The First King Cobra shot down in America

The Flying Pinball Machine

Click any image for a larger view

B-24 Liberator
Image Courtesy of
Sgt. Joe Tillery

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.

P-63 King Cobra
Image Courtesy of /
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

P-39 AiraCobra
Image Courtesy of /

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


WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery VD film short arm inspections

Send Corrections, additions, and input to:

WebMaster/EditorWWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery VD film short arm inspections Write Webmaster

WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery VD film short arm inspections Return Button
WWII Kilroy Was Here Joe Tillery VD film short arm inspections Home Button

Click the star for Site Map WWII Kilroy Was Here World War 2 gremlins Foo fighters Select Star Bearcat..

Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind
b search