During World War II, cadets from the U.S. Army Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps were trained in a variety of aircraft. The majority all spent time learning in the Vultee “Valiant” series of Basic Trainers.
Preparation of these military pilots was a multi-stage effort. A ten-week, non-flying Pre-Flight training was followed by at least 30 weeks of flight training, each conducted with a slightly more complex aircraft. Basic Training was a ten-week program that fell between the Primary and Advanced Flight Training stages.
Basic Training required an aircraft with an enclosed cockpit, advanced instrumentation, an adjustable propeller, landing flaps and a two-way radio system. During this stage, cadets continued to hone their flying skills while learning to fly on instruments only, fly at night, fly in close formation, and fly in all weather conditions.
In 1938, Vultee Aircraft responded to a U.S. Army Air Corps specification for a new advanced trainer. The 600-horsepower Vultee entry did not win (the North American AT-6 was awarded the contract) but the Army expressed interest in a lighter, less sophisticated version of the Vultee aircraft. The result was a low-wing monoplane design of metal skin with fabric-covered control surfaces, powered by a 450-horsepower radial engine. Two sets of instruments were aligned in tandem under a transparent canopy. The aircraft featured fixed landing gear, a steerable tail wheel, hydraulic brakes, and manually controlled landing flaps. To save aluminum for combat aircraft, the Vultee trainer utilized a steel frame and incorporated wood and plastic wherever possible.
From 1939 to 1944, over 11,500 of these aircraft were built in several variants – more than the combined total of all other Basic Trainers used by the military. It was adopted by both the U.S. Army Air Force (BT-13, BT-13A, BT-13B, BT-15) and the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps (SNV-1, SNV-2).
The Museum’s BT-13B was in the final production run of the Vultee basic trainer, manufactured in Downey, California and delivered in January 1944. It was flown to Oscoda Army Air Field, Michigan, where it supported the operational training for members of the Free French Air Force. In 1951, Bob Irwin, founder of Corona, CA based Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co., purchased the surplus aircraft for only $700. In 1963, he sold it to a buyer in Texas. In 2015, Bob’s two sons, Jim and John Irwin, located the BT-13B and bought it back. After a meticulous restoration by Aero Trader in Chino, the Irwin family kindly donated it to Planes of Fame.