In the middle of the Great Depression, the Army Air Corps decided to upgrade its pursuit squadrons by replacing the fabric covered bi-planes of the 20s with a modern all metal aircraft with superior speed and armament. The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was born to fit the bill. It became the military’s transition aircraft as the United States raced toward World War II. It was America’s first military monoplane, which was still externally braced, and the first that had all metal construction. Hold out features from a time past included an open cockpit and fixed, although seriously streamlined, landing gear.
Every Army fighter plane to follow would tuck up its gear and the pilot would sit out of the wind and weather. The aircraft’s 600 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine propelled the Peashooter to a top speed of 234 miles per hour, and armament included both .30 caliber and .50 caliber Browning machine guns. The P-26, though innovative, agile, and effective at the time of its initial production, was obsolete by the start of the war.
The first P-26 prototype flew in 1932; and production versions remained in Army Air Corps service in the Philippines as late as 1941. The P-26 was also still in service with South American nations as late as 1955.
The Boeing-funded project began in September 1932, with the Army Air Corps supplying engines and instruments. The design – which included an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and externally braced wings – was the last such design procured by the Army Air Corps as a fighter aircraft.
Deliveries to Army pursuit squadrons began in December 1933, with the last production aircraft in the series coming off the assembly line in 1936, designated the P-26C. Ultimately, 22 different squadrons flew the Peashooter, with peak service at six squadrons in 1936. The P-26 was the primary Army Air Corps front line fighter until 1938, when Seversky P-35s and Curtiss P-36s began to replace it.
Between 1938 and 1940, P-26s were assigned overseas to supplement Seversky P-35s in two defense units based at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. The P-26 was also flown by the 3rd Pursuit Squadron of the 4th Composite Group based in the Philippines. Between 1937 and 1941, thirty-one aircraft were sold to the fledging Philippine Army Air Corps.
The P-26 was also flown in foreign air forces. In 1934 Boeing sold an export version to the Chinese, who flew it in combat against the Japanese.
The Museum’s P-26 reproduction is in the Golden Age of Flight Gallery. Construction, spanning a time period of more than 11 years and countless hours of volunteer effort, is a perfect example of the early 1930s military aircraft technology.