The Bell XP-52 was an unorthodox fighter project that arose out of a private venture proposal for the USAAC. Bell was well known for unconventional designs, and the aircraft 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.
Two prototypes were ordered by the Army under the designation XP-52, the first with the IV-1430 and the second with an R-2800 engine However this order was canceled on October 1940 before anything could be built. A version (known as the Model 19) was proposed for the Navy, but nothing was proceeded with.
The second XP-52 prototype design was used as the basis for an order for another Bell design, the Model 13. It was equipped with the 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.