Evolved from the BT-9 trainer, the AT-6 (AT for “advanced trainer”, later shortened to just T-6) was a high-performance trainer with more power and retractable landing gear. It had an altered wing, swept slightly forward compared to the BT-9 and Yale to move the center of lift forward and correct difficult stalling characteristics of the earlier machines. The T-6 became the main advanced trainer for all of the U.S. services and the British Commonwealth during World War II, with production continuing after the war and amounting to 15,495 aircraft. Besides North American Aviation, the plane was build under license by Canadian Car & Foundry in Fort William, Ontario, now part of the city of Thunder Bay.
T-6s used by the British, whether built in the U.S. or Canada, were named “Harvards” after Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pursuant to British practice of naming American-designed trainers after American colleges. The Navy designated their T-6s as SNJs.
T-6s enjoyed a long period of postwar service in the U.S., Canada and many other countries. Newly developed versions were built into the 1950s, and older aircraft sometimes went through a modification program to later specifications, often acquiring new identities and complicating the question of exactly how many T-6 series aircraft were built. Dozens of countries in every part of the world operated T-6s, with the last ones being retired from use as military trainers only in the 1990s.
The T-6 is challenging to fly but most pilots do not consider it unfairly so. It is described as an honest airplane in the sense that its behaviors are predictable, but it requires constant attention and alertness. This made it an ideal trainer for pilots whose next planes would be either piston or jet-powered fighters. Generally, most fighters are said to be easier to handle than the T-6, so pilots transitioning to these aircraft can focus on getting used to their higher performance and the need to anticipate and react more quickly to avoid “getting behind” the airplane.
Most models of T-6 could be fitted with forward facing and/or rear cockpit armament which made them suitable not only for gunnery training, but also for combat applications where no purpose-designed combat aircraft was available. They could also be fitted with the ability to drop small bombs or launch unguided rockets. T-6s saw combat, mainly as ground support aircraft, at least through the 1970s. The U.S. used them as “forward air control” aircraft in the Korean and to some extent the Vietnamese wars, and they were used in smaller conflicts and civil wars in many countries.
T-6s are very plentiful among civilian operators, especially in North America, but also in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, with hundreds still flying. They were released into the civilian market as surplus by a variety of air arms in the 1960s and 1970s and were affordable and enjoyable enough to be of immediate interest to sport pilots as well as to operators of aerial spraying and other services. T-6s and Harvards from the U.S., Canada, Spain, South Africa and Portugal are among those that can be seen at airshows or local airports today. T-6s are popular performers at airshows because they are fully aerobatic but not so fast that they stray outside of the airport “box” during a performance. They emit a distinctive loud snarl caused by the fact that their ungeared engines spin the propellers so fast that the propeller blade tips approach the speed of sound at high throttle settings, creating a continuous mini-sonic-boom sometimes called a “sonic snap”. Any group of restored T-6/SNJ/Harvard types is usually a colorful bunch because of the tradition of painting military trainers in high-visibility colors and the wide range of nations and time periods spanned by the type’s service.
Source: Aircraft In Focus
The CH2A's Harvard Mark IV, C-FVIJ, purchased in the fall of 2014 from a private owner, was built in 1952 at Canadian Car and Foundry in Fort William, ON, one of 270 built for the RCAF. The aircraft was taken on strength by the RCAF with serial number 20382 and is still painted in its original air force colours and markings.