|Boeing P-26 Peashooter|
Design work on the P-26 was undertaken during 1931. Shown is Boeing P-26C of the 19th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, Wheeler Field, Hawaii.
After the Boeing Airplane Company completed the first
for the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) on April 29, 1931, the twin-engine behemoth proved to be faster than any other bomber in the world. It was so fast that existing American fighters had trouble intercepting it. The B-9 had a maximum speed of 188 mph, while the
pursuit fighter had a speed of 189 mph and the
Curtiss P-6E ,
still to be delivered, could do 197 mph only under ideal conditions.
With the development of the B-9, some observers felt that the day of the fighter was at an end, however, Boeing engineers thought they could produce a small fighter that would be fast enough to overtake their own B-9 Bomber and combat it successfully. Their answer was the Boeing P-26 Pursuit Fighter, otherwise know as the Peashooter. Design work on the P-26 was undertaken during 1931 and production began the following January. Three experimental models designated the XP-936 were built and the first flight was on March 20, 1931.1
The P-26 was the first all-metal, low-wing fighter to be put into production in the United States. It was another progression up from the Boeing P-12 of which the aft fuselage was all metal, semi-monocoque construction. The P-26 was also the last open-cockpit fighter built for the USAAC, the last with a fixed landing gear, and the last with externally braced wings. Even more, it was the last fighter built on the theory that fighters had to be kept light and small for better maneuverability. However, it was still conservative in design and was considered an interim fighter. It would take more time for the latest NACA developments that were used in the Boeing B-9 and Monomail to be incorporated in American built fighters designs.
During testing at the 20 foot NACA wind tunnel at Langley Virginia, built in 1927, engineers experimenting with a Sperry Messenger, discovered that drag could be decreased by 40% with the installation of a retractable landing gear. Another experiment with a Curtiss Hawk in 1927 showed the advantages of streamlining with the NACA engine cowling. Airspeed in this case increased from 118 to 137 mph—an increase of 16%. With the release of this data, aircraft manufacturers rushed to create aircraft with retractable landing gear and install the NACA cowling. Although the P-26 incorporated the NACA engine cowling, details for a strong retractable landing gear for fighter aircraft that would fit into the wing and fuselage, while maintaining structural integrity, were still being worked out.2
The NACA engine cowling increased airspeed by 16%.
Despite the shortcomings of the P-26, the USAAC ordered 111 P-26As on January 11, 1933, later increasing this to 136—the largest single contract for aircraft issued since 1921. Deliveries to service squadrons began in December 1933 and the last plane in the series, designated the P-26C, was rolled off the assembly line in 1936. By this time, the machine was badly outclassed by single-seat
, Messerschmitt Bf 109
which made its first flight on September 1935 in Germany, and the
of the Soviet Union, which made its first flight on December 1933.
However, the P-26 remained in active service for many years and in November 1940, a full year after the start of World War II, the US Army's entire fighter strength in the Philippines consisted of only 28 P-26s. Most of these were destroyed in the first Japanese attacks but two of them, flown by Philippine pilots, became the first American fighters to shoot down Japanese airplanes.
The first Boeing fighter to have combat experience however, was the Model 281 (the export version of the P-26C) which was bought by China in 1936. On August 20, 1937, eight of these Boeing fighters engaged six G3M2 Japanese bombers as they carried out a raid on Nanking airport and shot them down without suffering any losses. Later in China and elsewhere, things were not so easy—the few P-26s which the 6th Fighter Squadron of the newly constituted Philippine Army Air Force had at its disposal, found they had to contend with Mitsubishi A6M Zeros in the desperate struggle to defend their homeland in 1942.
In 1942, the P-26 was taken out of front line service by the US Army Air Force (USAAF). (In June 1941, the US Army Air Corps became the US Army Air Force.) However, P-26s which were still flying until 1957 with Guatemala's Air Force, having been kept in service since the early 1940s. During the years 1932-1934, the P-26 set several speed and altitude records—it was a popular pilot's plane and performed well until outclassed by more modern fighters. Boeing's engineers had once again delivered the goods and at the right price. It is interesting to note that a P-26 cost $9,999 (exclusive of USAAC equipment) less than the Boeing P-12E biplane just as promised.
A Boeing P-26 undergoing wind tunnel tests in 1934 at the world’s first full-scale wind tunnel, at Langley Field, Virginia. The wind tunnel was 60 feet wide by 30 feet high and limited to about 125 mph.
|Boeing P-26A (Model 266)|
|Wing span:||27 ft 11 1/2 in (8.50 m)|
|Length:||23 ft 7 1/4 in (7.18 m)|
|Height:||10 ft 0 in (3.04 m)|
|Empty:||2,196 lb (996 kg)|
|Operational:||3,360 lb (1,524 kg)|
|Maximum Speed:||234 mph (377 km/h) at 6,000 ft (1,829 m)|
|Service Ceiling:||27,400 ft (8,352 m)|
|Normal Range:||360 miles (579 km)|
|Max. Range:||635 miles (1,022 km)|
|One Pratt & Whittney Wasp R-1340-7 nine cylinder air-cooled single row radial engine rated at 600 hp at 2,250 rpm for take-off.|
|Two .30 caliber machine-guns and one 200lb (91 kg.) bomb.|
1. Peter M. Bowers. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968. 188.|
2. Roger E. Bilstein. Orders of Magnitude, A History of the NACA and NASA, 1915-1990. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Management Scientific and Technical Information Division, 1989. Chapter 1. history.nasa.gov/SP-4406/contents.html
Return To Aircraft Index.
© Larry Dwyer. The Aviation History On-Line Museum. All rights reserved.
Created January 8, 1999. Updated February 24, 2013.