The P-39Q Airacobra was an American built fighter that served in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. Bell Aircraft produced these aircraft from 1943 to 1944, building 4,905.

The overall length of a P-39Q was 9.2 meters and the overall width was 10.4 meters. It was equipped with an Allison V-1710 V-12 engine, mounted directly behind the cockpit. Its armament included one 37mm T9 cannon, two Browning M2 .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine guns, and four Browning M1919 .30 caliber (7.62mm) machine guns.

2nd Lieutenant Frank Moody was piloting his P-39Q Airacobra (#42-21226) over Lake Huron on April 11, 1944 during a training gunnery before he crashed. His formation was operating approximately 50 to 100 feet above the water during the exercise. It was reported, prior to Moody’s crash, that small pieces of debris were coming from the forward right side of his aircraft, causing the aircraft to give off a trail of black smoke. Moody raised the nose of his P-39Q before it impacted the water. The aircraft cartwheeled  and sank into Lake Huron approximately four miles north of Port Huron, Michigan.

In August 2015, Michigan Department of Natural Resources archaeologist Wayne Lusardi led a team of divers from NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Diving with a Purpose to attempt to relocate Moody’s P-39Q. At a depth of approximately 10 meters, an intact wing and an Allison V-12 engine were found.

In August 2023, Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted an excavation of the P-39Q wreck site. Prior to excavation, NOAA Ocean Exploration maritime archaeologist Phil Hartmeyer conducted a series of scientific dives to acquire photographs of the P-39Q wing and Allison V-12 engine. These photographs were processed by NOAA Ocean Exploration Explorer-in-Training Raymond Phipps on the same day as acquisition after image transfer via Google Drive. A photogrammetric model was created of the wing and engine using these photographs. Partners supported include Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum. NOAA Ocean Exploration has supported related research led by Lusardi including the Aviator’s Down project in 2018-2019. The discovery of Lieutenant Moody’s aircraft, and the Aviator’s Down project are part of a larger conversation and investigation into Tuskegee aviation training accidents across the Great Lakes.

 

Site Name

Bell P39Q Airacobra

Type

UCH

UCH Vessel Year Built

1943-1944

UCH Vessel Year Sank

December 18, 1938

Hull Material

Aluminum/Composite

Official Number

#42-21226

Expedition Number

P761_00003

Expedition Name

Aviators Down

ROV Dive Number

n/a

Dive Date

August 4, 2023

Location

Port Huron, Michigan

Depth

10 meters

Site Length

9.2 meters

Site Width

10.4 meters

ROV Used

n/a; Phil Hartmeyer, scientific diver 

Camera Information

Nikon D70S – F/9 – 1/320 – 18mm focal length

Video or Stills

Stills

Number of Images Used/Format

438/TIF

Image Alignment Percentage

100%

Number of Tie Points

132,360

Link to Raw Images

Engine; Wing

Software Used/Version

Agisoft Metashape Standard Version 2.0.1

Time to Complete

2 hours

Orthomosaic Views Available

No

Images Available

Yes

Animations Available

Yes

Available File Exports/Location/POC

archaeology.oceanexploration@noaa.gov

Link to NOAA Ocean Exploration Project Page

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/18aviatorsdown/welcome.html

 

Software: Agisoft Metashape Standard Version 2.0.1.

 

Developer: Raymond Phipps, NOAA Ocean Exploration explorer-in-training, August 4, 2023.

 

Credit: Model courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration.