Although I build a lot of WWII
era aircraft, I have always found the colorful aircraft from the
"Golden Age" of aviation, the 1930s, very appealing.
Even if you may not immediately know the name of this aircraft,
you will surely recognize its appearance from seeing it in
pictures and old photos.
The P-26 was developed by the Boeing Company and flown as a
prototype in 1932. It had the honor of being the first monoplane
fighter accepted into service by the USAAC. Its sleek outline
and stubby wings gave it more the appearance of a racing
aircraft than something that would be found on an Army airfield.
Despite its radical departure from the traditional biplane
design, the P-26 also carried over many features which were
standard on earlier period aircraft. Boeing designers were
concerned that its cantilevered wing design would not stand the
stresses of combat, so the wing-to-fuselage join was reinforced
with steel cables. Fully enclosed cockpits were frowned upon
because they restricted visibility. As a result, the P-26 was
built with an open cockpit. Retractable landing gear were
considered too unreliable at the time- thus, the distinctive
wheel pants and spats covering the plane's landing gear and
wheels. In sum, the P-26 was an anachronism, combining cutting
edge technology with older technology proven reliable over the
previous two decades. Even considering this combination of old
and new technology, the P-26 achieved a top speed of 234 mph,
which was about 20 percent faster than contemporary biplane
fighters powered by the same engine.
I was curious about the
differences in the -A, -B, and -C versions of the aircraft. The
differences are miniscule. The -A version was built with the
Pratt and Whitney 600-hp carbureted engine. The next 25
airframes were designated as -B's and were designed to utilize a
fuel-injected version of the Wasp engine. Because of development
delays associated with the new engine, the majority of this lot
of P-26s were built with the original version of the Wasp which
was modified to allowing for upgrading when the fuel injected
version became available. Aircraft upgraded in this manner were
subsequently "downgraded" in designation as -B models!
Combat. The P-26 saw combat in several conflicts of
the 1930's. Ten Peashooters (designated as export Model 281)
were purchase by the Chinese government and used to down several
Japanese aircraft over Nanking in 1937. One Model 281 on loan to
the Spanish government was thrown into service and used briefly
as a frontline fighter against rebel forces during the Spanish
Civil War. By 1941, the P-26 was considered an antique,
outclassed and outdated. A dozen of the few aircraft still in
USAAC service were transferred to the Philippine Army Air Corps
at the airfield on Luzon. During December 1941, Filipino pilots
downed two Japanese aircraft, one of which was a Mitsubishi
Zero. Not bad for a flying antique! In 1943, the remaining 11
P-26s which had been in the service of the Panamanian Air Force
were sold to Guatemala, which flew them until they were replaced
by the P-51 in 1950. The last remaining P-26 was sold to the
National Air and Space Museum, where it has been restored and
can be seen on display.
I started building this
recent Academy release eight years ago when it was issued by
Hobbycraft. After trying for several weeks to achieve a good
high gloss finish, I became discouraged with my efforts and put
the kit away. I pulled it off the shelf on several occasions
after that but never got around to finishing it.
When I saw the Academy reissue in
my local hobby shop, I couldn't resist purchasing one,
especially with its great box art. On opening the box, one finds
the same high quality moldings found in the Hobbycraft release.
The cockpit is well detailed, being comprised of 14 parts. There
are also underside munitions including 2 116-lb. demolition
bombs and a rack of 25-lb. fragmentation bombs. A wing-mounted
gun camera is also included.
Construction commences with the
cockpit. The Academy instructions call for interior green, but
the interior should be aluminum in color. The molded-in seat
back cushion is very nicely done. I painted it a khaki color and
dry brushed it with a sand color to bring out the fabric detail.
The cockpit access door was temporarily tacked into place with a
minute amount of superglue, as I planned to remove it later and
display in open position. After the cockpit was installed, the
fuselage halves were joined without difficulty. Wing halves were
glued together and test fitted. I elected to set them aside with
the idea of attaching them to the fuselage after painting.
The engine was next. It's a
beautiful and well-detailed assembly, being comprised of 12
parts, 8 of which are exhaust stubs of various shapes and
length. When cleaning up the cylinder section (Part C1), be sure
not to sand off the locator pins that ensure the engine seats
inside the cowling ring. The
engine was airbrushed a flat medium gray, and then hand brushed
with Testors Metalizer Nonbuffing Steel. The latter is so thin
that it immediately fills in the crevices between the cooling
fins, and results in a realistic finish (note: you'll need a
strong solvent such as acetone to clean out your brush. I
recommend using an old brush if your going to hand-apply
Metalizer paints). The exhaust stubs were drilled out (no easy
task since most of them are oval shaped) and painted Gunze Sanyo
Burnt Iron. Gluing these to the engine is a rather delicate
procedure, so take your time and pay careful attention to the
instructions. The propeller was airbrushed Pollyscale Bright
silver, immediately rubbed out with some SNJ polishing powder
and set aside for later.
