The T-6 Texan was a single-engine advanced trainer aircraft designed by North American Aviation, used to train fighter pilots of the United States Army Air Forces, United States Navy, Royal Air Force and other air forces of the British Commonwealth during World War II. The T-6 is known by a variety of designations depending on the model and operating air force. The USAAC called it the "AT-6", the US Navy, the "SNJ", and British Commonwealth air forces, the Harvard. It remains a popular warbird aircraft.
The T-6 originated from the North American NA-16 prototype (first flown on April 1, 1935) which, modified as the NA-26, was submitted as an entry for a USAAC "Basic Combat" aircraft competition in March, 1937. The first model went in to production and 180 were supplied to the USAAC as the BC-1 and 400 to the RAF as the Harvard I. The US Navy received 16 modified aircraft, designated the SNJ-1, and a further 61 as the SNJ-2 with a different engine.
A further 92 BC-1A and three BC-2 aircraft were built before the shift to the "advanced trainer" designation, AT-6, which was equivalent to the BC-1A. The differences between the AT-6 and the BC-1 were new outer wing panels with a swept forward trailing edge, squared-off wingtips and a triangular rudder, producing the definitive Texan appearance. After a change to the rear of the canopy, the AT-6 was designated the Harvard II for RAF/RCAF orders and 1,173 were supplied by purchase or Lend Lease, mostly operating in Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.
Next came the AT-6A which was based on the NA-77 design and was powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-1340-49 Wasp radial engine. The USAAF received 1,549 and the US Navy 270 (as the SNJ-3). The AT-6B was built for gunnery training and could mount a .30 in machine gun on the forward fuselage. It utilised the R-1340-AN-1 engine which was to become the standard for the remaining T-6 production. Canada's Noorduyn Aviation built a R-1340-AN-1 powered version of the AT-6A which was supplied to the USAAF as the AT-16 (1,500 aircraft) and the RAF/RCAF as the Harvard IIB (2,485 aircraft), some of which also served with the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Canadian Navy.
In late 1937 Mitsubushi purchased two NA-16's as technology demonstrators and possibly a licence to build more. However the aircraft developed by Watanabe/Kyushu as the K10W1 (Allied code name Oak) bore no more than a superficial resemblance to the North American design. It featured a full monocoque fuselage as opposed to the steel tube fuselage of the T-6 and NA-16 family of aircraft, as well as being of smaller dimensions overall and had no design details in common with the T-6. It was used in very small numbers by the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1942 onwards. The IJA did not operate any, as they had other aircraft that they used for training. After the war the Japanese Air Self Defense Force operated Texans.
The NA-88 design resulted in 2,970 AT-6C Texans and 2,400 as the SNJ-4. The RAF received 726 of the AT-6C as the Harvard IIA. Modifications to the electrical system produced the AT-6D (3,713 produced) and SNJ-5 (1,357 produced). The AT-6D, redesignated the Harvard III, was supplied to the RAF (351 aircraft) and Fleet Air Arm (564 aircraft). Subsequently the NA-121 design with a completely clear rearmost section on the canopy, gave rise to 25 AT-6F Texans for the USAAF and 931, as the SNJ-6 for the US Navy. The ultimate version, the Harvard 4, was produced by Canada Car and Foundry during the 1950s, and supplied to the RCAF, USAF and Bundeswehr.
A total of 15,495 T-6s of all variants were built.
During the Korean War and to a lesser extent, the Vietnam war, T-6s 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 asl. A Harvard was the longest-serving RAF aeroplane, with an example, taken on strength in 1945, still serving in the 1990s (as a chase plane for helicopter test flights - a role the Shorts Tucano's high stall speed was ill-suited for). The T-6G was also used in a light attack or counter insurgency role by France during the Algerian war in special Escadrilles d'Aviation Légère d'Appui (EALA), armed with machine guns, bombs and rockets. At its peak there were 38 EALA's active. The largest unit was the Groupe d'Aviation Légère d'Appui 72, which consisted of up to 21 EALAs. Portugal also used ex-French aircraft during the Portuguese Colonial War.
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. The Reno National Air Races also has a class specifically for the T-6 during the National Air Races each year.