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.

 

 

 

Model Metadata Table

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
Links to Model

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.