By lex, on August 28th, 2008
Occasional reader DM sends us to this page containing visual proof or vintage and unusual aircraft. There’s a lot to see there, including a classic “you’re doing it wrong” aerial refueling demonstration, but what really caught my eye was this picture of the Bell XP-63 “Pinball” manned aerial target.
Now, your correspondent comprehends the notion of shooting bad guys, and has even had the opportunity over the years to employ the 20mm cannon against aerial targets towed by manned aircraft. But the notion of a pilot manning an aircraft that he expected and intended other aircraft to actually shoot at – with guns – exceeded his previous boundaries of the comprehensible.
Turns out it’s true:
The most unusual P-63 variations were the RP-63A and RP-63C “pinball” versions developed late in WWII. These manned target aircraft were fired at by aerial gunnery students using .30-cal. lead and plastic frangible machine gun bullets that disintegrated harmlessly against the target’s external skin of Duralumin armor plating. Special instruments sent impulses to red lights in the nose of the “pinball” aircraft, causing them to blink when bullets struck the plane.
That this was a USAF program only partly explains its existence. The questions are begged: Where did we get such men? And equally important, were any of them permitted to breed?