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Peashooter—Oh! What could have been!

27 February 2021

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

The United States had a design idea from Boeing to greatly advance fighter aircraft performance but the powers that were denied most of the design to “protect our assets” by ensuring the wings would not fall away or pilots damaging aircraft while landing by forgetting to lower the landing gear. Many pilots of the day also wanted to have open cockpits retained even though wind blast was getting increasingly louder as airspeeds quickened to greater than 200 mph. The P-26 first flew in 1932 with a similar design by Nakajima (Allied codename of Nate) first flying in 1936. Yes, much more advanced aircraft (no externally braced monowings, more heavily armed, closed cockpit, retractable gear and 100+ mph speedier) quickly followed-on, eliminating the P-26’s what-could-have-been-headstart and within a matter of a few years:

  • Curtiss P-36 Hawk and Hawker Hurricane in 1935
  • Supermarine Spitfire in 1936
  • Messerschmitt Bf 109, Macchi C.200 Saetta, Seversky P-35 and Grumman F4F in 1937
  • Bell P-39 and Curtiss P-40 in 1938
  • Mitsubishi Zero in 1939
  • Macchi C.202 Falgore and North American P-51 Mustang in 1940

So…for the P-26A…Boeing was forced to drop the retractable gear as well as install redundant external wing braces (cable stays)—and made pilots happy with an open cockpit. Yes, all the parasitic drag of biplanes that could be retained were retained! Armament was puny at two machine guns, and odd at that since one was 0.30 caliber and the other 0.50. Boeing modified the headrest into the P-26’s (nicknamed “Peashooter” for its timid firepower) dorsal hump trait after a pilot was killed with a neck injury in a not unusual end over landing accident. Though, it was a monoplane when biplanes were the paradigm and it was all metal construction not the fabric and wood norm of the time. It is these few positive traits which are usually emphasized with this aircraft but, nonetheless, it was a design obsolete by the time it entered service.  Like the period prior to World War I, the USA had let an aeronautics headstart fritter away going into what became World War II. This Boeing P-26A is displayed in the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

Boeing P-26A “Peashooter” in the National Museum of the USAF—©2009 Joseph May/Slipstream

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