Mustang! Thunderbolt! Hellcat! Corsair! Spitfire! Hurricane! These and many of the other great Allied fighter aircraft of World War Two are highly familiar to a great many people and to everyone interested in aviation history. All of these aeroplanes and the valiant pilots who flew them did their very crucial part to ensure the Allied victory over Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan.
However, what all of these pilots who flew these aeroplanes, all of the celebrated aces and all of those who flew with them have in common is one aeroplane, one which is not nearly as well-known or popularly celebrated — the North American (NAA) T-6, or AT-6 as it was called in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), SNJ in the U.S. Navy (USN) and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), and “Harvard” in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Virtually every one of the pilots who flew against the Nazi and Imperial Japanese air forces, learned the art and craft of combat flying and honed their aeronautic skills to a diamond- sharp tip in the AT-6 before they were given leave to go into harm’s way in Mustangs, Hellcats and Spitfires.
Compared to those mighty and oft-heralded fighter aircraft, the relatively obscure AT-6/SNJ is the common bond that ties all of these pilots together and which enabled them to “go forth and vanquish the foe” so successfully. Many thousands of young, eager pilots owe their very survival in the mad swirl of aerial combat and the rest of their lives thereafter to the lessons they learned whilst in the cockpit of an AT-6, so successfully and profoundly did this humble aeroplane perform its role and do its duty.
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