The United States fielded a number of famous fighters in World War II. The P-40 Warhawk, the P-47 Thunderbolt, the F4F Wildcat, the F6F Hellcat, the P-38 Lightning, the F4U Corsair, and the P-51 Mustang all made huge marks. There was one plane, however, that did a lot of damage to the Axis but didn’t enjoy the same fanfare.
And it makes sense — because the Bell P-63 Kingcobra never saw action with the United States.
The P-63 Kingcobra did most of its fighting for the Soviet Air Force, where it served as a tank-buster, armed with a 37mm cannon (about 25 percent bigger than the A-10’s gun), that could also hold its own in the air.
The Kingcobra also packed four M2 .50-caliber machine guns — two in the nose (with 200 rounds per gun) and two in the wings (with 900 rounds per gun). These guns proved more than enough to take out German fighters. The Kingcobra also was able to carry up to three 500-pound bombs or drop tanks. And, with a top speed of 410 miles per hour, this plane was no slowpoke.
The P-63 packed a single 37mm auto-cannon and four .50-caliber machine guns.
Nearly 2,400 Kingcobras were provided to the Soviet Union under the provisions of the Lend-Lease policy. Despite its solid performance, the Soviets never gave this plane much credit for what it did to the Nazis, preferring to highlight the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, a Russian design, for propaganda purposes.
Some P-63s did serve in the American military – as training aids for pilots headed overseas.
The P-63 also saw some service with the French, who got 112 planes and used them in Indochina until they got second-hand F8F Bearcats from the United States.
In a way, the Kingcobra did serve in the United States — mostly as either aerial targets or target tugs to help American pilots practice their gunnery. Some were even slated to become (but were never used as) target drones.
Learn more about this forgotten fighter in the video below.