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Bell YFM-1B Airacuda — pretty but not perfect

13 November 2013

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda — pretty but not perfect

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda sans 37mm cannon — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

Bell, a firm not strange to revolutionary aircraft design, intended the Airacuda to be a game changer in regard to defense against heavy bombers. When it was designed bombers often could fly higher and faster than modern fighters — but Bell had an idea with the Airacuda that had not yet been attempted. The design philosophy was to build an extremely heavily armed, sleek, fast interceptor. Alas, the Allison V-1710 in-line engines were underpowered for the aircraft’s weight giving a maximum speed of 277 mph (446km/h), barely faster than the day’s strategic bombers. But what made for a heavy bomber interceptor, if it had the speed? Bell’s answer was a pair of 37mm cannon with each cannon mounted in the forward compartment of each engine nacelle and manned by a gunner. Operating the cannon proved challenging for the gunner as the gasses choked the compartment and in the event of a bail out the pilots had to ensure the pusher propeller behind the gunner had been stopped. Not a recipe for battle!

The Bell Airacuda, though, is an extremely modern looking aircraft, even by today’s standards. None exist today, however, there is a large-scale model in the Oakland Aviation Museum*, a museum which is well worth a visit.

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda, note the slightly ajar crew entry hatch with in-built steps — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

Bell YFM-1B Airacuda, note the waist position — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo from the Charles M. Daniels Collection

* use the search window to find the post and photos of the Airacuda model.

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