The early jet fighters consumed fuel at a dizzying rate, which severely limited their range and endurance. In March 1944 the USAAF requested Bell to design a fighter with increased endurance, and formally awarded a contract for two prototypes on 31 July.
Bell had been working on its "Model 40" interceptor design since 1943. It was redesigned as a long-range escort fighter, retaining the general layout of the P-59 Airacomet. The two General Electric J33-GE-5 turbojet engines were located in each wing root, which left the large and bulky fuselage free for fuel tanks and weaponry. The fuselage was an all-metal semimonocoque, capable of carrying 1,150 gallons; in addition, 2 250-gal. drop tanks could be carried. The cabin was pressurized, and the canopy a small and low bubble type. The armament was to be six 0.50-in. machine guns in the nose.
The first prototype was flown on 25 February 1945, by Bell's chief test pilot Jack Woolams, who found it to be underpowered and unstable. The second prototype flew on 19 October. Apart from range, the XP-83 was inferior to Lockheed's P-80 Shooting Star, and the XP-83 project was abandoned.
The first prototype was used in 1946 as a ramjet testbed, and on 14 September one of the ramjets caught fire - the pilot Charles Goodlin and engineer Charles Fay had to parachute out. The second XP-83 was scrapped in 1947.