The North American T-6 Texan was the most popular training aircraft of the World War 2 era with over 15,000 built. The prototype was an aircraft built by North American Aviation in 1935 called the NA-16 which became a basic trainer for the U.S. Army Air Corps. 275 of these were built before the designation was changed to AT-6 (Advanced Trainer) with a few modifications. This design was the basis for numerous variants for the remainder of the model run in the 1940s. Most of the T-6s were built for the USAAC and from there many were transferred to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps designated as the SNJ. Some versions were exported to other countries, and a large number went to the U.K. under the Lend-Lease Program, re-designated as the Harvard. In addition, in 1946 a Canadian company called Canadian Car & Foundry (CCF) was licensed to build a version of the Harvard Mk IV for the Royal Canadian Air Force. In all about 60 countries operated T-6 variants for military training. It can be difficult to tell the versions apart because many of them are virtually identical but with a different name.
These aircraft were originally built at North American’s factory in Inglewood California, at the approximate location of the Los Angeles International Airport today. When wartime demand increased dramatically, the company built a new factory in Hensley Texas, just south of Dallas. This was the inspiration for the plane’s name “Texan”.
In 1948 the AT-6 variants were re-designated T-6. A new variant was created – the T-6G – for more than 2,000 early models that were completely rebuilt between 1949 and 1953 and given new serial numbers. They were modified with a new cockpit layout and radios, increased fuel capacity, and steerable tailwheel. The only way to identify one from the outside is the presence of a simplified canopy structure.
The U.S. Air Force phased out the T-6 by the late 1950s and many ended up being sold to dozens of other countries for their military training programs. The last known use of a T-6 for military aviator training was with the South African Air Force in 1995. In the years since then many ended up in the hands of private collectors and the excellent maneuverability of the T-6 has made them a staple for aerobatic displays at air shows. It is estimated that there are over 500 survivors today.
The T-6 Texan was a very versatile and easy to maintain trainer with a fairly simple design. It has two seats for instructor and student covered by a glass canopy and is powered by a nine cylinder radial design Pratt & Whitney engine at the front. They all have low wings, a triangular shaped rudder with a tail wheel underneath, and retractable main landing gear. Forward visibility was not the greatest but the plane could easily handle the tactical maneuvers required in training. The flight controls are mechanically operated and required smooth input from the pilot, earning the T-6 the nickname “Pilot Maker”. It is said that nearly all aviators in World War 2 trained on this aircraft at some point before graduating to the fighters of that era. These aircraft did not carry armament; however, there is one version that did serve as a gunnery trainer. The chart below describes the most commonly seen T-6 variants.
|North American T-6G Texan Specifications|
|First Flight||April 1, 1935|
|Number Built||15,495 (1940-1954)|
|Max Gross Weight||5,617lbs|
|Powerplant||1 Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp (600hp)|
|Maximum Cruising Speed||126kts|
North American AT-6 Texan Variants
|AT-6A*||296 Transferred to Navy as SNJ-3||1,847|
|AT-6B*||Gunnery training model||400|
|AT-6C*||Same as AT-6B but built with low alloy steel & plywood; some transferred to the UK as Harvard Mk. III||2,970|
|AT-6D*||Same as AT-6B but with 24v electrical; 537 transferred to the UK as Harvard Mk. IIA and 1,573 transferred to U.S. Navy as SNJ-5; some with tailhook for carrier landings designated SNJ-5C||4,388|
|AT-6F*||Same as AT-6D but with strenghened airframe; 411 transferred to the U.S. Navy as SNJ-6||956|
|SNJ-3||Navy version of AT-6A. 12 were modified with a tailhook for carrier landing training and designated SNJ-3C||270|
|SNJ-4||Navy version of AT-6C; some were modified with a tailhook for carrier landing training and designated SNJ-4C||1,240|
|Harvard Mk IV||Built by Canadian Car & Foundry for the RAF and USAAF||555|
|T-6G||Rebuilt & modified early models with new serial numbers||2,068|
|SNJ-7||Early SNJ models rebuilt to T-6G standards in 1952||unknown|