Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Bell XFL Airabonita - Navy would have no part of this

By Ed Marek, editor

December 11, 2017
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The Bell XFL Airabonita developed largely along with the P-39 except that it had a tailwheel undercarriage rather than a tricycle landing gear. In fact it was developed in parallel with the P-39.

A host of companies competed. Three were selected to develop prototypes: the Grumman XF5F-1 “Skyrocket,” the Vought-Sikorsky XF4U-1 Corsair and on November 8, 1938, Bell for the XFL Airabonita.

Again she was designed by Bell's Robert Woods. Bell attempted to convert the P-39 to meet the Navy requirements for a carrier-based high speed high altitude interceptor, but in the end it had a host of differences from the P-39; some say it was not a converted P-39 as a result.

The web site
Fiddler's Green said:

"The XFL-1 Airabonita differed from its land-based (P-39) counterpart primarily in having underwing radiators and a tail wheel undercarriage. The main undercarriage members were transferred to the front wing spar, and an arrester hook was fitted. The relocation of the main undercarriage members to the forward part of the wing necessitated the relocation of the wing-root radiators to exterior points under the rear of the central section of the wing. The fuselage was shorter than that of the P-39, the vertical tail surfaces were redesigned, and the airframe was stressed for carrier operations. The canopy was of a higher profile than that of the P-39, and the pilot sat higher in the cockpit. The wing was of larger span with greater chord. The dorsal intake was smaller and shallower than that on the YP-39. Armament was to have been two 0.30-inch machine guns in the fuselage nose, plus a 0.50-inch machine gun or a 37-mm cannon firing through the propeller hub, although no armament was actually ever fitted to the XFL-1 prototype."

Navy pilots did not like the aircraft. They wanted the canopy to go upward so they could get out quickly if they ditched. The XFL had "automobile doors" which would have to fight against the pressure of water. They like USAAF pilots did not like the engine behind them, worried about a crash landing.

Bell went to the 1,150 hp Allison XV-1710-6 twelve cylinder two bank Vee, liquid-cooled engine installed behind the pilot. It did not have a turbocharger, only a single-speed supercharger. The Navy had not previously used an Allison engine.

Al three aircraft first flew in 1940: April 1 (Grumman), May 13 (Bell) and May 29 Vought-Sikorsky). The Bell aircraft had main landing gear problems and failed to qualify for carrier landings. Bell fixed that but the Navy decided not to proceed. Furthermore, she achieved only 336 mph at 10,000 ft.

Development was abandoned in 1942. The XFL was used in some armaments tests and was scrapped.


The Vought F4U Corsair won, shown here. She was just coming out of development. She was fast, exceeding 400 mph in level fight. It was the most successful carrier-based fighter-bomber of WWII and Korea.