French P-63s

Last revised September 18, 1999

114 P-63Cs (not the 300 usually mentioned in the literature) were delivered to the French Armee de l'Air at the end of the war. However, the French Kingcobras were delivered too late to see any service in World War 2 in Europe.

While US-supplied P-47s equipped most of the fighter units serving in metropolitan France, the P-63s were sent to French North Africa. The first unit to fly the type was Groupe de Chasse II/9 Auvergne, which was based in North Africa and received its planes in July of 1945. GC 1/5 Vendee and GC II/5 Ile-de-France (previously designated GCIV/2) were issued P-63s in August of 1945. Most of the P-63s were, however, kept in storage and not flown.

When the French were first faced with the Viet Minh insurgency in IndoChina, the US government initially would not allow the use of US-supplied Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in that conflict. The French had to use instead the Bell P-63C Kingcobras that had been supplied at the end of the war. Consequently, P-63s were taken out of storage in Africa, issued to operational squadrons, and shipped to Southeast Asia. The first Armee de l'Air P-63s arrived in IndoChina in April of 1949.

Five Groupes de Chase--GC1/5 Vendee , II/5 Ile-de-France II/6 Normandie-Niemen, III/6 Roussilon , and I/9 Limousin--saw action with P-63s in IndoChina at various times . The planes were used primarily in the ground attack role, dropping bombs and napalm on Viet Minh targets. However, the attrition rate was fairly heavy, and early 30 were lost in action to ground fire or wrecked in accidents.

In early 1951, the United States, having undergone a change of mind, began to supply more military aid to the French effort in IndoChina. The first F8F Bearcats began to arrive in IndoChina in March of 1951, and they rapidly began to supplant and eventually replace the Armee de l'Air P-63s. The last P-63 missions were flown in April of 1951, after which the planes were ferried one by one to the disposal center at Bach Mai. They were all scrapped there, the last one arriving at the disposal center in September of 1951. There have been several rumors that a few P-63 airframes still survive in Vietnam.

A few unarmed P-63s remained flying for several years afterwards in North Africa. The last one was still flying as late as 1962. A couple of P-63s remained flying in France with the Center d'Essais en Vol.


  1. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  2. War Planes of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

  3. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  4. P-39 Airacobra In Action, Ernie McDowell, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1980.

  5. Bell Cobra Variants-P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra, Robert F. Dorr, Wings of Fame, Vol 10, 1998.

  6. French "Kings"-Bell P-63 Kingcobras in Indochina, Alan J. Pelletier, Air Enthusiast, No 72, 1997.