A selected history taken from 'North American T-6' SNJ, Harvard and Wirraway by Peter C. Smith


The North American Aviation Production line.

The North American Advanced Trainer 6 (AT-D) was a much loved aircraft and trained unprecedented numbers of Allied pilots instigated by the needs of World War 2. If you became an Allied pilot the chances were that you learned your skills in the AT-6, the SNJ (as the US navy termed it) or, if you were British, Australian, Canadian, Rhodesian, South African or any other flyer from the Empire, the Harvard.

North American Aviation was based in Inglewood, Los Angeles where a whole host of aviation companies operated from. With orders from Europe steadily climbing it was becoming clear by early 1941 the company had outgrown its original premises. Expansion was necessary to meet its steadily climbing order book and with land and manpower in short supply in Los Angeles it had to look further afield. The site selected was adjacent to an Army Reserve strip, Hensley Field close to the city of Dallas in Texas.

Enter the 'TEXAN'

The SNJ-4 (coded J4N) was the US Navy equivalent to the AT-6C

XJET's Harvard 1075 was designated AT-6D because its electrical system was upgraded to a 24-volt system from the long establised 12-volt system. The D's did not replace the C's but continued in production side by side at the Dallas plant.

The direct line of descent of the AT-6 can be traced back through a whole series of training aircraft designs that sprang from two giants of the American aviation industry of the 1930's. James H. ('Dutch') Kindleberger and John Lelan ('Lee') Atwood who navigated the North American Aviation business to the forefront of aviation design just prior to the Second World War.

The Harvard 1075 was built by North American Aviation at its new Dallas Plant in 1944. Following a British tradition the company decided to allocate a name rather than just a number to new war planes. The company held a naming competition and workers came up with 'Texan'. 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 AT-6. During 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.

The U.S. finally struck the last T-6 off charge in the late 1950s but many air forces elsewhere continued. Indeed, there were 14 air forces still with T-6s on charge in 1985. The South African Air Force continued with the type up until 1995 when the last of their 100 military airframes was retired.

Of the over 17,000 aircraft produced, only approximately 600 survive in airworthy condition today, mainly in the United States.

Assembly at Hobsonville Airbase

Harvards on show at Hobsonville Air base

Most aircraft imported to New Zealand came by ship to the Port of Auckland, and they were usually disassembled and packed in crates. So they would be barged up to Hobsonville from the port, taken on shore at the Hobsonville jetty, and assembled and test flown on the station.

This arrangement was to prove extremely valuable throughout World War Two with most of the RNZAF's aircraft arriving in New Zealand this way. In 1939 many aircraft began to arrive at Hobsonville for assembly as the RNZAF began to expand, due to the threat of a looming war.

Harvards were assembled at the Repair Depot during WWII. With the increasing threat of war in the Pacific, they were modified in the early 40's to carry extra Browning .30 gun in the starboard wing.