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North American Aviation


North American Aviation (NAA) was a major American aerospace manufacturer, responsible for a number of historic aircraft, including the T-6 Texan trainer, the P-51 Mustang fighter, the B-25 Mitchell bomber, the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, the X-15 rocket plane, and the XB-70, as well as Apollo Command and Service Module, the second stage of the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle orbiter and the B-1 Lancer. Through a series of mergers and sales, North American Aviation became part of North American Rockwell, which later became Rockwell International and is now part of Boeing.

Early Years

North American on December 6, 1928, as a holding company that bought and sold interests in various airlines and aviation-related companies. However, the Air Mail Act of 1934 forced the breakup of such holding companies. North American became a manufacturing company, run by James H. "Dutch" Kindelberger, who had been recruited from Douglas Aircraft Company. General Motors Corporation took a controlling interest in NAA and merged it with its general aviation division in 1933, but retained the name North American Aviation. Kindelberger moved the company's operations from Dundalk, Maryland to Los Angeles, California, which allowed flying year-round, and decided to focus on training aircraft, on the theory that it would be easier than trying to compete with established companies on larger projects. Its first planes were the GA-15 observation plane and the GA-16 trainer, followed by the O-47 and BT-9, also called the GA-16.





The North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang

World War II

The BC-1of 1937 was North American's first combat aircraft; it was based on the GA-16. [1]  In 1940, like other manufacturers, North American started gearing up for war, opening factories in  Columbus, OhioDallas, Texas , and  Kansas City, Kansas . [1]  North American ranked eleventh among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts.

 

North American's follow-on to the BT-9 was the T-6 Texan trainer, of which 17,000 were built, making it the most widely used trainer ever. The twin-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber achieved fame in the Doolittle Raid and was used in all combat theaters of operation. The P-51 Mustang was initially produced for Britain as an alternative to the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, which North American had declined to produce under license. The derivative A-36 Apache was developed as a ground attack aircraft and dive bomber. A suggestion by the RAF that North American switch the P-51's powerplant from its original Allison engine to the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine may have been one of the most significant events in WWII aviation, as it transformed the P-51 into what many consider to be the best American fighter of the war.

Post-war years

Post-war, North American's employment dropped from a high of 91,000 to 5,000 in 1946. On V-J Day, North American had orders from the U.S. government for 8,000 aircraft. A few months later, that had dropped to 24.

Two years later in 1948, General Motors divested NAA as a public company. Nevertheless, NAA continued with new designs, including the T-28 Trojan trainer and attack aircraft, the odd-looking F-82 Twin Mustang, B-45 Tornado jet bomber, the FJ Fury fighter, AJ Savage, the revolutionary XB-70 Valkyrie Mach-3 strategic bomber, Shrike Commander, and T-39 Sabreliner business jet.


The Columbus, Ohio division of North American Aviation was instrumental in the exclusive development and production of the A-5 Vigilante, an advanced high speed bomber that would see significant use as a naval reconnaissance aircraft during the Vietnam War, the OV-10 Bronco, the first aircraft specifically designed for forward air control (FAC), and counter-insurgency (COIN) duties, and the T-2 Buckeye Naval trainer, which would serve from the late 1950s until 2008 and be flown in training by virtually every Naval Aviator and Naval Flight Officer in the US Navy and US Marine Corps for four decades. The Buckeye's name would be an acknowledgment to the state tree of Ohio, as well as the mascot of Ohio State University.




B-25 Mitchell bomber production line at the North American Aviation plant, Inglewood, California, October 1942. The plane's outer wings have yet to be added, which enables the two side-by-side assembly lines to be closer together. The outer wings will be attached outdoors, in the "sunshine" assembly line.