Collection Item Summary:
The FB series of U.S. Navy fighters began with the Boeing Model 15 prototype in 1923. The Army procured several examples of the promising design, which it designated the PW-9. The Navy closely followed the Army's testing of the aircraft and added an order for 14 to an Army contract in late 1924. The Navy designated their airplane the FB 1. The FB-2, FB-3, and FB-4 were simply FB-1s modified to test different components.
The major production model of the series was the FB-5, which differed considerably from earlier models. Visibility and control problems were corrected by altering the wing stagger and installing a balanced rudder, along with other changes. The FB-5 displayed here served aboard the U.S.S. Langley and Saratoga. It was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron VF-6M for several months in 1930.
Collection Item Long Description:
The FB series of fighters, built in limited numbers during the mid 1920s by Boeing, were used by the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps. The major production model of the series was the FB-5. It was the first true carrier-borne fighter built by Boeing.
Development of the FB series began with the Boeing Model 15 prototype, which first flew on April 29, 1923. It was a fabric-covered biplane of welded steel tube construction and thick airfoil section wooden wings. The U.S. Army found the design promising and procured several examples that were given the Army designation XPW-9, for Experimental Pursuit, Water-cooled Design No. 9. The PW-9 production models were powered by a 435-horsepower Curtiss D-12 inline engine.
The U.S. Navy had closely followed the Army's testing of the PW-9, and a competing Curtiss design, the Curtiss PW-8A. The Army permitted Navy pilots to fly both types during the tests as a matter of courtesy, as well as thinking that a single joint Army-Navy order might reduce the unit price of the aircraft. The Navy favored the Boeing design. An order for fourteen was added to an Army contract for PW-9s, placed with Boeing in December 1924. The Navy designation for the airplane was FB-1, for Boeing Fighter Type One.
The first ten FB-1s were delivered on December 1, 1925, to the U.S. Marine Corps for shore-based duty. The last four in the initial order were modified. Two were fitted with tail hooks and a cross-axle type of landing gear with oleo shock absorbers, and were designated FB-2. They were delivered to Navy fighter squadron VF-2 in December 1925 for trials aboard the U.S.S. Langley. The new FB-2 landing gear was well suited for high-impact landings aboard a carrier.
The other two aircraft in the first order of fourteen were slated to test the design with other engines, and were designated the FB-3 and the FB-4. The FB-3 was powered by a 510-horsepower Packard 1A-1500 water-cooled engine and the FB-4 was fitted with an experimental 450-horsepower Wright P-1 air-cooled radial. Both aircraft had a convertible landing gear, wheels or floats, for either land or sea-based operation. The FB-3 crashed during Navy trials. Two more were ordered for further testing, but they were later converted to standard Curtiss D-12-powered FB-1s. Development of the FB-4's Wright P-1 engine was dropped shortly after delivery of the airplane. It was re-designated the FB-6 when the Navy mounted an early Pratt & Whitney Wasp and continued land-based trials with it.
The FB-5 differed considerably from other models in the FB series. Visibility and control problems with the earlier FB design were corrected by increasing the wing stagger (moving the top wing forward and the bottom wing to the rear) and installing a balanced rudder. Other changes included a new landing gear, a narrower fuselage, and an adjustable pilot's seat. A 520-horsepower Packard 2A-1500 engine powered the FB-5. Twenty-seven were delivered to the Navy, beginning on January 21, 1927.
The FB-5 in the NASM collection, serial number A-7114, saw service with the Navy and the Marine Corps. Navy Squadron VF-1, assigned to the U.S.S. Langley, received it on January 21, 1927. After eight months of service with that unit it was transferred to VF-6B aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga on September 27, and then to VF-3B at San Diego in April 1928. In September of that year it was shipped back to Boeing for modifications to prepare it for operations with the Marines. It was assigned to Marine fighter squadron VF-6M on March 20, 1930, and it served briefly with that unit until being stricken from the Navy inventory on July 31, 1930.
In 1928 the Navy had decided to standardize on air-cooled radial-engine aircraft for shipboard operations. The advantages of better power-to-weight ratios, easier maintenance, and the enhanced reliability of the new radial engines ended the use of water-cooled engines in aircraft in fleet service. Still modern in most respects, many of the surplus FB-5s, including the NASM airplane, were given to service and civilian schools as non-flying instructional aircraft.
NASM acquired its Boeing FB-5 in August 1972 from Robert Gallaher of Allied Aviation in Tucson, Arizona. Restoration of the airplane was performed in 1977-1978 by the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Museum in Quantico, Virginia.