Design of the P-36 was conventional though it did promote several rather evolutionary features for its time including an enclosed cockpit and a powered, fully-retractable undercarriage. The engine was traditional mounted at the front of the fuselage and powered a three-blade propeller assembly. The fuselage was tubular and tapered at the rear. The wings were low-mounted and straight in their design with rounded wing tips. The cockpit was set above and behind the wing assemblies and offered up adequate views. The fuselage spine was raised, however, which made a clear view to the "six" nearly impossible. The canopy was also heavily framed in true 1930s fashion. The empennage consisted of a single, rounded vertical tail fin and applicable rounded horizontal planes. The undercarriage was conventional with two single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a small tail wheel for ground maneuvering.
Basic armament was rather weak by comparison to other American warplanes of the war, consisting of a 1 x 0.50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun and 1 x 0.30 caliber M1919 Browning general purpose machine gun. Later production versions featured 2 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns in the engine cowl synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades. This was further supplemented by the addition of 2 or 4 x 0.30 caliber machine guns in the wings. Still later production models were given provision for 2 x underwing drop bombs (100lbs each) or 3 x 50lb bombs or 5 x 30lb bombs allowing pilots to undertake strike missions with their fighter.
Power for the P-36A production model was provided for by a single Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 Twin Wasp air-cooled radial piston engine of 1,050 horsepower. Radial piston engines in the war gave good performance while being able to withstand much more punishment than their sexier liquid-cooled brethren. Performance specifications included a top speed of 313 miles per hour with a range of 625 miles and a service ceiling of approximately 32,700 feet. Rate of climb was 3,400 feet per minute.
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