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Boeing F4B / P-12

United States (1929)
Picture of Boeing F4B / P-12 Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft
Picture of Boeing F4B / P-12 Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft

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

Detailing the development and operational history of the Boeing F4B / P-12 Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/15/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©

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.

Cockpit picture from the Boeing F4B / P-12 Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft
Boeing F4B / P-12 Cockpit Picture
General Assessment (BETA)
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Bar chart graphic
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Rating: 60 (of 100)
The rating is an internal assessment derived from forty factors pertaining to this entry.
Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (189mph).

    Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Boeing P-12E's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
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Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
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.

Altitude Visualization
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National Flag Graphic
Origin: United States
Year: 1929
Type: Carrier-Borne Pursuit Fighter Biplane Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Boeing - USA
Production: 586
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
Brazil; China; Philippines; Spain; Thailand; United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Boeing P-12E model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.




20.34 ft

6.2 m


29.99 ft

9.14 m


8.99 ft

2.74 m


2,355 lb

1,068 kg


2,690 lb

1,220 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Pratt & Whitney R-1340-17 radial piston engine developing 500 horsepower.


189 mph

304 kph

164 kts


570 mi

917 km

Nautical Miles
495 nm


26,312 ft

8,020 m

4.98 mi


1,666 ft/min

508 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (2):

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 bomb
2 x 116lb bombs
Variants: Series Model Variants
• 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.