Boeing P-26 Peashooter
The Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" was the first American all-metal production fighter aircraft and the first pursuit monoplane to enter squadron service with the United States Army Air Corps. Designed and built by Boeing, the prototype first flew in 1932, and the type was still in use with the U.S. Army Air Corps as late as 1941 in the Philippines. There are only two surviving Peashooters, but there are three reproductions on exhibit with two more under construction.
|P-26 Peashooter in flight|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||20 March 1932|
|Primary users||United States Army Air Corps|
Republic of China Air Force
Philippine Army Air Corps
Guatemalan Air Force
Design and development
The project, funded by Boeing, to produce the Boeing Model 248 began in September 1931, with the US Army Air Corps supplying the engines and the instruments. The design, which included an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and externally braced wings, was the last such design procured by the USAAC as a fighter aircraft. The Model 248 had a high landing speed, which caused a number of accidents. To remedy this, flaps were fitted to reduce the landing speed. The Army Air Corps ordered three prototypes, designated XP-936, with the first flight on 20 March 1932.
The Boeing XP-936 was still tricky to land and it could be rolled onto its back, injuring the pilot. The prototype's headrest offered little protection in such instances. As a result, production Model 266s (P-26As) had a taller headrest installed to provide some protection.
Two fighters were completed as P-26Bs with fuel-injected Pratt & Whitney R-1340-33 engines. These were followed by twenty-three P-26Cs, with carburated R-1340-33s and modified fuel systems. Both the Spanish Air Force (one aircraft) and the Republic of China Air Force (eleven aircraft) ordered examples of the Model 281 that was comparable to the P-26C in 1936.
The diminutive "Peashooter", as it was known by service pilots, was faster than previous American combat aircraft. Nonetheless, rapid progress in aviation led to it quickly becoming an anachronism, with wire-braced wings, fixed landing gear and an open cockpit. The stressed-skin cantilever-wing Dewoitine D.500 flew the same year as the P-26 and two years afterwards the Soviet I-16 was flying with retractable landing gear. By 1935, just three years after the P-26, the Curtiss P-36, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Hawker Hurricane were all flying with enclosed cockpits, retractable landing gear and cantilever wings. However, the P-26 remained in service until after the U.S. entered World War II.
U.S. Army Air Corps
Deliveries to USAAC pursuit squadrons began in December 1933 with the last production P-26C aircraft coming off the assembly line in 1936. Ultimately, 22 squadrons flew the Peashooter, with peak service being six squadrons, in 1936. P-26s were the frontline fighters of the USAAC until 1938, when Seversky P-35s and Curtiss P-36s began to replace the P-26. A total of twenty P-26s were lost in accidents between 1934 and America's entry into World War II in 1941, but only five before 1940.
- 1st Pursuit Group (17th, 27th, and 94th PS), Selfridge Field, Michigan;
- 4th Composite Group (3d, 17th, and 20th PS), Nichols and Clark fields, Philippine Department.
- 8th Pursuit Group (33rd, 35th, and 36th PS), Langley Field, Virginia;
- 16th Pursuit Group (24th and 78th PS), Albrook Field, Panama Canal Zone;
The 17th PG became the 17th Attack Group in 1935, and its P-26s were transferred in 1938 to the 16th Pursuit Group (24th, 29th, and 78th PS) at Albrook Field in the Panama Canal Zone. These P-26s were transferred in 1940 to the 37th Pursuit Group (28th, 30th, and 31st PS) which flew them until they were replaced by P-40s in May 1941. Some continued service with the 32d Pursuit Group (51st and 53rd PS), but only nine P-26s remained operational in Central America at the start of World War II.
The first Boeing P-26 to experience major combat operation was the Chinese Model 281. On 15 August 1937, eight P-26/281s from the Chinese Nationalist Air Force 3rd Pursuit Group, 17th Squadron, based at Chuyung airfield, engaged eight out of twenty Mitsubishi G3M Nell medium bombers from the Kisarazu Air Group sent to attack Nanking. The Chinese Boeing fighters helped shoot down two of the four Japanese bombers destroyed that day without suffering any losses. Subsequent engagements between the Chinese Peashooter pilots and pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy flying the Mitsubishi A5M "Claudes" were the first aerial dogfights and kills between all-metal monoplane fighter aircraft. A single P-26 was in service with the Spanish Republican Air Force during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, but no aerial kills were recorded with this fighter aircraft. It was shot down in 1936.
