The North American Aviation T-6 Texan two-place advanced trainer was the classroom for most of the Allied pilots who flew in World War II. Called the SNJ by the Navy and the Harvard by the British Royal Air Force, the advanced trainer AT-6 was designed as a transition trainer between basic trainers and first-line tactical aircraft. It was redesignated T-6 in 1948.
The Texan evolved from the company’s BC-1 basic combat trainer, which was first produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps with fixed landing gear in 1937 under a contract that called for 174 planes. North American designed the NA-49 prototype as a low-cost trainer with many of the characteristics of a high-speed fighter.
Whether you called it the Texan, Harvard, Yale, T-Bird, Mosquito, or simply the T-6 or SNJ, the North American T-6 trainer was one of the most important aircraft designs of the Second World War era – perhaps of all time!
The North American Texan was built in greater numbers than most of the aircraft that it trained pilots for, or against! There were 17,096 Texans built by North American Aviation and the foreign companies that built the Texan under license overseas. This figure does not count the aircraft that were remanufactured from existing airframes or aircraft that used T-6 technology (P-64, NA-50, Boomerang) as their basis. Although designed as a basic training aircraft the T-6 would be used extensively in a number of other roles including:
- advanced trainer,
- fighter, interceptor,
- forward air control aircraft and counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft.
The Texan was widely exported and served with at least fifty-five air forces throughout the world. In civilian hands, it has been used as a pylon racer, sports aircraft, mail carrier, and even as an air- liner. T
The Texan served in all three of the modern era conflicts – World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The Texan also saw action in dozens of brush-fire wars around the world including Algeria, the Congo, Biafra, the Middle East and throughout Latin America. Despite its impressive war record, the Texan is best known as a trainer. There have been a great many other aircraft developed for the trainer role; however, only the T-6 Texan is known by the name PILOT MAKER…
Although not as fast as a fighter, it was easy to maintain and repair, had more maneuverability and was easier to handle. A pilot’s airplane, it could roll, Immelmann, loop, spin, snap and vertical roll. It was designed to give the best possible training in all types of tactics, from ground strafing to bombardment and aerial dogfighting. It contained such versatile equipment as bomb racks, blind flying instrumentation, gun and standard cameras, fixed and flexible guns, and just about every other device that military pilots had to operate.
Today there are literally hundreds of Texans flying in private hands, and their value continues to rise. After the war, you could pick them up for a song. I bought four brand new in the late 1940s for $450 each. These same airplanes are now worth $150,000 or more. Large numbers of them can be seen flying aerobatics, formation flights and passenger hopping at air shows around the country.