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History: The close sibling of the P-39 Airacobra, the Kingcobra was bigger and faster than its baby
sister. The sturdy and capable Kingcobra was flown mainly by the Russians on the Eastern
Front of World War Two.
Early in the development of the P-39, experiments were aimed at improving the plane's
aerodynamics. The P-39D was used as a starting point for three prototypes, each with a new
laminar-flow wing and tail unit. The three experimental aircraft were dubbed the XP-39E.
These were powered by Allison engines because the inverted-vee piston-engine from
Continental was unreliable. Two of the prototypes were lost while being evaluated by the
U.S. Army Air Corps, and a slightly modified design, the XP-63A,
was built. The Allison engine in the XP-63A had provision for emergency water injection
that could boost the available power to 1,500-hp for a short period of time. Production of
the P-63 Kingcobra for the USAAC began in October of 1943, and nearly 3,300 aircraft were
produced before the end of the war. Under lend-lease, the Russians bought 2,400
Kingcobras, and a further 300 were flown by the Free French. The rest were restricted to
training squadrons in the United States by the USAAF.
About 300 P-63s were turned into RP-63 flying targets for
dogfight practice with frangible bullets. All armor and armament were removed from these
planes, and a skin of duralumin protected the wings, fuselage and tail. Bulletproof glass
was installed, steel grilles were put over the air intake, and a steel sleeve protected
the exhaust stacks. A propeller with thick, hollow blades was also installed. When a hit
was scored, a red light came on in the cockpit to indicate where the P-63 had been shot.
Production of the P-63 ended on VJ-Day. Only a half-dozen P-63s remain flying today.
[History by David MacGillivray]
Nicknames: Pinball (RP-63 variant)
Engine: One 1,325-hp Allison V-1710-93 inline piston engine
Weight: Empty 6,375 lbs., Max
Takeoff 10,500 lbs.
Wing Span: 38ft. 4in.
Length: 32ft. 8in.
Height: 12ft. 7in.
Maximum Speed at
25,000 ft: 410 mph
Range: 450 miles
(2,200 miles in ferry configuration)
One 37-mm M4
12.7-mm (0.5-inch) machine guns
Up to three
Number Built: ~3,300
Number Still Airworthy: 3
AeroWeb P-63 Reference Page
Dixie Wing -- P-63 Restoration
CAF West Houston Squadron --
"Cobras over the Tundra"
USAF Museum -- P-63
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