The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was the first American all-metal production fighter aircraft and the first pursuit monoplane used by the United States Army Air Corps. Designed and built by Boeing; the prototype first flew in 1932, and the type was still in use with the U.S. Army Air Corps as late as 1941 in the Philippines.
The project, funded by Boeing, to produce the Boeing Model 248 began in September 1931, with the Army Air Corps supplying the engines and the instruments. The design, which included an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and externally braced wings, was the last such design procured by the USAAC as a fighter aircraft. The Model 248 had a high landing speed, which caused a number of accidents. To remedy this, flaps were fitted to reduce the landing speed. The Army Air Corps ordered three prototypes, designated XP-936, with the first flight on 20 March 1932.
The Boeing XP-936 was still tricky to land; sometimes, because of the short nose, it tended to roll onto its back and would flip forward, injuring a number of pilots. The prototype's unarmored headrest offered virtually no protection in such instances. As a result, production Model 266s ("P-26A"s) had a taller, armored headrest installed.
Two fighters were completed as the "P-26B" with a fuel-injected Pratt & Whitney R-1340-33 engine. These were followed by 23 "P-26C"s, with carburated R-1340-33s and modified fuel systems. Both the Spanish Air Force (one aircraft) and the Chinese Air Force (eleven aircraft) ordered examples of the Model 281 version of the P-26C in 1936.
The diminutive "Peashooter", as it became affectionately known by service pilots, was faster than previous American combat aircraft. Nonetheless, due to the rapid progress in aviation design in the 1930s, its design was to quickly become an anachronism, with its wire-braced wings, fixed landing gear and open cockpit representing outdated design features. The Curtiss P-36, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Hawker Hurricane, with enclosed cockpits, retractable landing gear and monocoque wings, all flew for the first time in 1935, just three years later than the P-26. However, the P-26 was easy to fly, and it remained in service until the U.S. entered World War II.
The first Boeing P-26 to experience major combat operation was the Chinese Model 281. On 15 August 1937, eight P-26/281s from the Chinese Air Force 3rd Pursuit Group, 17th Squadron, based at Chuyung airfield, engaged eight out of 20 Mitsubishi G3M Nell medium bombers from the Kisarazu Air Group sent to attack Nanking. The Chinese Boeing fighters helped shoot down two of the four Japanese bombers destroyed that day without suffering any losses. Subsequent engagements between the Chinese Peashooter pilots and pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy flying the Mitsubishi A5M "Claudes" were the first aerial dogfights and kills between all-metal monoplane fighter aircraft. A single P-26 was in service with the Spanish Republican Air Force during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939, but no aerial kills were recorded with this fighter aircraft. It was shot down in 1936.
By December 1941, U.S. fighter strength in the Philippines included 28 P-26s, 12 of which were operational with the 6th Pursuit Squadron of the Philippine Army Air Corps. Filipino-flown P-26s claimed one G3M and two or three Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros before the last of the P-26s were burned by their crews on 24 December 1941.
Only nine P-26s remained airworthy, serving in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1942–43, the Fuerza Aérea de Guatemala acquired seven P-26s ostensibly by the U.S. government smuggling them in as "Boeing PT-26A" trainers to get around restrictions of sales to Latin American countries. The last two P-26s in service were still flying with Guatemala's Air Force until 1956, when they were replaced with P-51 Mustangs. The P-26's last combat operation was with the Guatemalan Air Force during a coup in 1954.
The P-26 was the last Boeing Company fighter aircraft to enter service until Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas with production and continuing support contracts for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in 2002. Between those aircraft, Boeing did produce the experimental XF8B in 1944 as well as the prototype YF-22 in 1991.