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Boeing F4B / P-12

Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft

Aviation / Aerospace

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Image courtesy the United States Air Force Museum - Dayton, Ohio.
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Image courtesy the United States Air Force Museum - Dayton, Ohio.

The F4B / P-12 pursuit fighter line became an important product for both Boeing and the United States military.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/15/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
In the latter half of the 1920s, Boeing undertook another private venture of a pursuit-minded military fighter in the Model 83. The type was intended as a direct successor to the original Boeing F2B and F3B pursuit fighter lines which were both adopted by the United States Navy in 1928. The new model was a revision of the classic designs though retaining the open-air cockpit, fixed undercarriage and biplane wing arrangement common to aircraft of the period. As a naval aircraft, the airframe was appropriately strengthened and given a tail hook for carrier deck landings. Performance was good as was handling which resulted in the model's adoption into the USN inventory as the "F4B". The initial model designation was F4B-1. The US Army Air Corps (USAAC) then followed suit and adopted the type in similar form (lacking USN-specified modifications) as the "P-12". The Boeing Model 89 served as the US Army base design and incorporated support for 1 x 500lb bomb. The sales of F4B/P-12 aircraft proved critical for the Boeing concern during The Great Depression period and a prototype achieved first flight on June 25th, 1928. This Boeing aircraft marked the last "wood-winged", biplane fighter to be accepted by the US military. Production spanned from 1929 into 1932 with the initial airframe received by the US Army Air Corps on February 26th, 1929.

The US Marine Corps also made use of the F4B platform through twenty-two examples of the "F4B-4". At least 92 of the -4 mark were built, making up a large portion of the available 187 F4Bs. In all, Boeing produced 586 examples.

Outwardly, the F4B/P-12 utilized the widely-accepted biplane configuration of the time. The fuselage was well-streamlined with an open-air cockpit and raised fuselage spine. The wings were of near-equal span incorporating parallel struts with a supporting v-structure. The upper wing assembly was supported over the fuselage with a similar strut arrangement. The engine was housed in a forward compartment and drove a two-bladed metal propeller assembly. The undercarriage was fixed by way of a network of struts and managed a pair of landing wheels. The empennage included a short, rounded vertical tail fin and low-set horizontal planes. Dimensionally, the aircraft exhibited a wingspan of 30 feet with a length of 20 feet.

Power was served through 1 x Pratt & Whitney R-1340B "Wasp" series engine delivering 450 horsepower. This provided the aircraft with a top speed of 178 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour, an operational range out to 675 miles and a service ceiling nearing 26,200 feet. Gross weight was 2,630lbs. The F4B-4 was given a P&W R-1340-16 series engine of 550 horsepower.
Armament consisted of 2 x 0.30 Browning M1919 medium machine guns in fixed, forward-firing mountings along the upper frontal portion of the fuselage. This could be replaced by a combination arrangement of 1 x 0.30 caliber machine gun with 1 x 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine gun. Variants arranged to carry bombs did so through an external system and this could vary based on model number and customer requirement.

The Boeing aircraft was produced under a variety of known variant designations. XP-12 became the USAAC evaluation version of the F4B-1 and fitted the R-1340-7 engine of 450 horsepower - nine of which were produced. The P-12B was a single example with a special engine cowl and R-1340-9 engine of 525 horsepower. 96 examples of the P-12C emerged and utilized a ring cowl design with modified "spread-bar" undercarriage. 35 examples of the P-12D followed with R-1340-17 series engines of 525 horsepower. The P-12E used a semi-monocoque fuselage structure with all-new vertical tail surface and 110 were produced (some with tail wheels replacing original skids). The P-12F was produced in 25 examples with the R-1340-19 engine of 600 horsepower. P-12J was a converted one-off from the P-12E line and fitted the R-1340-23 engine of 575 horsepower.

Concerning the F4B marks, 27 F4B-1 models were produced for the US Navy and featured a bomb rack under the fuselage.F4B-2 utilized the spread-bar landing gear arrangement with tail wheel and 46 of the type were completed. F4B-3 was the F4B-2 though with a semi-monocoque structure and 21 were produced. The F4B-4 was the F4B-3 with new tail fin design, the R-1340-16 engine of 550 horsepower and provision for 2 x 116lb drop bombs. Some of these also featured stowage for an onboard life raft.

