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North American T-6 "Texan"

By Morris Ray, MD

 
The North American Aviation T-6 (Texan) has had multiple designations during its long career. It was known as the Harvard in the Royal Canadian and Royal Air Forces, SNJ in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, AT-6 in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and T-6G in the U.S. Air Force. The AT-6 was derived from the BC-1, a fixed gear, tandem, 450hp Basic Combat Trainer originally flown in 1938.


The title of AT-6 refers to this aircraft’s well deserved designation as an Advanced Trainer. The T-6 was and remains an excellent pilot trainer. During take-off, and especially landing, it can be unforgiving of any inattention or incompetence in pilot technique. Ground looping is an “occupational hazard” of flying these airplanes. The higher wing loading of 20-23 lbs/ft² compared with that of the Stearman PT-17 (8.8 lbs/ ft²) and J-3 Cub (6.8 lbs/ ft²) made the AT-6 a good transition trainer to the larger military aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang which has wing loading of 39 lbs/ ft².

During W.W.II a military student might start flight training in a Primary Trainer such as Boeing Stearman PT-17 (220hp) and progress to a Basic Trainer like the BT-13 (450hp). The last phase of training would be the AT-6 (600 hp) with features such as retractable gear, flaps, and a constant speed propeller. In 1940 the syllabus required 200 hours for the cadet to receive his wings, the last 75 hours being in the AT-6. For a brief period in the late 1940’s-early 1950’s the USAF started students in the T-6G. The expected time to solo was 27 hours.

Although the AT-6’s primary mission was training pilots to fly, it served in other roles. A cowling mounted .30 Cal. machine gun or wing mounted guns allowed its use for pilot gunnery training. By using a forward folding rear canopy and an aft swiveling rear seat, a .30 Cal machine gun could be mounted on the aft turtle-deck and used to train aerial gunners. Bomb racks could be mounted under the wings. During the Korean War, the LT-6G (Mosquito) was fitted with rocket launchers and used as a Forward Air Controller, spotting and marking targets for fighter/bombers and artillery. Numerous Air Forces have since used the T-6 as trainers and some as fighter/bombers.

    

In 1948 the USAF sent multiple AT-6’s back to the factory to be rebuilt as T-6Gs. Major improvements in these rebuilt aircraft included a 24 Volt electrical system, additional fuel bladders to allow 140 Gallons of fuel (versus 110 gallons in earlier models), lowering the rear instrument panel, and raising the rear instructor’s seat.

A major improvement in the T-6G was the “P-51 Tail wheel”. This modification made the tail wheel steerable when engaged and full swiveling/disengaged when the control stick was pushed fully forward.  Previous models were locked for takeoff or, when unlocked, free swiveling and non- steerable. The Hydraulic system was upgraded to remove the Power Push lever. Earlier models required this lever to be depressed in order to provide hydraulic pressure to the gear and flap actuators. With the T-6G, movement of the gear or flap handle actuates the respective system.

 

  SNJ During Carrier Quals

Though some may have been done earlier, major Aileron modifications were also done on this model. The high roll rate ailerons on early models (up aileron travel of 30 degrees, down 15 degrees) resulted in a faster roll rate, but the ailerons would “chatter”, shaking the stick when it was displaced to the stops during an aileron roll. During an accelerated stall, if cross controlled, the stick would “snatch”, jerking violently. To correct these characteristics, the upward travel was decreased to 15-16 degrees resulting in a slower roll rate. This change also made the airplane slightly less controllable when landing in a gusty crosswind. The aileron hinges, which had previously had problems with cracking, were also beefed up with this upgrade.

Old Texan Echelon
Flight of 3 Texans (new)

Of the 15,495 Texans built there are more than 600 on the Registry in North America. It is a delightful airplane to fly, whether in aerobatics, formation, cross country, or in the local pattern. Those fortunate to have that privilege honor the memories of the brave men and women who flew these wonderful machines in preparation for war. We are not “owners”.  We are “caretakers” of History.

 

Flight of 4 Texans in Echelon

 

An earlier article about the T-6/SNJ/Harvard by Randy Presley may be found here: Presley Article