The Atlanta Air Show on October 12-13, 2019 will feature an P-63 Kingcobra demo by the Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing locally based at Falcon Field in Peachtree City, GA. The demonstration will showcase the incredible maneuverability and that unmistakeable sound that made this unique World War II era fighter so special during it’s time, while also demonstrating... View Article
The Atlanta Air Show on October 12-13, 2019 will feature an P-63 Kingcobra demo by the Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing locally based at Falcon Field in Peachtree City, GA. The demonstration will showcase the incredible maneuverability and that unmistakeable sound that made this unique World War II era fighter so special during it’s time, while also demonstrating it’s capability to become a racing circuit fighter as well.
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This particular P-63 has served many different roles, from test aircraft to air show performer. It was built in the winter of 1944, bearing the Bell construction number 33-11, for model 33, aircraft 11. It rolled out of the Bell plant in Niagara Falls on 24 February 1944, where it was formally accepted by the United States Army Air Force as a P-63A-6 and given serial number 42-68941.
On 30 April 1946, the United States government decided that P-63A-6 serial number 42-68941 had completed its tour of duty as a test aircraft and subsequently declared the aircraft surplus. The war was over, and the market was flooded with cheap warbirds headed to private owners or scrapyards. The P-63 left Moffet Field on 18 June 1946 and had a brief stay in Long Beach, California, before being sent to the surplus depot in Altus, Oklahoma on 1 July. It stayed there briefly and was sold to Mr. Steven H. Christenson of Houston, Texas. The entire aircraft, along with a spare Allison V-1710-93 engine, was sold for a mere $1,000.
FAA records continue to tell the story of our aircraft. It was registered as NX75488 on 10 September 1946, and it appears that Mr. Christenson intended to fly his new P-63 as an air racer. Records show some minor modifications took place, such as the adjustment of ballast in the nose of the aircraft and stripping the paint to the bare metal, to reduce weight and improve handling. The picture below was taken sometime between 1946 and 1954, and shows the aircraft as it originally appeared in civilian colors under Mr. Christenson’s ownership.
Following it’s time as an air racer, the P-63 bounced from hand to hand, eventually finding a permanent home with the CAF in the 1980’s. The aircraft would be moved to Harlington, Texas and was in poor condition. Despite having less than 370 hours total time on the airframe, it was over 31 years old when it arrived, and years of being stored amongst the elements had taken its toll. It was starting to show signs of serious corrosion, and the aircraft was grounded shortly after its trip to Harlington. Its condition worsened during the next several years, as the CAF was locked in a legal battle over ownership of the airplane, and soon after it was set aside as a restoration project and awaited adoption by a unit willing to restore it to flight status.
It was adopted by the Missouri Wing of the CAF several years later, but was still far from being completed when disaster struck. The 1995 flood of the Mississippi river left the Missouri Wing’s hangar soaked. Indeed, at some point, pieces of this very aircraft were floating in the hangar or completely submerged. Several parts were lost in the flood, and the Missouri Wing had to abandon the project shortly thereafter to repair their flying aircraft. The aircraft was once again up for assignment.
The Dixie Wing of the CAF decided to adopt the stricken P-63, and the aircraft was trucked from Missouri to Georgia in the December of 1996. Here it has remained, with serious restoration work begun in 1999 and continuing through today. Currently, the horizontal and vertical tails are completely restored, and the aft fuselage is close behind, waiting on only a few components. The forward fuselage, pictured below, has been the subject of recent work. Restoration of the cockpit, wiring, and control system are but of few of the projects under way.
As with all aircraft this age, there are no new parts mass-produced — any part that is missing or damaged must be repaired, salvaged from another aircraft, or hand-made to the original specifications. This is a very long and delicate process, but it is fueled by dedicated volunteers who devote their spare time to get this rare warbird back in the air. Only a handful of the 3,303 Kingcobras produced from 1942 to 1945 are flying today, and we at the Dixie Wing are doing all we can to restore this aircraft to its former glory.
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