The late 1930s saw a vogue for heavy ‘strategic fighters’ such as the Messerschmitt BF 110 and the Fokker G.1. These were intended to escort bombers into enemy territory, intercept bombers at long range and carry out ground-attack missions. Wartime experience was to show that these were vulnerable to single-seat fighters and often needed escorting themselves. America’s entry in this field was the Bell YFM-1 Airacuda, intended as a ‘mobile anti-aircraft platform’ against bomber formations.
Mounting the gunners in the forward nacelles gave them a wide field of fire but the engines behind them were impossible to keep cool and frequently overheated on the ground. An emergency bailout would have required feathering both propellers. Despite its sleek looks, there was too much drag and the Airacuda was slower than most bombers and less manoeuvrable than fighters. Its own 272kg (600lb) bomb load was not much use and so it achieved none of its intended roles satisfactorily.
Bell’s first aircraft, the Airacuda was an interesting response to an ill-thought-out requirement. A few were built, but they only saw limited service in the training role.
The highly complicated electrical system required a full-time auxiliary petrol motor running inside the fuselage to keep it energized. If it failed (and it did) the pilot lost flaps, gear, fuel pumps and engines.
The crew in the nacelles were more loaders than gunners. Although they could fire the 27mm (1.1 in) cannon, this was normally done by the fire-control officer in the fuselage.
A periscope under the nose gave the fire-control officer a view behind and below to search for enemy fighters.
- CREW: 5
- POWERPLANT: two 813kW (1090lhp) Allison V-1710-41 piston engines
- MAX SPEED: 431km/h (268mph)
- SPAN: 21.34m (70ft)
- LENGTH: 14.00m (45ft 11in)
- HEIGHT: 5.94m (19ft 6in)
- WEIGHT: maximum 9809kg (21,625lb)