Famous Fighter Family
In 1928, Boeing developed the first in a family of fighters that would be one of their most successful designs between wars. The Model 83 was a biplane fighter that flew at nearly 170 mph (272 km/h) -- considered hod-rod performance for its day. Refined and improved versions became the Army P-12, the Navy F4B, and the Model 100 series. Nearly 600 examples of Boeing's "Fighter Family" were built. Movie stunt pilot Frank Tallman, who flew the Museum's plane, wrote that the Boeing fighters were, "nearly indestructible in flight and offered outstanding performance to execute maneuvers unknown to earlier generations of pilots."
The Museum's Boeing Model 100 was one of four built as commercial/export versions of the Navy F4B-1. This one was sold to Pratt & Whitney and was used as a flying test bed for engines and is currently outfitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior engine. Pratt & Whitney sold the plane to stunt and airshow pilot Milo Burcham. Purchased by movie pilot Paul Mantz in 1948, it appears in the background of many aviation films. The fighter was restored to flyable condition and given an Army P-12 paint job in 1977.
Paul Mantz got his start in Hollywood flying a scene that veteran stunt pilot Frank Clark refused -- zoom a biplane through an open hanger. The scene for the movie Air Mail (1932), earned him $100 and a reputation as a precision flier. In the years that followed, Mantz made a name for himself not only as a stuntman, but as an accomplished air racer, technological advisor to Amelia Earhart, an aviation scene director, and operator of a highly-profitable charter service for the big names in Hollywood. Mantz also owned a fleet of aircraft, including two Boeing Model 100s. Tragically, Mantz was killed in a plane crash while filming Flight of the Phoenix in 1965.
Changes in Design
The P-12/F4B fighter series, developed between world wars, is a mixture of old and new design components. Although many civil aircraft were built as monoplanes in the late-1920s, the military still wanted proven, World War I-style biplanes. While the Boeing fighters were still primarily cloth-covered, they incorporated corrugated aluminum control and tail surfaces. The wing structure was made of wood, but the fuselage was aluminum tubing. The P-12/F4B series was Boeing's last biplane fighter.