New and revolutionary in 1932, by the time World War II started the P-26 was clearly past its time. Yet it still saw combat in a very limited capacity.
After the jump, a look at a little fighter and its combat career.
Boeing’s P-26 was a cutting edge modern design in 1932. Its metal fuselage was considered streamlined, and external bracing was kept to a minimum. The Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine provided a generous 600 HP. With a top speed over 230 MPH it could outrun anything else in the sky. Landing flaps were added after the prototype because the type touched down so fast there was concern pilots couldn’t handle it.
This would also be the last fighter ever designed by Boeing. Profit margins were always tighter on little fighters, and Boeing was tired of the political process, and contracts being renegotiated; so they decided to focus all efforts on bigger, higher margin aircraft. Boeing was out of the fighter business until they acquired McDonnell-Douglass and the F/A-18 program in 2002.
But in the 1930s the Peashooter did generate some business. 151 were built including prototypes and small orders for China and Spain. This was the “Golden Age” of aviation and technological progress was coming fast. Significantly, the Curtiss P-36 and Hawker Hurricane both flew in 1935. That meant retractible landing gear, enclosed cockpits and no external bracing would become the norm. And the P-26 went from state of the art to anachronism in a matter of months.
In 1938 a number of Peashooters were assigned to American fighter squadrons in the Philippines. At this time the Philippines was still a territory of the United States, but was scheduled to be made an independent nation in 1946. As part of this process a Philippine Army Air Corp was organized. in 1941 the 12 still flyable P-26s were assigned to that new Air Force. Specifically to the 6th Pursuit Squadron under Capt Jesus Villamor.
When the war came in December of 1941 the 6th Pursuit Squadron was the only combat “ready” unit of the Philippine air force. In two weeks of combat the unit scored five kills, including two Zeros and Betty bomber by Capt Villamor himself. But those two weeks spelled the end of that unit as a viable force with the last of their Peashooters being burned to avoid capture. Capt Villamor would continue to fly a Boeing Stearman in a tactical support role almost to the end of the Philippine campaign. Capt Villamor was among the few Philippinos evacuated before the islands fell, but he quickly returned via submarine to coordinate between guerrilla groups. In that role he fought until the islands were finally liberated summer of 1945.
This Philippine Peashooter is from the Hobbycraft kit. It may be among the best kits from that manufacturer, at least to say that brand’s characteristic simplicity serves the little P-26 well.
It was a capable craft that was made obsolete quickly.
Great post. Very informative. I had no idea that the Philippine’s flew the P-26.
Its amazing to me that such a unit was considered “combat ready”!
Don’t forget the Poles used horse mounted lancers effectively against German infantry units in the early days of the war. Yes, such units were obsolete against superior mechanized forces, but at the right place and the right time they effectively delayed the German advances enough for other units to retreat and regroup.
Good point. There are a lot of examples of clearly obsolete and inferior forces that were thrown into the action. Especially in the southwest Pacific and CBI a lot of colonial type security and auxiliary units saw service.
But I think the Philippine 6th Pursuit Squadron gets special notice for being more effective than they appeared on paper. I think much of the credit goes to Capt Villamor himself. He was an experienced pilot and professional from the pre-war era. He learned to fly several types while flying in the US, including modern fighters and B-17s.
He is credited with three of his squadrons five claimed victories. His fighter was not only slower than the Zeros he faced, it was even slower than the Betty he claimed.
And I am careful with the “claimed”and “credited” terms. There was often great disparity between claims and reality. Aerial combat s confusing, especially to younger pilots. I would say Capt Villamor’s three claims are more likely legit than the other two claims put in by the squadron. I’m also skeptical they were all Zeros, Japanese Army was active too. I think records may be too incomplete to accurately reconstruct at this point. But the total loss of all twelve Peashooters is clear enough, even if they weren’t all lost in air to air.
It might be interesting to see how many P-26 claims were filed by the Japanese…
Yes, it is my impression that many units, especially in the south Pacific and colonies, were declared “combat ready” because combat was coming to them, ready or not. And yes, the early war is notable for out-manned forces making heroic, yet ultimately doomed stands against superior enemy forces.
You certainly have to admire the men willing to go in to battle in such circumstances with that knowledge, even more so when they find any measure of success.
That’s a big part of what I find most fascinating about the early Pacific War; a lot of doomed noble causes. The courage of the combatants was so often at odds with the reality.
There was plenty of ignominy to go around too (an American Fighter Squadron that wouldn’t fight, the ineptly handled defense of the Malay Penninsula), lot’s of extreme contrasts.