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Restoring the Bell P-39 Airacobra from Down Under

Townsville, Australia, located in North Queensland, is the perfect destination for history buffs and adventure seekers. It is the headquarters for the Great Barrier Reef, some of the oldest rainforests in the world and two United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Listings.

What may not be on the visitor’s guide is the location of the Bell P-39 Airacobra. The single-engine high-altitude interceptor with an unconventional fuselage was built as an enhancement to the traditional fighter. As a loan from the United States Fifth Air Force (5AF) in 1942, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) used the Bell P-39 Airacobra as a stop-gap interceptor.

Elliot Hannay with the Bell P-39 Airacobra

According to Elliot Hannay, Australian author and veteran journalist, the retired aircraft is located inside a shed in the Outback. Elliot wrote the VP60 Fighter Report, a report on the history and restoration of the Bell P-39 Airacobra, while working in the Townsville Mayor’s Office.

His findings introduced Lt. Charlie Falletta U.S. Air Force P-39 pilot, who was among a group of U.S. fighter pilots to join the Australian 75 Squadron. Their mission was to defend Townsville and Port Moresby from the Japanese military. While operating the Bell P-39, Charlie was credited for the take down of two Japanese Zeros and a Betty bomber.

Bell P-39 Airacobra Restored

After the war ended, Charlie went to the Pentagon to continue his service in the U.S. Air Force, and the Bell P-39 Airacobra was left behind. After being forced down by a tropical hurricane in World War II and sitting idle for decades on a crash-landing site in remote Cape York, the Airacobra was salvaged more than 40 years later by a team from Cairns and Townsville.

The group included Sid Beck, who began the arduous process of restoring the fighter aircraft, including cleaning the motor and installing a new battery. Upon learning of Beck’s work, the RAAF disarmed machine guns, destroying a section of the fighter’s nose. The resistance was no match for Beck’s dedication.

Bell P-39 Airacobra Cockpit

Beck was able to fire up the aircraft on the first attempt – a true testament to the ingenuity and toughness of the WWII fighter aircraft. He later displayed the Bell P-39 Airacobra, along with other wartime equipment, in his museum – Beck Military Museum – located in Mareeba, Australia.

Bell P-39 Airacobra at Beck Military Museum

The aircraft is still in the care of the Beck family and continues to carry the legacy of Bell as a pioneer fighter aircraft that deserves hero status.



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