Sunday, July 20, 2014

One of my favorite planes...

It's just such an improbable-looking little thing, from a time when aviation technology was advancing by leaps and bounds. The P-26's first flight was in 1932. Fifteen years later, the U.S. Army Air Corps would have morphed through the U.S. Army Air Forces into the United States Air Force, privates would be airmen, and we'd be flying swept-wing jets.

By contrast, the current F-15 Eagle fleet (now Boeing products as well, thanks to aviation industry conglomeration and consolidation) is as much as thirty years old and more. Heck, there's a larger spread of time between the first flight of the F-22 Raptor and today than there is between the first flight of the P-26 Peashooter and the F-86 Sabre jet.

(H/T to Pergelator.)


Eric said...

I guess there is no equivalent to Moore's Law for aviation...

Sport Pilot said...

I've always love the Pea Shooter, its iconic in every way. It's design and styling carry over into my admiration of the Bowers Fly Baby and Fisher Avenger as well. I'd love to own a Fly Baby for a few years, open cockpit flying is beyond compare.

Matt G said...

"Heck, there's a larger spread of time between the first flight of the F-22 Raptor and today than there is between the first flight of the P-26 Peashooter and the F-86 Sabre jet."

Whoa. It's true, but that's as impressive to me as when my daughter informed me the other day that France executed prisoners by guillotine after the release of Star Wars-- I went and looked it up.

Chris Byrne said...


Most development in aviation has been flat stopped, or at least greatly retarded, by three things:

1. The FAA
2. Lawyers
3. Congress and the military procurement process

Murphy's Law said...

What Chris said. Technological progress has been seriously retarded if not stopped by those things.

As to that sweet vintage P-26, rumor has it that Old NFO still remembers how to fly one. ;-)

Richard Blaine said...

And it's good exercise too. Turn that crank!

fast richard said...

Aviation development looked a lot like it followed Moore's Law for about sixty years. I wonder how much longer computer development can sustain that pace.

That's pretty cool that someone was able to get that thing flying. I can't even afford to get the Stinson back into airworthy condition.

tailwind said...

What Chris said, but I would have listed Congress and military procurement process separately and also included contractors.

Big Military contractors have no interest in speeding up a contract because they are cash cows. V-22 and F-22 are prime examples.

They react faster when an upstart small company has got a really good product and doesn't have all the red tape in the way of production. Big Company then buys Small Company, and development slows to a more normal pace.

Commercial Aerospace development is completely different, except for the FAA part.

Stranger said...

A much easier to control version of the GeeBee racer. The short coupled GeeBee required constant attention from eh pilot. Most of the total production wound up augured into sundry corn fields.

The P-26 did not require that level of attention, but was said to be a handful.


Jack said...

I get it - those of you who blame military procurement for aviation ills much prefer the days when the generals ordered multiple models into production to decide which one was better rather than testing them ahead of time. Well, folks, we stopped being able to afford that in the 1960s. McNamara was a jerk, but the requirement to have a written reason for a purchase was long overdue when he required it. Personally, speaking as a B-52 and F-4 aviator, an F-15 contracting officer, and later a project and program manager, I didn't miss the engine failures and fires that came before comprehensive configuration management. You might get a really advanced pistol by cutting out materials management, the testing program, and statistical quality control, but I don't want one of them, thanks.

Walter Zoomie said...

The inertia starter...a stock Bugs Bunny and Road Runner sound effect! ;)

Old NFO said...

Chris is right, and Jack, you're telling me we don't have fires and engine failures now??? Airplanes used by the military are STILL built by the lowest bidder... Granted they jack the hell out of the price as soon as they finish the EDMs, but it's still lowest bid. And innovation has been pretty well trampled for other than the folks like Scaled Composites who don't plan to ever play with the big boys.

Jack said...

NFO, of course we still have engine fires, but the frequency is way down compared to the 1950s - before my time, but I did read the crash stats. I'm sorry, but airframes and engines aren't built by the lowest bidder - they're the "only" bidder. You can't get real competition from two companies when a realistic bid prototype might cost $50M and there's a chance to not win - the companies just won't bid under those circumstances.

The competition takes place in the initial estimates and from the dynamic tension between what the government is willing to pay and the tech the winning company is willing to provide. Rifles and pistols can still be bid the old way, though, and I'm sure there are low bidders there; a missed bid won't sink the company the way it would for an aircraft or a major ship, for instance.

D.W. Drang said...

Jack, you're telling me we don't have fires and engine failures now???
So I guess standing with a fire extinguisher in my hands watching while the pilot cranked the engines on the Blackhawk was just a dream...?

Anonymous said...

That was sweet. Thank you. Filmed in the UK?

John of the GMA

Anonymous said...

Sport Pilot:

If you pick up a Fly Baby, make sure you get the wing rear spar update.

Peter Bowers was a friend of the family. If you happen to find a copy of the Fly Baby homebuilder construction manual that he used to sell, all the construction drawings in it were done by my Dad. The only drawing in it not done by my Dad was the 3-view GA drawing, which was done by Bob Parks, a local aviation artist and draftsman of some note.


Anonymous said...


