North American T-6 "Texan"
Morris Ray, MD
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
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
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.
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.
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.
An earlier article about the T-6/SNJ/Harvard by Randy Presley may be found here: Presley Article