The Boeing P-26A of the mid-to-late 1930s introduced the concept of the high-performance, all-metal monoplane fighter design, which would become standard during World War II. A radical departure from wood-and-fabric biplanes, the Peashooter nonetheless retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear, and external wing bracing.
Most P-26As stationed overseas were eventually sold to the Philippines or assigned to the Panama Canal Department Air Force, a branch of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Several went to China and one to Spain. This one was based at Selfridge Field in Michigan and Fairfield Air Depot in Ohio between its acceptance by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1934 and its transfer to the Canal Zone in 1938. It was given to Guatemala in 1942 and flew in the Guatemalan air force until 1954. Guatemala donated it to the Smithsonian in 1957.
Gift of the Guatemalan Air Force, Republic of Guatemala
Known affectionately as the "Peashooter," the Boeing P-26 fighter was a turning point in military aircraft design. It introduced the concept of the high performance, all-metal monoplane fighter. Nevertheless, while representing a radical departure from previous wood-and-fabric biplane designs, the P-26 retained features of its predecessors: it was the last open-cockpit fighter accepted by the U.S. Army Air Corps and the last with a fixed landing gear and external wing bracing. It was the last military fighter airplane manufactured by Boeing, and served as America's first line of air defense in the mid-to-late-1930s, until it was superseded by the more advanced Seversky P-35 and Curtiss P-36A.
Design of the P-26 started in September 1931 as a joint Boeing/Army project. The new airplane incorporated features proposed by both parties. Boeing was to construct the airframe with the Army providing the engines, instruments, and other necessary equipment. Construction began on the first prototype in January 1932, and the first flight took place on March 20.
The continued success of the prototypes prompted the Army to contract for 111 improved production aircraft in January 1933 under the designation P-26A. The initial contract was increased by twenty-five new airplanes, which were B and C models. This brought the total production to 136.
The structure of the P-26 was based to a great extent on experience gained in creating the Boeing Monomail and other Boeing all-metal designs. However, unlike the Monomail, the Peashooter did not have cantilevered wings or retractable landing gear. Boeing engineers opted for the lighter structure that external bracing allowed. The fixed gear produced considerable drag, but it greatly reduced weight and structural complexity.
The fuselage was of semi-monocoque construction with aluminum bulkheads, formers, longerons, and skin. The wings were built of duralumin with two main spars supporting the ribs and the skin, which were braced with external steel wires. The fully cantilevered tail surfaces were of single spar, metal skin construction.
Power was provided by a 600-horsepower, nine-cylinder air-cooled Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 Wasp radial engine, enclosed in an NACA cowling ring.
Maximum speed in level flight was 374 kph (234 mph) at 2,300 m (7,545 ft), with a service ceiling of 8,350 m (27,400 ft). Armament consisted of either two .30-caliber machine guns or one .30-caliber and one .50-caliber gun, synchronized to fire through the propeller arc. Two 45-kg (100-lb) pound or five 13.6-kg (30-lb) bombs could also be carried.
Originally, P-26As were built with streamlined headrests. Following the death of an Army pilot when his airplane overturned on landing, all P-26s were modified with a larger and strengthened headrest for increased protection.
After P-26A production had been completed, the Army sought to reduce the inordinately high landing speed of the airplane by installing experimental flaps on a P-26. The modification reduced the landing speed from 132 kph (82.5 mph) to 117 kph (73 mph). Boeing retrofitted the flaps to all A models and equipped the B and C models that were under construction. P-26Bs and Cs were identical to the P-26A with the exception of the installation of a fuel-injected R--1340-33 Wasp engine and modifications to the fuel system.
When the P-26 was removed from regular service, those aircraft stationed overseas were sold to the Philippines or were assigned to the Panama Canal Department Air Force (a branch of the U.S. Army Air Corps). Eleven P-26As were sold to China and one to Spain. Those serving with the air forces of China and the Philippines fought gallantly against the invading Japanese, scoring numerous successes before their destruction by the more numerous and modern aircraft of their adversaries.
The P-26A in the NASM collection was based at Selfridge Field in Michigan and the Fairfield Air Depot in Ohio for most of the period between its initial acceptance by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1934 and the transfer of the airplane to the Canal Zone in 1938. It was given to Guatemala in late 1942, and flew in the Guatemalan Air Force from 1943 to 1954. In 1957, the government of Guatemala donated this P-26A to the Smithsonian Institution. The airplane was restored by the U.S. Air Force for the Smithsonian and was displayed at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, until 1975, when the airplane was brought to Washington, D.C. It is painted in the colors of the 34th Attack Squadron that was stationed at March Field, California.