By December 1941, U.S. fighter strength in the Philippines included twenty-eight P-26s, 12 of which were operational with the 6th Pursuit Squadron of the Philippine Army Air Corps. Filipino-flown P-26s claimed one G3M and two or three Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros before the last of the P-26s were burned by their crews on 24 December 1941.
Only nine P-26s remained airworthy, serving in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1942–43, the Fuerza Aérea de Guatemala acquired seven P-26s ostensibly by the U.S. government smuggling them in as "Boeing PT-26A" trainers to get around restrictions of sales to Latin American countries. The last two P-26s in service were still flying with Guatemala's air force until 1956, when they were replaced with P-51 Mustangs. The P-26's last combat operation was with the Guatemalan Air Force during a coup in 1954.
The P-26 was the last Boeing Company fighter aircraft to enter service until Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas with production and continuing support contracts for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in 2002. Between those aircraft, Boeing did produce the prototype XF8B in 1944, as well as the X-32 entry in the Joint Strike Fighter contest in 2000.
- Three prototype aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Corps, powered by 525 hp (391 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-21 Wasp radial engines. First flight: 20 March 1932.
- Single-seat fighter aircraft, powered by a 600 hp (450 kW) R-1340-27; 111 built.
- Single-seat fighter, powered by a fuel-injected 600 hp (450 kW) R-1340-33; two built.
- Single-seat fighter, with a carburated R-1340-33 and a modified fuel system; 23 built.
- Model 281
- Export version of the P-26C; 11 built for China, one built for Spain, 12 built.
- Chinese Nationalist Air Force – (Nationalist China, 1930s)
- Guatemalan Air Force – (Until 1957)
- Philippine Army Air Corps – (Through the end of 1941)
- Spanish Republican Air Force – (1 demonstrator used briefly)
- P-26A c/n 1899 serial number 33-123 is currently on display by the Planes of Fame Museum located in Chino, California. This aircraft was sold to the Guatemalan Air Force on 11 May 1943, and it flew as FAG 0672 until it was retired in 1957 when it was recovered by Ed Maloney. Once flown regularly with the registration N3378G, the museum's P-26 was placed on static display in the mid-1980s to protect it. In 2004, the decision was made to again fly the P-26, and a restoration was begun to return the P-26 to flying condition. This was completed in spring 2006, with the aircraft making its first appearances during the museum's air show in May 2006. The aircraft was transported over the Atlantic and flown and displayed at Duxford airfield, England, in July 2014 during the type's first postwar visit to Europe.
- P-26A c/n 1911 serial number 33-135 is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum. This aircraft was originally assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan, and it was one of the P-26A sent to the Panama Canal Zone. It was sold to the Guatemalan Air Force on 11 May 1943, and it was flown as FAG 0816 until it was retired in 1957. It was then donated to the Smithsonian Institution. This aircraft was restored by the U.S. Air Force, and it was on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in the markings of the 34th Attack Squadron, through 1975 when it was returned for display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
- A P-26A is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It is painted as the commander's aircraft of the 19th PS / 18th PG, stationed at Wheeler Field, Oahu, in 1938.
- The San Diego Air and Space Museum has made a reproduction of an early model to Boeing's plans with the original design's "streamlined tailwheel" and without flaps and the crossover exhaust that were later additions. In addition, Mayocraft Inc., completed the final assembly in September 2006, and it went on display in June, 2011 after nearly 12 years of construction.
- P-26D: A flying replica completed in 2006 is in the collection of the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
- P-26C: two aircraft are being constructed by Golden Age Aeroplane Works, Seymour, Indiana.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 23 ft 7 in (7.18 m)
- Wingspan: 28 ft (8.50 m)
- Height: 10 ft 0 in (3.04 m)
- Empty weight: 2,196 lb (996 kg)
- Loaded weight: 3,360 lb (1,524 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 "Wasp" radial engine, 600 hp (440 kW)
- Maximum speed: 234 mph (203 knots, 377 km/h) at 6,000 ft (1,800 m)
- Combat radius: 360 mi (310 nmi, 580 km)
- Ferry range: 635 mi (550 nmi, 1,020 km)
- Service ceiling: 27,400 ft (8,350 m)
- Rate of climb: 719 ft/min (3.65 m/s)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- The P-26 continued the pursuit fighter concept that had been employed since World War I. The P for Pursuit designation was derived from the French Chasseur designation (literally, hunter) for fighters.
- Maloney 1973, p. 47.
- Bowers 1976, p. 24.
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