The Vultee BT-13 Valiant was an American World War II-era basic trainer aircraft built by Vultee Aircraft for the United States Army Air Corps, and later US Army Air Forces. A subsequent variant of the BT-13 in USAAC/USAAF service was known as the BT-15 Valiant, while an identical version for the US Navy was known as the SNV and was used to train naval aviators for the US Navy, US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard.
The Vultee BT-13 was the basic trainer flown by most American pilots during World War II. It was the second phase of the three phase training program for pilots. After primary training, the student pilot moved to the more complex Vultee for basic flight training. The BT-13 had a more powerful engine and was faster and heavier than the primary trainer.
It required the student pilot to use two way radio communications with the ground and to operate landing flaps and a two-position Hamilton Standard variable pitch propeller. It did not, however, have retractable landing gear nor a hydraulic system. The large flaps are operated by a crank-and-cable system. Its pilots nicknamed it the “Vultee Vibrator.”
Due to the demand for this aircraft, and others which used the same Pratt & Whitney engine, some were equipped with Wright powerplants of similar size and power built in 1941-42. The Wright-equipped aircraft were designated BT-15.
The Navy adopted the P&W powered aircraft as their main basic trainer, designating it the SNV. The BT-13 production run outnumbered 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 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, designating it the BC-3. 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 1940.
The BT-13A was produced to the extent of 7,037 aircraft and differed only in the use of a Pratt & Whitney 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 because 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 its nickname of “Vibrator.” There are several explanations given for this nickname. 1: Because it had a tendency to shake quite violently as it approached its stall speed. 2. During more adventurous maneuvers the canopy vibrated. 3. On takeoff, the aircraft caused windows on the ground to vibrate. 4. The two-stage propeller had an irritating vibration in high pitch. The BT-13 served its 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 be mastered. The BT-13 was not without its faults. The tail was held on with only three bolts and after several in-flight failures, the Navy restricted the aircraft from aerobatic and violent maneuvers. The Navy declared the SNV obsolete in May 1945 and replaced it in the basic training role with the SNJ (AT-6). The Army also replaced the BT-13 with the AT-6 before the end of the war.
After World War II, virtually all were sold as surplus for a few hundred dollars each. Many were purchased just to obtain their engines, which were mounted on surplus biplanes (such as Stearmans) to replace their less powerful engines for use as cropdusters. The BT airframes were then scrapped. Today, some “BT’s” (collectively, BT-13s, BT-15s and SNVs) are still flying, though in very limited numbers (and none in military or government service).
|Length:||28 ft 10 in (8.79 m)|
|Wingspan:||42 ft 0 in (12.80 m)|
|Height:||11 ft 6 in (3.51 m)|
|Wing area:||239 sq ft (22.2 m2)|
|Empty weight:||3,375 lb (1,531 kg)|
|Gross weight:||4,496 lb (2,039 kg)|
|Powerplant:||1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 nine-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, 450 hp (340 kW)|
|Propellers:||2-bladed Hamilton-Standard 2-position|
|Maximum speed:||180 mph (290 km/h; 156 kn)|
|Range:||725 mi (630 nmi; 1,167 km)|
|Service ceiling:||21,650 ft (6,599 m)|
|Time to altitude:||9.2 minutes to 10,000 ft (3,000 m)|