and “Krasnoyarsk worker” (background). Both were presentation aircraft supposedly purchased by public subscription - although the USSR received them free of charge.
"Аэрокобра" 7-й Воздушной армии в полете, 1943г.
A P-39 in flight while in service with the 9th IAP in the spring of 1944, possibly Buffalo Belle (note the artwork forward of the cockpit), and, unusually for a Soviet Airacobra, wearing a large red star on the fin. The Soviets found that the Airacobra could suffer structural distortion in the rear fuselage, and so added reinforcing plates; it may be one of these obscuring part of the fuselage star in this photograph.
The unusual tricycle undercarriage was considered an advantage by Soviet P-39 pilots, affording excellent visibility during taxying. Also, if the aircraft hit a dip in the airfield’s surface, it would not flip on to its back like its taildragger contemporaries tended to, although the nosewheel might collapse, as seen with this 19th GIAP P-39M.
This illustration by VALERIY ROMANENKO, based on a contemporary brochure, shows the Airacobra’s considerable armour protection: 1) gearbox armour plating; 2) two armour plates for front of cockpit; 3) 1-5in (38mm) armoured glass; 4) “staple-shaped” armour plating on cockpit frame; 5) rear 2-5in (63-5mm) armoured glass; 6) rear armour plating; 7) engine and oil tank armour plating.
The last of the Handley Page line - the prototype Jetstream, G-ATXH, which made the type’s first flight on August 18, 1967, is seen here at the SBAC show in 1968, the same year production of the Herald ceased. Despite early powerplant problems, the Jetstream went on to become a sucessful aircraft - but not, sadly, for its original parent company.
One of the nine Victor B.2(SR)s to serve with the RAF’s strategic reconnaissance specialist unit, No 543 Sqn, which received the type from December 1965, at Wyton in September 1967. Note the “Kuchemann carrots” on the wing trailing edges and “elephant ear” ram-air turbine intakes on the rear fuselage, fitted to the B.2 variant.
Victor B.I XA936 of No 10 Squadron up from Cottesmore in September 1958. The Squadron became the first to put the Victor into operation, receiving the first aircraft in April 1958.
The most technologically ambitious - and arguably most attractive - of the RAF’s V-bombers, Handley Page’s futuristic Victor represented the cutting edge of bomber development in the late 1950s. The Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire-engined Victor B.1 entered operational service with No 10 Sqn at RAF Cottesmore in April 1958.
The first production Dart Herald, G-APWA, resplendent in BEA’s then-still-new red-and-black colour scheme at the SB AC show at Farnborough in September 1960. As part of its display, the Herald embarked 30 troops and took off in less than 600yd.
In 1960 Handley Page built the decidedly odd-looking H. P.115, powered by a single Bristol Siddeley Viper engine, to investigate low-speed flight with a very slender delta wing for the nascent Concorde project. The sole example, XP841, performed at the 1961 SBAC show at Farnborough, where it is seen here before its display.
In the late 1950s Handley Page was occupied not only with Herald and Victor production, but also research and design work on various projects, including the unbuilt twin-Bristol Orpheus-engined H.P.113 high-speed executive transport, incorporating scoop intakes in the rear fuselage and a complex boundary-layer-control system.
The Handley Page PH.13 jet transport tor executives and V.I.P.s has been designed for demonstrating the practical feasibility of the laminar-flow technique for application to long-range aircraft. Wing span 71 ft. 3 in., length 71 ft. 6 in., height 17 ft.: cruising speed 528 rn.p.h.; range 4,330 miles: engines: two Bristol Orpheus turbojets installed in rear fuselage.