The Boeing F4B biplane served as the primary carrier based fighter aircraft for the US Navy in the early 1930s, remaining in service in various support and training roles until the early 1940s. It was the last wooden-winged, biplane fighter produced by Boeing and used by the US Navy. The large quantity of F4Bs built helped to establish Boeing as an important aircraft manufacturer and to keep the firm in business during the hard economic times of the Great Depression.
Two prototypes aircraft designated XF4B-1 were first flown on June 25, 1928, and delivered to the Navy for evaluation. After extensive trials by the Navy, an order for twenty-seven production aircraft was placed with Boeing. The first F4B-1 aircraft were delivered in the summer of 1929 to the Red Rippers of VB-1B on the USS. Lexington. The new fighter was capable of reaching speeds of more than 175 mph, and could carry five 24 lb bombs under each wing and one 500 lb bomb or a 41-gallon auxiliary fuel tank beneath the fuselage. Armament on the F4B-1 consisted of two .30-caliber machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc.
In June of 1930 the Navy contracted for forty-six additional improved versions, with deliveries beginning in January of the following year. The F4B-2 differed from the original design by having a redesigned ring cowling which covered the radial engine, an improved split-axle landing gear, and Friese ailerons. Maximum air speed was increased to 186 mph, and the airplane could carry four 116-lb wing mounted bombs.
While production of the F4B-2 was in progress, Boeing began development of a new version. Instead of the bolted, alloy-tube fuselage of the earlier design, the F4B-3 had an all-metal semi-monocoque fuselage. The two-spar, fabric-covered wings with corrugated metal control surfaces were retained. The engine was replaced by the Pratt & Whitney R-1340-10, which was fitted with a drag ring. The Navy contracted for seventy-five F4B-3s. The first airplane was delivered on Christmas Eve in 1931
The fourth and final version of the F4B series was the F4B-4. Essentially an F4B-3 with a broader chord fin and a larger headrest for an inflatable life raft, the F4B-4 was first ordered in April 1931, and the last of ninety-two aircraft were delivered on February 28, 1933. Twenty-one of these airplanes were assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. The F4B-4 maintained the good flight characteristics of the earlier versions despite greater weight and increased power. Only when overloaded and at maximum speed did the F4B-4 exhibit any instability.
Total production of the F4B (and the Army version P-12's) reached 586 aircraft, 210 of them delivered to the Navy.