Inter-war types have a certain something about them. A world largely at peace and aviation development arguably levelling off, allowed machines to, quite simply become far more graceful. Air racing and speed became the focus of the day with interwar American greats typically taking the monoplane and radial format throughout the 30s, it was inevitable that the Military would soon be interested in the same.
Think about some of the great interwar types, the Curtiss Hawk biplanes, Hawker’s immaculate Fury, even the earlier examples of the Curtiss monoplanes all maintained that wonderful 1930s grace. While many certainly appear to be impressive aeroplanes today, they were never really demonstrated or tested in any other capacity beyond training pilots that would ultimately take more advanced types to war.
I wanted to use this short series of posts to focus in on some 1930s American designs that perhaps fall into that “would could have been” category had the war started a few years earlier. Today its time for a look at the Boeing P-26 Peashooter. A wonderful little fighter which does little to preview the giant machines that the Boeing name would go on to become famous for.
Started by Boeing as a self-funded project, simply dubbed the “Type 248”, the Peashooters beginnings can be found in September 1931. The basic design was a tried and tested one from the 1920s harking back to Ryan monoplanes and racers such as the Travel-Air Mystery Ship and would soon be overtaken by more modern designs. Nonetheless the Peashooter was a quick machine for the day (a little too quick initially, with a high landing speed causing problems for pilots). The addition of small landing flaps made things a little easier from that perspective.
The type took its first flight in March 1932 and the aircraft was equipping USAAC pursuit squadrons in 1933. Production continued into 1936, remarkable considering the monoplane fighters that had flown in the intervening years. It would not be until 1938 that the P-36 and P-35s took over the Peashooters front line role in the Air Corps.
While under US service the Peashooter never flew in combat. However, it was used by foreign air arms that did test the type in combat. Eight examples were flown by the Chinese Nationalist Air Force in 1937 against Japenese bombers. They were moderately successful without any losses on their side. A single example took part in the Spanish Civil War but no records of any successes were recorded.
Incredibly, P-26s operated by the Phillipene Army Air Corps managed to claim a number of victorys over Japenese Zeros.
An incredible footnote on the Peashooters story, given Boeing’s ultimate rise to a world aviation leader is that this was their final operational fighter type until their later involvement with the F-18.
Only two examples of the Peashooter remain to this day, one in airworthy condition and the other preserved in static condition.
Planes of Fame at Chino have operated their Peashooter for a number of years, being a regular performer at their airshows. The aircraft did make one trip to Duxford in 2014 for Flying Legends, only making two flights as a result of poor weather that year. This did mark only the second Peashooter to fly in Europe after the Spanish Civil War.
The other survivor is displayed suspended at the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington. This example was originally based at Selfridge Field between 1934 and 1938 when it moved to the canal zone. In 1942 it was given to the Guatemalan Air Force and flew with them through to 1954, before being donated to the Smithsonian in 1957. It has now been repainted into the colours of 34th Attack Squadron.