The T-6 Was the Most Important Trainer of World War II
On April 1st 1935 the North American prototype that would become the T-6 Texan first took flight. The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) referred to them as T-6 Texans. The United States Navy called them SNJs. The British Commonwealth called them Yales and Harvards. More than 17,000 T-6s were built worldwide and they were used to train hundreds of thousands of pilots. Given that so many of them were built it’s fitting that more than 550 lovingly restored and maintained examples are still flying today- and their sound is unmistakable. That snarl heard as a T-6 (or more than one) fly past is unique.
Ultimate Sobriquet: Pilot Maker
Because most pilot training began in the cockpits of biplanes like the Boeing-Stearman Kaydets and the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Yellow Perils, the T-6 was considered an advanced trainer when the first of them were introduced in 1937. Later it would become the first aircraft flown by many fledgling aviators before they began flying Beechcraft T-34 Mentors, North American T-28 Trojans, or Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentors as they progressed toward earning their coveted wings. Eventually replaced entirely in the US military pilot training pipelines by those same Mentors and Trojans, Texans remained in use into the 1990s. No matter where it was flown or by whom; no matter whatever else it was called, North American’s T-6 trainer was also called the Pilot Maker.
Copied by the Japanese?
The genesis of the Texan was the North American NA-16 prototype. That aircraft, modified as the NA-26, was North American’s entry for the USAAC’s Basic Combat aircraft competition held during March of 1937. The NA-26 design went into production as the first T-6. From then the aircraft was developed with added features, more powerful engines, different canopy designs, and various armament configurations. It wasn’t until the NA-78 design that the name Texan was used. Texans were also license-built by Canadian Car and Foundry and Noorduyn of Canada. Even Mitsubishi in Japan looked at building them before the war. Kyushu Aircraft Company used the NA-16 design as the loose basis for a limited-production intermediate trainer, the K10W1 (Allied reporting name “Oak.”)
Trainers Turned Into Fighters
T-6s were used primarily as advanced pilot trainers, but they also saw use as gunnery trainers, close air-support aircraft, forward air controllers, artillery spotters, crop dusters, fighter-bombers, mail carriers, pylon racers, and experimental testbeds. As forward air controllers during the Korean War, T-6 Mosquitoes flew 40,000 mostly low and slow (and exceedingly dangerous) sorties to find enemy positions and mark them for attention by fighter-bombers. The basic Texan design was also the basis for three fighter designs- the North American P-64 and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Wirraway, and when further modified, the CAC Boomerang.
Over-Engineered For Good Reason
The essential T-6 Texan is powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engine turning a two-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. It’s been said that because the airframe was built by North American, the engine by Pratt & Whitney, and the propeller by Hamilton Standard, the Texan was “the best built airplane that ever was” because those companies were considered to be the best at designing and building their prospective products. Put them all together and you’ve got one very strong airplane. It’s a common sentiment among T-6 owners and fans that the airplane is (at least) 15% over-engineered- not bad for a design penned more than 80 years ago.
Slap a Tail Hook On There Dilbert
Navy SNJs trained prospective Naval Aviators to do more than just match their number of takeoffs to landings and fly competently in between them. They also taught them to land on aircraft carriers. The skies over the Florida panhandle teemed with snarling SNJs for many years as future stick jockeys began the process that would eventually lead to flying in the fleet (or ending up “haze gray and underway”). When carriers like the USS Monterrey (CVL-26) cruised in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola in Florida for carrier qualifications, SNJs with tailhooks bolted on would fill the carrier’s landing pattern. They resembled nothing as much as giant snarling yellow bees flying back and forth between their Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola hive and the carrier deck.