|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
The Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" was the first American production all-metal 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 two surviving Peashooters, but there are three reproductions on display with two more under construction.
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 open cockpit, fixed landing gear, externally braced wing design was the last such design procured by the USAAC as a fighter. 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, which first flew on 20 March 1932.
The Boeing XP-936's headrest offered little protection should it flip onto its back, risking injuring the pilot. As a result, production Model 266s (P-26As) had a taller headrest installed to provide 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 Boeing Model 281, an export version comparable to the P-26C, in 1936.
The "Peashooter", as it was known by service pilots,[Note 1] 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 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, some P-26s remained in service until after the United States entered World War II in December 1941.
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 them. A total of twenty P-26s were lost in accidents between 1934 and America's entry into World War II on 7 December 1941, but only five of them were before 1940.
Air Corps units using the P-26 were the:
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 examples to see combat were Chinese Model 281s. On 15 August 1937, eight 281s from the Chinese Nationalist Air Force 3rd Pursuit Group, 17th Squadron, based at Chuyung airfield, engaged eight of twenty Mitsubishi G3M Nell medium bombers from the Kisarazu Air Group attacking Nanking. Four of the Chinese fighters shot down three of the fourteen Japanese bombers destroyed that day without suffering any losses, while Chinese Hawk IIs, Hawk IIIs and Fiat CR.32s claimed the other eleven. Subsequent engagements between the Chinese 281 pilots and Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A5Ms were the first aerial dogfights and kills between all-metal monoplane fighter aircraft. Chinese-American volunteer pilots who joined the Chinese Air Force in the mid-1930s include aces John "Buffalo" Huang and John Wong Pan-yang, both of whom successfully fought the Japanese in the 281. John Wong Pan-yang scored two shared kills over A5Ms on 22 September 1937 and a solo kill over an A5M on 12 October 1937 over Nanking while in his Boeing 281.
By December 1941, U.S. fighter strength in the Philippines included 28 P-26s, 12 of which were operational with the 6th Pursuit Squadron of the Philippine Army Air Corps. Captain Jesus A. Villamor and his squadron of P-26s engaged Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros above Zablan and Batangas Fields, and despite being outclassed Villamor and his squadron claimed four kills – one Mitsubishi G3M bomber and three Zeros, two by Villamor himself. For these actions, Villamor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and an Oak Leaf Cluster. The P-26s were burnt to prevent their capture by advancing Imperial Japanese Army forces on 24 December 1941. Nine P-26s remained airworthy with the United States Army Air Forces (as the USAAC had been renamed in June 1941) in the Panama Canal Zone.
During 1942–1943, the Guatemalan Air Force acquired seven P-26s, which the United States Government delivered to Guatemala as "Boeing PT-26A" trainers to circumvent restrictions on sales of fighters to Latin American countries. The P-26's last combat operation was with the Guatemalan Air Force during the 1954 coup d'état. The final pair of P-26s still flying in military service in the world would be replaced with North American P-51 Mustangs two years later in 1956.
Although Boeing produced the prototype XF8B in 1944 and the X-32 entry in the Joint Strike Fighter contest in 2000, the P-26 was the last Boeing Company fighter aircraft to enter service until Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas and took over its production and continuing support contracts for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in 2002.
Data from Aviation-history.com
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
^ Note 1: The "peashooter" nickname is generally believed to devolve from the long forward-facing tubular gunsight at the pilot's position, reminiscent of the toy blowpipe called a peashooter. According to aviation enthusiast Robert Guttman, though, the nickname is supposedly derived from the blast tubes of its two internally mounted machine guns (blast tubes being metal tubes which surround and extend forward from fighter machine gun barrels, to prevent structural or mechanical damage to the aircraft from the firing of the machine guns).
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