Painting the fuselage and wings
was a very trying experience for me. I'm no expert on gloss
finishes and much time was spent using the trial and error
approach to getting the results I wanted. In the process I
alternately painted and stripped the wings on three occasions. I
originally started out using Xtracolor paints, but was not
satisfied with the long drying time. I eventually migrated to
Tamiya gloss and Pollyscale flat paints. A combination of Tamiya
gloss yellow and a little gloss red was used to achieve the
chrome yellow for the wings. I applied this and with its quick
drying time was able to sand it out within an hour. I started by
using a 3200 grade sanding cloth to smooth out the finish. Once
this was achieved I shot another light coat of paint to cover
any areas that I had sanded through. I then shot multiple light
coats of Future Acrylic Floor wax, until I had built up a fairly
thick clear coat (the clear coat has to be thick to avoid
sanding into the paint). This was given 24 hours to dry, and
sanded/polished it with 3600, 4000, 6000 and 8000 grades. Sounds
pretty easy, but of course in practice it was a different story.
The fuselage was shot with Pollyscale US Olive Drab (FS34087).
The Hobbycraft instructions call for FS 30118, but I found the
Olive Drab a close enough match, at least for me. I used the
same technique for achieving a gloss finish which had worked on
the wings, but needed additional coats of Future to compensate
for the paint's flat finish.
The wings were joined to the
fuselage. There were small gaps which were filled with white
glue, touched up with very small amounts of paint and overcoated
with Future. The entire model was then polished out with
Meguire's No. 9 Swirl Remover to give it a high gloss finish.
The result was acceptable in my sight, although I know that some
of my car modeling friends would not be overly impressed.
Finally, a pencil and plastic straight edge were used to pencil
in panel lines which had been obliterated by the multiple layers
of paint and clear coat.
The wheels were painted and
sandwiched between the wheel pant halves which were then glued
together. The portions of the wheels that were visible were
masked with Parafilm. The wheel pants were painted Olive Drab
and the previously described procedure was followed for
achieving a gloss finish. The wheel assemblies were then glue to
Decals were applied. I elected to
use the scheme depicted in the box art, which is a P-26A from
the 94th Pursuit Squadron, circa 1935. In general the decals go
on well with a few exceptions. The fuselage Indian chief
insignia looks opaque enough until it's placed over the red
fuselage stripe. Unfortunately, the stripe shows right through.
After positioning the decal and tracing lightly around its
perimeter with a No. 11 blade, I slid it to the side and
carefully scraped away the part of the fuselage stripe it would
have been covering. I did this by first getting the underlying
decal quite wet and using a number 11 blade and tooth pick to
"chip" away at the decal. Extreme care is warranted so
as not to chip away the paint too. After that was accomplished
the decal was slipped back into place. It looked fine with a
uniform color of olive drab beneath it. This procedure was
required on both sides of the fuselage. The other problem area
is the decals which cover the front of the wheel spats. Try as I
might I could not get these to conform properly and ended up
leaving them off. I toyed with the idea of masking and painting
the wheel spats, but in the end decided to leave well enough
Rigging came next. Although most
aircraft of this period were rigged with "flat" flying
wires, I was unable to replicate this effect to my satisfaction.
After several false starts, I finally settled on .009 steel
piano wire for the rigging. This was used on both upper wing and
lower wings, as well as the bracing between the landing gear.
Wire stiffeners were made from stretched sprue, glued to the
flying wires, and then painted flat black.
Various odds and ends were next
attached including the pitot tube and antenna masts. The
windscreen was masked using Bare Metal Foil and airbrushed.
After the foil was removed the windscreen was dipped in Future,
and once dry glued onto the fuselage with white glue. I elected
to leave off the gun camera and centerline ordnance, because,
frankly, I was getting tired of nursing this project along.
Antenna wires were replicated with .005 steel wire. I found this
material very easy to work with, realistic, and much stronger
than stretched sprue. I picked up some of this wire at an IPMS
National several years ago, but it can be ordered from Small
Although I found some parts of
assembling this kit challenging (OK, frustrating!), I was very
pleased with the final result. I would recommend it to any
Aerofax Minigraph 8: Boeing P-26 Variants