The Consolidated P-30/ PB-2 was the only two man single engined fighter to see service with the USAAC between the wars, and was based on the P-25, itself a development of the Detroit/ Lockheed P-24.
Work on the design began in the Lockheed subsidiary of the Detroit Aircraft Company. It was based on the Lockheed 8D Altair, a used the wooden wings from that aircraft, paired to a metal fuselage. The prototype was tested by the USAAC, and purchased as the YP-24. On 23 September 1931 an order was placed for five Y1P-24 two-seat fighters and four Y1A-9 attack aircraft, but on 19 October the prototype was destroyed in a crash, and on 27 October the Detroit Aircraft Company went bankrupt.
Robert J. Woods, the designer of the P-24, was immediately hired by Consolidated and given the task of producing an improved version of the P-24. He gave the new aircraft all-metal wings, increased the size of the tail and added a turbocharger for the Curtiss V-1570-27 engine. In March 1932 the USAAC ordered one prototype of the fighter version, as the Y1P-25 and one for the attack aircraft, now as the XA-11. The Y1P-25 was delivered to Wright Field on 9 December 1932, but was lost in a crash on 13 January 1933. The XA-11 prototype was lost in a crash one week later. Despite these setbacks an order was placed for eight aircraft - four A-11 attack aircraft and four fighters, with the new designation P-30.
The four P-30s had a 675hp V-1570-57 Curtiss Conqueror engine with a supercharger, driving a two blade constant speed propeller. It was also given a simplified undercarriage and a revised cockpit canopy. Tests with the P-30 began in January 1934, and the results weren't entirely positive. The second crewman's position was criticised on the grounds that he would probably black out the moment vigorous manoeuvres began. Unlike the British two-man fighters, the P-30 was armed with fixed forward firing guns rather than a powered turret, and would thus be expected to dogfight like a single seat fighter.
Despite this problem, on 6 December 1934 an order was placed for fifty Model 26 P-30As. While they were under construction the designation was changed to PB-2A, and the P-30s became the PB-2. The first production aircraft made its maiden flight on 17 December 1935, and reached a speed of 274mph at 25,00ft. The type's unfortunately safety record continued, and this aircraft was lost in a crash in late May 1936
The PB-2A was a low wing monoplane, with all-metal wings and a metal fuselage. It had retractable undercarriage. It was powered by a Prestone-cooled 700hp Curtiss V-1570-61 Conqueror engine with supercharge, driving a controllable pitch propeller, with a chin radiator. It was armed with two fixed forward firing and one rear firing flexibly mounted 0.3in machine guns. Other than the open rear of the cockpit looked like a standard single engined fighter of the period.
The PB-2A was the first fighter with a retractable undercarriage to enter service in the USAAC, and the only single engine two seat monoplane fighter to enter service between the wars. It was also the first to have a constant-speed propeller and the first to successfully use a supercharger.
The PB-2A entered service with the 27th Pursuit Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, at Selfridge Field, Michigan in July 1936. In 1937 this group converted to the Seversky P-35, and the P-30s went to the 33rd, 35th and 36th Squadrons of the 8th Pursuit Group, at Langley Field, Virginia. The 8th Pursuit Group converted to the Curtiss P-36 in the spring of 1939, by which time about thirty-five PB-2As were still operational. These went to Maxwell Field, Alabama, where they faded out of use over the next couple of years. The last one was given to a ground school in March 1942.
On 17 October 1937 Lt John M Sterling won the Mitchell Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, at a speed of 217.5mph. In March 1937 one PB-2A reached an altitude of 39,200ft, an impressive height although around 10,000ft below the then altitude record.
In May 1935 the Army Air Corps asked for proposals for a new single-seat fighter to replace the Boeing P-26. Consolidated converted the seventh PB-2A into the PB-2 'Special' by fairing over the aft cockpit to produce a conventional looking single-seater. Loaded weight fell by 41lb, and top speed rose to 275mph at 25,000ft, but the aircraft was larger and heavier than any of its rivals and was already losing the third fighter competition of April 1926 when it was totally destroyed in a crash.
A number of variants were suggested but never built. These included the YP-27 and YP-28 of May 1932, which used the 550hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340-21 and 600hp R-1340-19 air cooled radial engines and the XP-33 with a 800hp Twin Wasp R-1830-1.
Engine: Curtiss V-1710-61 inline piston engine
Span: 43ft 11in
Length: 30ft 0in
Height: 8ft 3in
Empty Weight: 4,306lb
Max take-off weight: 5,643lb
Maximum Speed: 274mph at 25,000ft
Cruising Speed: 215mh
Climb rate: 7m 47s to 15,000ft
Range: 580 miles
Guns: Two fixed forward firing 0.3in machine guns, one 0.3in machine gun on flexible mounting in rear cockpit
Bomb load: 10 17lb fragmentation bombs