Bell P-63 Kingcobra

The Bell P-63 Kingcobra is an American fighter aircraft that was developed by Bell Aircraft during World War II. Based on the preceding Bell P-39 Airacobra, the P-63's design incorporated suggestions from P-39 pilots and was superior to its predecessor in virtually all respects. The P-63 was not accepted for combat use by the United States Army Air Forces. However, it was used during World War II by the Soviet Air Force,[1] which had also been the most prolific user of the P-39.

The Soviets developed successful group aerial fighting tactics for the Bell fighters and scored a surprising number of aerial victories over a variety of German aircraft. Low ceilings, short missions, good radios, a sealed and warm cockpit and ruggedness contributed to their effectiveness. To pilots who had once flown the tricky Polikarpov I-16, the aerodynamic quirks of the mid-engined aircraft were unimportant. In the Far East, P-63 and P-39 aircraft were used in the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo and northern Korea. In the Pacific theatre, the Kingcobras flew escort, close air support and ground attack missions. The Soviet P-63s achieved their first air victory on 15 August 1945, when Lejtenant I. F. Miroshnichenko from 17th IAP/190 IAD, shot down a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa IJAAS fighter off the coast of North Korea.

Sufficient aircraft continued in use after the war for them to be given the NATO reporting name of Fred. By 9 May 1945, operational units still had 1,148 Kingcobras.

Its main use in American service was the unusual one of a manned flying target for gunnery practice. The aircraft was generally painted bright orange to increase its visibility. All armament and the regular armor was removed from these RP-63 aircraft, and over a ton of armored sheet metal was applied to the aircraft. This was fitted with sensors that would detect hits, and these hits were signaled by illuminating a light in the propeller hub where the cannon would have been. This earned the aircraft the unofficial nickname of Pinball. Special frangible rounds made of a lead/Bakelite combination were developed that would disintegrate upon impact. These were known as the "Cartridge, Caliber .30, Frangible, Ball, M22". In 1990, veteran Pinball pilot, Ivan L. Hickman, wrote Operation Pinball about the training flights.