Texan Warming Up

80 Years Ago: A North American SNJ-4 Texan trainer aircraft warms up. The photograph was released on December 5, 1942.

Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.80-G-22075

Dubbed the AT-6 by the Army and the Havard by Commonwealth forces, the Navy used the “J-Bird” as an all-purpose trainer for instrument flight, aerobatics, bombing, and gunnery, acquiring the first 40 in 1936 and then keeping them in the field as late as the mid-1950s.

Many of these wore a distinctive high-viz “chrome” paint livery, giving them the nickname of “yellow perils.” 

View of SNJ-6B Texans on the flight line at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Barin Field in 1954 Foley

NATC Pensacola, NAAS Barin Field, Foley Alabama. 1943. Rare image of this period. Notice the mixture of national insignias on the SNJs.

If it was not for the thousands of these humble trainers on hand to school future naval aviators at Pensacola and elsewhere, the pilot pipeline for all those beautiful Corsairs, Hellcats, Dauntless, Avengers, and Hellcats that went on to win the Pacific War would have been very narrow indeed.

US Navy SNJ Texan training aircraft making a low-level pass near a three-masted sailing ship Joseph Conrad, built in 1880, photo taken in 1942.

North American production totaled 15,495 of all variants and they have remained durable and popular warbirds in retirement, with over 400 still airworthy in the U.S. alone.

And they went on to fill the void as both Japanese and American carrier aircraft in a number of films. 

A motion picture camera rests on the flight deck during the filming of the ABC-TV movie “War and Remembrance. An SNJ Texan aircraft is in the background. Image from the USNI

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