Sgt. Joe Tillery
First King Cobra shot down in America
The Flying Pinball Machine
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The P-63 King Cobra as well as its older sibling the P-39 Airacobra
were produced in large numbers but, as I understand, were never a large
part of the USAAF combat inventory during WWII. They were, however,
used extensively by the Russians, Free French, and co-belligerent Italian
air forces as part of lend-lease, and a few by the USAAF in the Pacific.
||Some of the P-63s did earn a coveted place in the
USAAF as targets for flexible gunnery training. They were fitted
at the bell aircraft factory with a ¼" aluminum skin.
These were known as RP-63G "Pinball" models (later QF-63As.)
The ammunition used was a special cartridge called frangible bullets.
When it struck the target plane it would shatter on the skin with
enough force to register a hit but do no damage.
Our first training mission (B-29
gunnery training at Buckingham Field, Fort Myers, FL) was
coming up and we had absorbed a lot of protocol which we were to
follow "to the letter." For training we were assigned
as the waist gunners in old b-24s. We were told repeatedly to only
engage the target as it was approaching from the right or left side
of the bomber in a smooth predictable pursuit curve. After several
|passes most of us began to get the hang of it. The
only way the target plane could be damaged was to shoot at it as
it was going away and hit the exhaust stacks. In retrospect, I don't
think that this information should have been shared with the students.
The following didn't happen in my gunnery ship (honest) But I was
in the air when it did. A student had been trying very hard and
had not had a single hit. A lot of banter was going on. And he was
taking a lot of flack about his unsatisfactory score that day. As
the target, a P-63 slid under the bomber our frustrated student
ran to the opposite waist window and fired a volley of frangible
bullets straight into the exhaust stacks. At once the King Cobra
began to smoke and climb for altitude. The pilot bailed out over
the gulf of Mexico. There were a number of rescue boats that
were ever present during training so a wet, bedraggled, furious
pilot was promptly picked up safely. The student received a lot
of extra "instructions" while standing at a brace (very
stiff attention) for several days but they didn't wash him out.
From then on, he carried the distinction of having shot down the
only King Cobra in American waters