Brazil (Model 256/267) became an export customer of the F4B fighter as did China (Model 218), the Philippines, Spain and Thailand (Model 100E). Over two dozen were produced for export. American aviation pioneer Howard Hughes was proud owner of a special two-seat commercial variant (Model 100A) of this Boeing design though this airframe was later converted back to its original single-seat form.

The F4B/P-12 retained a relatively long service life considering the aviation advancements made throughout the 1930s and 1940s. It was a primary pursuit mount for the US until the mid-1930s when replaced by the newly-arriving P-26 "Peashooter" but still served in training roles into 1941. The final F4B was retired by the Brazilian Air Force in 1949 while more than a handful have existed as museum showpieces.


Retired, Out-of-Service
586 Units
Boeing - USA
National flag of Brazil National flag of China National flag of Philippines National flag of Spain National flag of Thailand National flag of United States Brazil; China; Philippines; Spain; Thailand; United States
- Fighter
- Ground Attack
- Navy / Maritime
20.34 ft (6.2 m)
29.99 ft (9.14 m)
8.99 ft (2.74 m)
Empty Weight:
2,355 lb (1,068 kg)
2,690 lb (1,220 kg)
(Diff: +335lb)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Boeing P-12E production model)
1 x Pratt & Whitney R-1340-17 air-cooled radial piston engine developing 500 horsepower driving a two-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
Max Speed:
189 mph (304 kph; 164 kts)
Service Ceiling:
26,312 feet (8,020 m; 4.98 miles)
Max Range:
570 miles (917 km; 495 nm)
1,666 ft/min (508 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Boeing P-12E production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 0.30 caliber Browning M1919 medium machine guns OR 1 x 0.30 Browning medium machine gun with 1 x 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine gun.

OPTIONAL (depending on configuration):
1 x 500lb conventional drop bomb OR 2 x 116lb conventional drop bombs.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Boeing P-12E production model)
Model 83 - Original model with R-1340-8 engine of 425 horsepower; single example.
Model 89 - Provision for 500lb bomb rank under fuselage; single example.
P-12 (Model 102) - USAAC evaluation model of F4B-1; R-1340-7 engine of 450 horsepower; nine produced.
XP-12A - Single-example; NACA engine cowl with R-1340-9 engine of 525 horsepower.
P-12B - Based on P-12 with revised landing wheels; 90 examples produced.
P-12C - Ring engine cowl; spead-bar undercarriage; 96 examples produced.
P-12D - P-12C model with R-1340-17 engine of 525 horsepower; 35 produced.
P-12E - P-12D model with semi-monocoque fuselage structure; new vertical tail fin; production included versions with tail wheel over skid design; 100 examples.
P-12F - P-12E model with R-1340-19 engine of 600 horsepower; 25 examples.
XP-12G - Single prototype example; fitted with R-1340-15 engine with side-mounted supercharger.
XP-12H - Single prototype example; fitted with GISR-1340E engine.
P-12J - P-12E with R-1320-23 engine of 575 horsepower; special bomb sighting equipment; single example.
YP-12K - P-12E and P-12J models with fuel-injected SR-1340E series engines; seven examples converted from existing mounts.
XP-12L - Single experimental example based on YP-12K fitting F-2 supercharger.
XF4B-1 - US Navy prototypes; two examples
F4B-1 - Initial US Navy models; provision for underfuselage bomb; 27 examples produced.
F4B-2 - Spread-bar landing gear; tailwheel; 46 produced.
F4B-3 - F4B-2 models with semi-monocoque fuselage; 21 examples.
F4B-4 - F4B-3 model with new tail fin design; fitted with R-1340-16 engine of 550 horsepower; provision for 2 x 116lb bombs.
F4B-4A - 23 examples serving as radio-controlled targets.
Model 100 - Civilian variant based on F4B-1; four produced.
Model 100A - Two-seat conversion manufactured for Howard Hughes.
Model 100D - Demonstrator aircraft
Model 100E - P-12E model for export to Siamese Air Force.
Model 100F - P-12F engine testbed for Pratt & Whitney.
Model 218 - P-12E model for export to China
Model 256 - F4B-4 model for export to Brazil; 14 examples.
Model 267 - F4B-3 model (P-12E wings) for export to Brazil; nine examples.
A-5 - Proposed radio-controlled target drone; never produced.
Cockpit image of the Boeing F4B / P-12
(Cockpit image represents the Boeing P-12E production model)
General Assessment

Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
Overall Rating
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry. The rating is out of a possible 100.
Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (189mph).

Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Boeing P-12E operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (586)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Max Altitude Visualization
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