Despite the desperate need for pilots after the outbreak of World War II, American servicemen didn’t just undergo a few hours of on-the-ground training before being allowed to take control of actual warplanes. They needed time in the cockpit of an actual aircraft, one that was basic but still provided them with hands-on experience with how airplanes worked. One plane that served as a trainer craft for the United States Army Air Forces and United States Navy was the North American T-6 Texan.
A New Trainer Takes to the Skies
On April 1, 1935, the North American T-6 Texan was first flown, in the form of the NA-16 prototype. The purpose of the relatively heavy craft was to provide the US Army Air Forces with a viable means of training its pilots.
After a successful test flight, the NA-16 was modified a little and renamed the NA-26. This model was submitted to the USAAF “Basic Combat” aircraft competition taking place almost exactly two years after the first prototype took flight.
Satisfied with the maneuverability and speed of the NA-26, the USAAF ordered a fleet. 180 of these planes, known as BC-1, were produced for the Army, and another 400 went to the Royal Air Force as the Harvard I. The US Navy ordered 16 aircraft, modified and designated as the SNJ-1.
The North American T-6 Texan continued in production through several revisions, eventually into the AT (Advanced Trainer)-6 designation. Over its years of service, a total of 15,495 T-6s were built. This figure includes all variants and craft that were specifically built for other nations. The T-6 was so popular that more than 60 nations used it in their air forces, including the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Haiti, Greece, Canada, Austria, Mexico, Lebanon, and many more.
The North American T-6 Texan Goes to War
During the course of World War II and beyond, the North American T-6 Texan was primarily used as a non-combat training craft.
Though the Allies didn’t use the T-6 in combat during the war, as they began to be adopted by air forces all over the world, they started to appear in combat scenarios. As early as 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence, 26 North American AT-6 Texans were utilized by the Syrian Air Force. Mounted with machine guns, the craft provided support for Syria’s troops on the ground and launched air strikes on Israeli airfields and ships.
In American conflicts, the T-6 had a minor presence during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. No longer used for training, the T-6 saw duty as forward air control craft. Known as “Mosquitoes,” the T-6 scouted the front line areas without alerting enemy forces.
Altogether, there were more than fifty different variants of the North American T-6 Texan, though some, like the SNJ-8, never saw the light of day.
Today, a surviving T-6 can be seen at the Pacific Aviation Museum’s Hangar 79, alongside many other iconic aircraft from throughout aviation history.