The Vultee BT-13/SNV Aircraft, played a vital role in training many USAAC and USAAF pilots.
This is manifested in a total production run of 11,537 aircraft in five variants.
(Let me just insert something here… Now, the 11,537 is actually unverified. I am conducting research on all serial numbers from the Air Force in Georgia and other resources. As of today I have three conflicting numbers. 11,537 +1 prototype serial # 200 which was converted later in 1943 to a BT-13A. However, other resources claim, 13,740 or 13,100 or 10,375. I am trying to dig and find out total production.)
In fact the BT-13 production run outnumbers all other Basic Trainer (BT) types produced.
It was back in 1938 that Vultee Aircraft’s chief designer, Richard Palmer, began the design of a fighter.
At this time the USAAC issued a requirement and design contest
for an advanced trainer for which substantial orders had been promised to the victor.
Palmer began to adapt his design concept from a fighter to that of an advanced trainer and
the result of this was the V-51 prototype.
The aircraft made its maiden flight sometime during March of 1939
as a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction.
Despite the use of metal throughout the design the control surfaces remained fabric-covered.
The prototype was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1-G
Wasp radial rated at 600 hp (447 kW) driving a two-blade variable pitch metal propeller.
Other features included an enclosed cockpit for the crew of two,
integral fuel tanks in the wings, and a hydraulic system for the operation of the flaps and retractable main landing gear.
The V-51 was entered into the USAAC competition as the BC-51 during May 1939.
The USAAC instead chose the North American BC-2, but purchased the BC-51 prototype anyway.
Despite the disappointment, Palmer was not finished yet. He continued to refine the design
of the VF-51 into the VF-54 in an attempt to meet the expectation of an export market for just such a trainer.
The VF-54 used the same basic airframe as the VF-51,but was fitted with a lower powered engine.
No export sales were made.
From this design, evolved the VF-54A.
Instead of retractable gear, it had fixed gear very nicely faired and a revised power plant of a
Pratt & Whitney R-985-T3B Wasp Jr. radial rated at 450 hp (335.5 kW) and the Vultee BT-13 Valiant was born.
The USAAC was made aware of the improvements made to the aircraft and in August 1939
the type was ordered as the BT-13. The initial order was for 300 aircraft with a
Pratt & Whitney R-985-25 radial and the first of these was accepted by the USAAC in June of 1940.
The BT-13A was produced to the extent of 7,037 aircraft and differed only in the use of a
P&W R-985-AN-1 radial engine and lack of landing gear fairings.
There were 1,125 BT-13B’s produced and differed from the A model in having a 24-volt,
rather than the original 12-volt electrical system.
The next variant was actually designated BT-15 due to the fact that Pratt & Whitney
found it impossible to keep up production of the R-985 engine. Instead a Wright R-975-11
radial was substituted into the 1,263 aircraft produced.
The US Navy began to show an interest in the aircraft as well and ordered 1,150 BT-13A models as
the SNV-1. In addition, the Navy ordered some 650 aircraft designated as SNV-2 roughly
equivalent to the BT-13B.
Once in service, the aircraft quickly got it’s nickname of “Vibrator” due to the fact that it
had a tendency to shake quite violently as it approached it’s stall speed.
The BT-13 served it’s intended purpose well. It and its successors were unforgiving aircraft
to fly, but were also extremely agile.
Thus the BT-13 made a good aircraft to help transition many hundreds of pilots toward their
advance trainers and fighters yet to to be mastered.
1932: When Lockheed-Detroit fails, Gerard “Jerry” Vultee forms the Airplane Development Corp.
financed by E.L. Cord.
1934: Reformed as the Airplane Manufacturing Corp. owned by AVCO
(of which Cord is a partner).
1936: Renamed the Vultee Aircraft Division of the Airplane Manufacturing Corp.
1940: AVCO merges Stinson with Vultee to form Vultee Aircraft Inc.
1943: Vultee acquires Consolidated to form Consolidated-Vultee (Convair).