The North American T-6 Texan was known as "the pilot
maker" because of its important role in preparing pilots
for combat. Derived from the 1935 North American NA-16
prototype, a cantilever low-wing monoplane, the Texan
filled the need for a basic combat trainer during WW II
and beyond. The original order of 94 AT-6 Texans
differed little from subsequent versions such as the
AT-6A (1,847) which revised the fuel tanks or the AT-6D
(4,388) and AT-6F (956) that strengthened as well as
lightened the frame with the use of light alloys. In
all, more than 17,000 airframes were designed to the
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
U.S. Navy pilots flew the airplane extensively, under
the SNJ designation, the most common of these being the
SNJ-4, SNJ-5 and SNJ-6.
British interest in the Texan design was piqued as
early as 1938 when it ordered 200 under the designation
Harvard Mk I or "Harvard As Is" for service in Southern
Rhodesia training under the Commonwealth Air Training
Program. As the Harvard Mk I (5,000+) design was modeled
the early BC-1 design, the subsequent Harvard Mk
II utilized the improvements of the AT-6
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 "hack" was often used for non-military
activities like joy-riding and unofficial jaunts across
the English countryside.
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 battlefield
During the Korean War and to a lesser extent, the
Vietnam war, T-6's were pressed into service as forward
air control aircraft. These aircraft were designated T-6
"Mosquito"s. The RAF used the Harvard in Kenya against
the Mau Mau in the 1950s where they operated with 20 lb
bombs and machine guns against the gangs. Some
operations took place at altitudes around 20,000 ft.
Since the Second World War, the T-6 has been a
regular participant at air shows, and was used in many
movies. For example, in Tora! Tora! Tora! and
The Final Countdown, converted single-seat T-6s
painted in Japanese markings represent Mitsubishi
Zeroes. The New Zealand Warbirds "Roaring 40s" aerobatic
team use ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force Harvards.
Although the US retired the T-6 from active duty by
the end of the 1950's, several nations, including
Brazil, China, and Venezuela, utilized "the pilot maker"
as their basic trainer well into the 1970's. Today, over
350 T-6 Texans remain in airworthy condition. Most of
the former "hacks" are based in North America and are a
reminder of the importance of simplicity in training and
A total of 20,110 Harvards/T-6s/SNJs were built
between 1938 and 1954, 3,370 of them in Canada.