Development of the Harvard began in 1937 with a US Army Air Corps competition to develop a basic trainer capable of simulating the feel of a combat aircraft. The North American Aviation contribution was a design based on the company’s NA-16, a prototype trainer built two years earlier. Known as the NA-26, this improved version incorporated a Pratt and Whitney R-1340 Wasp engine of 600 hp with variable pitch propeller, hydraulically operated undercarriage and flaps and a stressed skin fuselage. It won the competition and in1938 went into production as the BC-1 with the USAAC, SNJ-1 with the US Navy and Harvard with the RAF. In 1940 the USAAC changed the designation to AT-6.
Owing to demand, the aircraft was built under licence in Montreal from 1940, and, in 1942, a new factory in Dallas 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 .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.
Designated the AT-6 Mosquito, the aircraft was pressed into service in the forward air control role in both the Korean War and, to a rather less extent, in Vietnam. The RAF used the Harvard armed with 200lb bombs and a machine gun for ground attack in Kenya during the Mau Mau campaign of the 1950s, and the French deployed their variant T-6G with guns, bombs and rockets in the counter-insurgency role during the Algerian campaign.
All told, the aircraft served with the armed forces of no fewer than 50 nations. A total of 15,495 variants were built (including the ‘Wirraway’ as it was designated in Australia) and a significant number remain airworthy – examples close to home include that operated by the Goodwood Flying Club and the privately owned machine based at Shoreham.
RAF Tangmere’s association with the Harvard stems from the period August 1947 to early summer 1948 when No 1 Squadron operated the aircraft alongside the Oxford in its temporary as an instrument flying training unit.