The P-26 was a fighter plane, and as such, it was naturally unstable. It DID require that level of attention. In addition, most of the fields they operated out of were grass strips, so nose-overs were a problem when the fields were muddy, which was most of the time. The prototype P-26 did not have the high headrest the production model did. During a test flight, it nosed over onto its back and broke the pilot's neck, killing him. A headrest was designed with a roll bar inside to make sure that didn't ever happen again, which is why the headrest is so tall. Muddy fields weren't the only source of nose-overs. During cold weather operations, snow and sleet would pack into the wheel fairings, freeze at altitude, and cause an instant nose-over on landing. The fix for cold weather flying was to remove the wheel covers so the snow and sleet couldn't freeze the wheels in place.

As an aside, at the beginning of WWII, we gave our P-26s to the Philippine Air Force. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they were heroically flown against Japanese zeros, and several zeros were shot down.


Bram said...

Chris & Jack -

The difference is - during the run between the P26 and the Sabrejets, aircraft companies paid for their own R&D. Now Uncle Sam pays the R&D with a giant mark-up.

Paul said...

As I recall from reading one of the reasons these planes required attention in the air was the big radial. The torque provided could flip the plane if you dumped the throttle to quickly.

Course my memory is getting holes in anymore. Just ask my wife.

Ted N said...

I know I must have been making it up.

staghounds said...

Beast of Turin of the skies!

LCB said...

I wonder if part of the reason airplane development has stalled is because they can now design the planes to do things no pilot can survive. Somewhere I remember reading that "within 10 years" (they always say 10 years) our fighter missions will be flown by drones.

I think that's possible now, but the jet jockey's running the Air Force don't want to give up piloted aircraft.

Geodkyt said...

Here's something that will get your attention.

The P-26 only flew three years before the P36 Hawk.

Four years before the Bf109/ME109.

Only five years before the F4F Wildcat.

The F-35 (specifically, an F-35A)first flew in 2006, and the F-35A won't be in service for another two years. . . if not delayed again.

Don M said...

We have been moving the "fighter pilot" duties away from the fighter pilot for a long time.

The FW-190 had an automated engine manager so the pilot didn't have to do that.

The F-102 interceptor had a computer to help the pilot fly to the missile launcn point, and return. This was borrowed for the SnarK missile, and caused some consternation when after flying out to the way point the first one turned and began its return.

The F-15/F-16 moved a lot of the interception duties to the missiles, so tactics went from turning with the enemy to shooting him on the merge. AIM-9L and subsequent heat seekers could track on the compressor side of the engine, one reason why the Harrier did so well in the Falklands.

Don M said...

With a single engine aircraft you have to stomp on the rudder pretty hard to fly straight. If you get the nose too high, you will stall your wings and fall out of the sky.

I think the P-26 remained in service until 1956, in some of the central american countries.

Ed said...

The P-26 is not to be confused with the Martin B-26 Marauder and the Douglas A-26 Invader.

The B-26 is famously known by the slogan "One a day in Tampa Bay!" because of the crash rate during training. The design changed with experience in flight operations.

Ed said...

The P-26 is not to be confused with the Martin B-26 Marauder and the Douglas A-26 Invader.

The B-26 is famously known by the slogan "One a day in Tampa Bay!" because of the crash rate during training. The design changed with experience in flight operations.

JPG said...

Another point of possible confusion - - -
In that linked video, the airshow announcer misspoke and referred to the Peashooter as a "PT-26." That was a primary trainer built by Fairchild, Simply a PT-19A with a long greenhouse canopy enclosing both seats.

Interestingly, though, the Wiki entry on the P-26 relates that in 1942--43, the U.S. Govt. shipped seven P-26s to the Guatemalan air force. At the time. this transfer was announced as concerning "Boeing PT-26" trainers, to circumvent restrictions on sale of war materiel at the time.

And Ed mentioned the Martin B-26 Marauder and Douglas A-26 Invader. Interesting that North American P-51 (B-model??) was modified for use as a dive bomber and called by the Brits the A-26 Invader. I imagine these were all struck from the rolls by the time the Douglas A-26 Invader entered service.

Ain't trivia wunnerful?

Anonymous said...

JPG Said: "Interesting that North American P-51 (B-model??) was modified for use as a dive bomber and called by the Brits the A-26 Invader."

A short history of the P-51: The P-51 was actually a result of a request by the British Air Purchasing Commission for a replacement for the P-40. It was called the NA-73, and was powered by an Allison engine. The British ordered 320 of the NA-73s, which they had dubbed the "Mustang", and which, because of its high speed at low altitude, they used for ground attack and low-level photo-recon. They then ordered a further 300 designated NA-83s, and another 150 designated NA-91s, which the AAF called the P-51 "Apache", before changing the name back to "Mustang" to prevent confusion.

The USAAF finally became interested, and ordered 500 NA-97s, a variant specifically designed for dive-bombing, which was called the A-36A by the AAF.

It's interesting that in most of the period magazine advertisements and articles about the A-36 that I've seen, the A-36 was called an "Apache", and was strictly a low-level ground attack aircraft.

A-36As were followed by the NA-99s (P-51As).

The British felt that the "Mustang" was an outstanding all-around fighter, and decided to try improving high-altitude performance by installing a Merlin 61 and 65 engines, and the rest is history.

The P-51B was built for the USAAF and had Packard-built Merlins installed.