Kit No. 6844
Comments: Excellent detail that remains competitive over 45 years after its initial release
Decals: One version for U.S. Army Air Force P-39F, 488th Fighter Squadron, 59th Fighter Group
Bell Aircraft Company began design work on the P-39 in 1936, with the goal of building the ultimate fighter. The unorthodox design of the Airacobra located the 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engine behind the cockpit, and powered the engine via an 8-foot extension shaft running underneath the cockpit floor. This left the entire nose compartment available for armament, and the P-39 was heavily armed with a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller hub, two .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, and two .30 caliber machine guns located in each wing. The P-39’s tricycle landing gear was another innovation; combined with a greenhouse canopy offering almost total 360 degree visibility, it offered excellent all-around vision for the pilot.
The Airacobra had a maximum speed of 368 mph at 13,800 feet and a range of over 600 miles. Although designed as a general purpose fighter and initially expected to perform as a high-altitude interceptor, the P-39’s performance above 15,000 feet was disappointing.
But it excelled in low-level, close support missions, in part because it was so heavily armed. It was widely used in the Southwest Pacific by U.S. forces, as well as by the R.A.F. and Free French forces in the Desert Campaign in North Africa. American forces flew the type throughout the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, at least through 1944. The Lend-Lease examples provided to the Soviet Air Force were employed with great success on the Russian Front, where there was great need for capable ground attack aircraft, and where much of the air combat against the Luftwaffe occurred at relatively low altitudes.
The P-39 was not among the best fighters fielded by the U.S. Army Air Force in the war, but it was affectionately regarded by many pilots who flew it, in part because of its impressive low-altitude performance. Some reported that the snug cockpit and responsive handling gave them the feel not of climbing into the airplane, but of strapping it on. Chuck Yeager is perhaps the Airacobra’s most renowned enthusiast; having flown it during the war, he reported that it was his favorite fighter.
Monogram’s P-39 is a 1983 re-release of the original 1969 kit, new box art, but no new tooling. The kit is well engineered and should require little in the way of sanding or filing. Overall it has very good fit. The tricycle landing gear throw off the center of gravity, and the since the nose is filled with parts for the weapons, there is not much opportunity to add a nose weight, as there is so little available space in the nose. Monogram remedies this with a clear support strut to be cemented under the plane’s belly. Despite the age of this kit, the detailed cockpit and gun bay, together with the option for an open cockpit door, will make this an attractive kit to present day modelers.
One thing to note is that while a panel for the gun bay in the nose is included, it can be left off to depict a P-39 undergoing routine maintenance. Earlier releases of the Monogram kit contained decal options for at least two Airacobras, one in the Southwest Pacific based on an actual Airacobra that fought in the Guadalcanal campaign, and the other a P-39 of the VVS, the Soviet Air Force. This kit, being a 1983 re-release, contains one option only, for the 59th Fighter Group. The instructions contain no information as to the Group’s service record or where it served. Monogram’s kit offers a detailed cockpit and pilot figure, as well as a detailed gun bay which includes the 37mm cannon and individual machine guns for the armament described above. Finally there is an option for a single 500 lb. bomb or a drop tank.
A great kit of a memorable World War II fighter, Monogram’s venerable P-39 gives newer offerings from competitors a run for their money. Highly recommended.