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P-39 Airacobra Comes to OSH

Only two Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters remain airworthy in the world and one is at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016. Bill Fier of the Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) flew it here.

The P-39 stands out instantly on the Warbird ramp as the only World War II fighter here on tricycle landing gear. With its engine behind the pilot, the nose compartment was free to house the nose wheel plus armament including a big 37-mm cannon.

The smoothly sculpted airframe of the P-39 includes minimalist air inlets for oil cooling and the radiator. P-39 pilots going back to the war years were told to nose the fighter into the wind on the ground if takeoff could not be expedited. “That’s never sufficient,” Fier said. When the CAF had this P-39 in for maintenance, it installed a state-of-the-art radiator with enhanced cooling capability. And that nose compartment now conceals a non-standard 25-gallon cooling tank that feeds a spray bar to augment ground cooling for this ’Cobra, he said.

Fier, a former U.S. Air Force B-1 and B-52 pilot, is one of three CAF pilots qualified in the P-39. “We had to go through two checkrides in the back of a T-6,” he said, before being signed off for the single-seat P-39. Takeoff in the Airacobra includes ever-increasing applications of power as the control surfaces gain authority from the accelerating slipstream. “Feed the power as you have rudder to control it,” he explained.

The CAF is on the lookout for P-39 parts to keep this warbird flying, he said.

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