Antoine Roels | North American T-6 Harvard / Texan - 'The Pilot Maker'

North American T-6 Harvard / Texan - 'The Pilot Maker'

August 07, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

North American T-6  "The Pilot Maker"

Harvard or Texan, what do you prefer ?
This aircraft is known by so many names including the Mosquito, The Window Breaker, The Pilot Maker and many more. There are so many variations in models it gets confusing as so many countries operated this aircraft as the primary fighter trainer.  

 In 1937, the North American NA-26 prototype won a competition for a basic combat trainer for the USAAC, and, in due course, it went into production as the BC-1.   North American's rapid production of the T-6 Texan coincided with the wartime expansion of the United States air war commitment. As of 1940, the required flights hours for combat pilots earning their wings had been cut to just 200 during a shortened training period of seven months. Of those hours, 75 were logged in the AT-6. U.S. Navy pilots flew the airplane extensively, under the SNJ designation,


he North American 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 AT-6 (advanced trainer) was designed as a transition trainer between basic trainers and first-line tactical aircraft. It was re-designated T-6 in 1948.

British interest in the Texan design was piqued as early as 1938 when it ordered 200 under the designation Harvard Mk I for service in Southern Rhodesia training under the Commonwealth Air Training Program. As the Harvard Mk I  design was modeled after the early BC-1 design, the subsequent Harvard Mk II utilized the improvements of the AT-6 models. During 1944, the AT-6D design was adopted by the RAF and named the Harvard MK III. This version was used to train pilots in instrument training in the inclement British weather and for senior officers to log required airtime. Much to the chagrin of the Air Force High Command, the Harvard  was often used for non-military activities like joy-riding and unofficial jaunts across the English countryside.

SNJ-1 versions of the BC-1 went to the US Navy, while deliveries of the BC-1s to the RAF started in December 1938, these aircraft being called Harvard 1s by British Commonwealth Air Forces. The BC-1A, and subsequent versions, had a revised rudder shape, blunt wing tips and a metal covered fuselage, with one exception, which had a wooden fuselage. There was the AT-6B, then came the AT-6C (SNJ-IV and Harvard 2A) which was redesigned with, among other changes, a wood rear fuselage in case of strategic material shortages during WW2. But there were no shortages and the standard structure was reverted to later on. There was also the AT-6D/SNJ-5/Harvard III, which with AT-6A and C versions and their SNJ and Harvard equivalents formed the basis of nearly all WW2 contracts.

During 1946, the Canadian Car and Foundry company developed the Harvard Mk IV trainer to the specifications of the T-6G and produced 285 T-6Js under the same design for the USAF Mutual Aid Program. Designated the T-6G, the Texan saw major improvements in increased fuel capacity, an improved cockpit layout, as well as a steerable tailwheel. U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy forces in the Korean War modified the Texan under the LT-6G designation and employed it in combat for forward air control of propeller and jet powered strike aircraft.  Spain utilized the armed T-6 in combat during the Sahara conflict for patrol and counter-insurgency operations.  France made extensive combat use of armed T-6 aircraft during the Algerian conflict. Although the U.S. retired the T-6 from active duty by the end of the 1950's, several nations, including Spain, South Africa, Brazil, China, and Venezuela, utilized "the pilot maker" as their basic trainer well into the 1980's.

The total number of Harvard's of different types and sources used by the Belgian Air Force amounted at 148 machines. One could add to these some 14 aircraft which were used as spare parts resources and ten Harvard’s leased from the Dutch Air Force to help out with a temporarily shortage on aircraft in 1948/1949.   As of 1947 a first large order of 46 former-“lend lease” Harvard IIA and Mk.III were ordered together with ten aircraft purely used to proved spare parts, from RAF stocks. Although many of these aircraft already had served with three air forces, most of them had only little flying time. They only were active with the South-African Air Force in the framework of the “Commonwealth Training Program” during WWII and were only assigned to the USAAC and the RAF on paper. Originating from different sources, 32 AT-6’s of subtypes MK.IIB and MK.III were later acquired. These Harvard’s had served with the Dutch Air Force, others with the RAF or came from civil companies such as Intair and Rollason. The Americans delivered 46 more AT-6D’s and Harvard 4, while 24 former RAF Harvard’s IIA from the training base of Bulawayo in Rhodesia were shipped to the Belgian Air Force base at Kamina (Belgian Congo).  
This mixture of models was standardised and upgraded by the BAF to what was called Harvard 4K, which was very similar to the Harvard 4. In 1959 sixteen Harvard’s based initially at Kamina received an armament which consisted of two 7.62 calibre machineguns, two Alcan 261 bomb racks and two rocket launchers Matra 13. These aircraft which were designated 4K and were grouped in new units called Fire Assistance Flights These FAF’s  were successfully used during the Congolese rebellion in July 1960.
The last pilot training on Harvard took place in mid-1960 after which advanced training was done on the new Fouga Magister. Between 1960 and 1962 only a handful of armed Harvard’s 4KA remained in used in Rwanda and Burundi

After World War II, the Reno Air Races Association established a unique racing class for the AT-6/Texan/Harvard aircraft. This class continues today at the Reno National Air Races each year in September.

For the production of the 20th Century Fox movie  “ Tora! Tora! Tora! “  T-6’s were converted and stood in for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero’s, as there were no airworthy types at that time. These CAF airplanes were also used in the more recent  ‘Pearl Harbor’  movie.
The Commemorative Air Force's Gulf Coast Wing's ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ team still fly the movie's aircraft simulating the attack at airshows al over the USA.

Today, over 600 T-6 Texan’s remain in airworthy condition.  

Pictures taken at Reno Air Races, CAF Airsho Midland TX, and EAA Air Venture  Oshkosh MI with CANON cameras EOS D1 Mk II & III and lenses from 28mm up to 400mm.


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