The Bell XP-52 was an unorthodox fighter project that arose out of a USAAC competition held in the winter of 1939 for a fighter that would be much more effective than any extant--with a top speed, rate of climb, maneuverability, armament, and pilot visibility, all of which would be far superior to those of any existing fighter. In addition, the fighter was required to have a low initial cost and had to be easy and inexpensive to maintain. A tall order, indeed!
The USAAC issued its requirements to the industry in the form of Request for Data R-40C. No less than 50 responses came in. Among these was the Model 16, which the Bell company had developed some months earlier. Bell was famous for submitting unconventional designs, and the Model 16 was no exception. It had a round, barrel-shaped fuselage with the pilot seated in the nose and a 1250 hp Continental XIV-1430-5 liquid-cooled twelve-cylinder inverted vee engine mounted behind the pilot and driving a pair of contrarotating coaxial propellers operating in pusher fashion. The wing was mounted in mid-fuselage position, and was swept back at an angle of about 20 degrees. Twin booms were mounted about one-third of the way along the wings outboard of the fuselage. The horizontal tailplane at the rear connected the two booms. A tricycle landing gear was to be fitted, with the nosewheel retracting into the fuselage and the mainwheels retracting into the booms.
One unusual feature of the XP-52 was the presence of an air inlet for the engine radiators mounted in the extreme nose, a feature which was to be seen later in jet-powered fighters. Two 20-mm cannon were to be mounted in the lower fuselage, and three 0.50-in machine guns were to be mounted in the front of each of the twin booms.
By the end of 1940, the Army purchasing commission had chosen six of the submissions for further development. Among them was the Bell Model 16. A single prototype was ordered under the designation XP-52. However this order was canceled on November 25, 1941, before anything could be built. It was replaced by an order for another Bell design, based on the XP-52 but equipped with a more-powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800-52 air-cooled radial engine. This aircraft was assigned the designation XP-59 by the US Army.
Estimated performance of the XP-52 included a maximum speed of 425 mph at 19,500 feet. It was expected that an altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 6.3 minutes and that the service ceiling would be 40,000 feet. Maximum range was to be 960 miles. Weights were estimated to be 6840 lbs empty and 8750 lbs gross. Dimensions were wingspan 35 feet, length 34 feet, height 9 feet 3 inches, and wing area 233 square feet.