Bell P-39: Progress Update

Bell P-39: Progress Update; Comparison

Progress to date has focussed on the main inner fuselage development with additional modelling to the top cockpit glass.

Just for comparison and to give you some idea of scale and context I thought it may be prudent to bring together a photograph of the P-39 and the CAD model, that are roughly shown from the same viewpoint.



Ordinate Observations:

I mentioned before that we don’t have an ordinate plan for the P-39 as the main ordinates are incorporated within the Bell part drawings themselves. One of the key objectives for this project is to create an ordinate plan for the main fuselage to ensure that everything matches perfectly. Typically for all manufacturers of this era, the Bell drawings are accurate to 1/64 inch (0.4mm) in some cases but more generally dimensioned to only 2 decimal places of an inch that occasionally results in some minor alignment issues.

An example is as follows:

The upper structure for the cabin has ordinates setout for defining the contour of the main structure which overlaps the fuselage outrigger as shown. The fuselage outrigger profile does not quite match either the dimension nor the curvature in this instance.

If we look at the ordinates for each part; as stated on the original drawings; we can see the difference is exceptionally small although well within the manufacturing tolerances.

WL (waterline) 12: Cabin noted as 16.98in  –  Fuselage noted as 17.006in

WL (waterline) 16: Cabin noted as 16.26in  –  Fuselage noted as 16.286in

The difference is only 0.026in which equates to 0.6mm. Admittedly some ordinates are given to the outside of the skin, others are not and it’s tempting to suspect that the variation is due to this. The skin though is 0.04in almost twice the difference.

Working with CAD these variations are quite obvious and ideally need to be sorted otherwise we end up with all sorts of interferences with adjoining components. This makes it rather interesting and challenging in order to derive a satisfactory model.

In this example the curvature analysis shows this point close to being negative curvature in the left image based on the ordinate value of 12.88in. We know that this dimension is a decimal equivalent of 12 7/8 inches which at 3 decimal places gives us 12.875.

Changing the value thus to 12.875in smoothes the curve in line with expectations.

The majority of the Bell P-39 drawing dimensions are in fact very accurate, with the first example above being the exception rather the rule. This is an update of the ordinate developments for the fuselage which is derived from multiple part drawings.


Bell P-39 Airacobra Blueprint

The Bell P-39 Airacobra archive of drawings is very comprehensive, comprising in excess of 10,000 good quality drawings. Probably one of the better quality archives available exclusively scanned and prepared by Plans Aero or for further details send me an email to


About Hugh

BIM & Cad Manager/Strategist, 3D/4D, multi-discipline cad workflows, integration. Interests include photography and historical aviation.
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One Response to Bell P-39: Progress Update

  1. Pingback: Technote: P-39 Inventor Facedraft | Hugh's TechNotes

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