The Harvard originated as an entry for the US Army Air Corps “Basic Combat” aircraft competition in March 1937. The requirement was for a basic trainer capable of simulating the feel of a combat aircraft. The competition was won by the North American Aircraft Company who submitted their NA-26 based upon their NA-16 prototype which first flew on 1 April 1935. This improved version incorporated a 600 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1340 Wasp engine with variable pitch propeller, hydraulically operated undercarriage and flaps and a stressed skin fuselage. In 1938 went into production as the BC-1 with 180 being supplied to the US Army Air Corp, 16 to the US Navy designated as SNJ-1 with a further 61 as the SNJ-2 with a R-1340-56 engine and changes to carburetor and oil cooler scoops. The Royal Air Force ordered 400 known as the Harvard I. In 1940 the US Army Air Corp changed the designation to the AT-6.
In August 1938, Noorduyn Aviation of Montreal had the foresight to sign an agreement with North American, to build the Harvard under licence. When the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) came into being in December 1939, Noorduyn received its first order of 50 Harvard Mk. Is ordered by the Canadian Government which were delivered to RCAF Sea Island, British Columbia in July 1939. They went on to produce nearly 2800 Harvard Mk. IIBs for the RCAF and the RAF, between 1940 and 1945. In Canada, Harvard Mk. IIBs were used as advanced trainers with the BCATP at fifteen Service Flying Training Schools across the nation. They helped pilots make to the transition from low powered primary trainers, like Fleet Finch or the de Havilland Tiger Moth, to high performance front line fighters such as the Spitfire.
In 1942, a new factory in Dallas, Texas, commenced production to supplement that at the main plant in California. At the same time, the now US Army Air Force designated the aircraft the AT-6 Texan. Thereafter, various marks were produced including the AT6-B which mounted a 0.30in machine gun for gunnery training. Not only was the AT-6/Harvard used as an allied trainer. Japan had acquired a licence to build the aircraft in the late 1930s and almost 200 saw service with that nation’s air force and navy during the 2nd World War.
Harvards were gradually withdrawn from Royal Air Force service in the 1950s. All told, the aircraft served with the armed forces of no fewer than 50 nations. A total of 20,110 Harvards were built between 1938 and 1954 (including the ‘Wirraway’ as it was designated in Australia),3,370 of them in Canada. Countless numbers of privately owned Harvards are still flying today.
The BC-1 was the production version of the NA-26 prototype, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and the provision for armament, a two-way radio, and the 550-hp (410 kW) R-1340-47 engine as standard equipment. Production versions included the BC-1 (Model NA-36) with only minor modifications (177 built), of which 30 were modified as BC-1I instrument trainers; the BC-1A (NA-55) with airframe revisions (92 built); and a single BC-1B with a modified wing center-section.
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 canonical Texan silhouette. 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 British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
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 caliber machine gun on the forward fuselage. It used the R-1340-AN-1 engine, which was to become the standard for the remaining T-6 production. Canada’s Noorduyn Aviation built an 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, Mitsubishi purchased two NA-16s as technology demonstrators and possibly a licence. 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. None survived the end of the war, and 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). When the USAF was created in 1948, its final production variant was nominated T-6G (SNJ-7) and involved major advancements including a full-time hydraulic system and a steerable tailwheel and persisted into the 1950s as the USAF advanced trainer.
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.
As WW2 became inevitable, the Royal Air Force expansion programme demanded a massive increase in pilot training and to meet this need the Empire Air Training Scheme was established.
The Royal Air Force soon turned to the United States to acquire the trainer aircraft needed to equip the Scheme. The Harvard was one of the first American aircraft ordered by the RAF when a contract for two-hundred was placed in June 1938. British purchasing contracts reached 1100 before American Lend Lease arrangements began.
Some of the first aircraft were delivered to the United Kingdom, but soon after the outbreak of war the majority of flying training units were moved to Canada, Southern Rhodesia and the United States. This made room for operational aircraft in Great Britain and provided safer conditions for training.
Harvards were gradually withdrawn from Royal Air Force service in the 1950s.
North American Harvard Specification:
|Powerplant:||1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine, 600 hp|
|Performance:||Max speed: 208 mph, Cruise speed: 145 mph, Service Ceiling height: 22,200 ft Range: 730 miles.|
|Weight:||Unladen: 4,158 lbs, Max laden: 5,617 lbs.|
|Dimensions:||Wing span: 42 feet, Length: 29 feet, Maximum height: 11 feet 8 inches|