Berliner-Joyce P-16/PB-1

Last revised June 7, 1998




The Berliner-Joyce P-16 is not exactly one of the best-known fighters of the between-wars period. It is remembered today only by aviation historians and by such amateur buffs as myself. The P-16 had the distinction of being the last biplane fighter to enter service with the USAAC. In addition, the P-16 was the only two-seat biplane fighter to enter production for the Army since 1918.

The Berliner-Joyce Aircraft Corporation of Dundalk, Maryland is not exactly a household name in the annals of aviation. Only the most esoteric of aviation historians still remember the name of this relatively obscure company today. It was founded by Henry Adler Berliner and Temple Nach Joyce in 1929. Henry Berliner had in 1922 opened up an aircraft company in Pennsylvania which had marketed a two-seat touring plane and which had experimented with early rotorcraft patents. Temple Joyce was a well-known aviator with World War 1 combat experience. Unfortunately, the founding of the Berliner-Joyce company coincided with the outbreak of the Great Depression, and the new company was forced to abandon its ambitious plans for a line of civilian monoplanes. Instead, they concentrated on designs they hoped to sell to the USAAC and to the US Navy.

One of the early Berliner-Joyce projects was the result of an USAAC decision in April 1929 to launch a design competition for a two-seat fighter. The perceived need for a two-seat fighter is sort of strange, the single seat fighter by that time having been accepted as the standard. Perhaps the USAAC wanted to give its fighters some protection against attack from the rear where single-seat fighters of the time were very vulnerable. Against competition from Boeing and Curtiss, Berliner-Joyce won the design competition in June, 1929. and a single prototype was ordered under the designation XP-16. The serial number was 29- 326. The prototype was known as TP-2 in company documents.

The XP-16 prototype was powered by a liquid-cooled 600 hp Curtiss V-1570A Conqueror with supercharging. A two-blade propeller with conical spinner was fitted. A tunnel radiator was mounted underneath the engine. Airframe and wings were of metal tubing construction with fabric covering. The upper wing was of gull configuration, and was attached at the roots to the upper fuselage. The lower wing was shorter and narrower and positioned slightly behind the top wing (positive stagger) Two crewmen sat in tandem, pilot in front and gunner in back.

The XP-16 was delivered to Wright Field on September 1, 1930. It gave a relatively good account of itself when tested. Maximum speed was 176 mph at sea level, 186 mph at 5000 feet. It could climb to 5000 feet in 2.6 minutes. Service ceiling was 26,200 feet. Weights were 2756 lb empty, 3727 lb gross. Two 0.30-in machine guns were mounted in the upper fuselage cowling, firing through the propeller arc. The second crewman fired a single flexible 0.30-cal machine gun. In addition, two 122-lb bombs could be carried.

During 1931, orders were placed for fifteen, followed by a further ten preseries aircraft. Serials were 31-502/515; 31-597 and 32-221/230. First delivery to Wright Field was on March 1, 1932. Airframes of the series aircraft were identical to the prototype, but the engine was changed to a 600 hp V-1570-25 without supercharger driving a three-bladed propeller. The speed and operational ceiling dropped dramatically as a result. The P-16 had a maximum speed of 175 mph at sea level, 172 mph at 5000 feet. Service ceiling was 21,600 feet, and the P-16 could . climb to 5000 feet in 2.9 minutes. Weights were 2803 lb empty, 3996 lb gross. Apart from the deleterious affect of having an unsupercharged engine, the pilot had poor visibility during landing, and the center of gravity was too far forward, making landing and takeoff rather hazardous.

Most of the P-16s went to the 94th Pursuit Squadron, which passed its Curtiss P-6Es on to the 33rd Squadron. During service, the P-16s were redesignated PB-1 (PB for Pursuit, Biplace). Their poor performance and hazardous landing/takeoff properties caused them to be taken out of front-line service on January 21, 1934, after having been operational for only a few months.

In spite of the problems the Army had encountered with the P-16, in 1931 the Navy ordered a carrier-based version which it designated XF2J-1. Since the Navy favored radial engines for its fighters, the XF2J-1 was powered by by the 625 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1510-92 Hornet. The XF2J-1 differed from the P-16 in having a wider fuselage to accommodate the larger engine. In the original design the two cockpits were open, but an enclosed sliding canopy was subsequently fitted. The Bureau of Aeronautics number was 8973. Because of the financial difficulties encountered by the Berliner-Joyce company, the XF2J-1 was two years in the making. By the time that the XF2J-1 was finally ready in 1934, the Grumman FF-1 was also ready, far outclassing all competitors. Testing showed that, like the P-16, the XF2J-1 had very poor landing visibility, a particularly fatal defect in a carrier-based airplane. In addition, the decision on the part of Wright to discontinue development of the R-1510-92 radial did not help, and the Navy did not order any further examples of the XF2J-1.

The Berliner-Joyce company could not long survive the dearth of military orders in the early 1930s. In 1933, North American Aviation, Inc. acquired a controlling share ownership of the Maryland-based company. In 1934, the Berliner-Joyce company officially became a division of North American. Shortly thereafter, what was left of the old Berliner-Joyce company was transferred from Maryland out to Inglewood, California. The name Berliner-Joyce vanished from the aviation scene forever.

Sources:

  1. American Combat Planes (3rd Edition), Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter Bowers, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angellucci and Peter Bowers, Orion Books, 1987.