The War Years: 1939-1945

North American Aviation ... Training Pilots Overnight

A company called upon to furnish military planes in peacetime could be relied on for an extraordinary effort in the event of an emergency; and the company's responsibility for National Defense is as direct and vital as that of the established armed forces.
-- Dutch Kindelberger

As war spread, it was clear that hundreds of thousands of new pilots had to be trained immediately, and thousands of trainers were needed. North American Aviation forged new production records and built 41,000 airplanes during the war. The company expanded to include a plant in Kansas City, Mo., for B-25 bombers and one near Dallas, Texas, for P-51 fighters and AT-6 trainers (hence the name "Texan" for the trainers built in Dallas). Because aluminum was in short supply, North American built 2,970 Texans partially out of plywood.

During the peak production periods of World War II, an airplane rolled off a North American production line every 15 minutes. The company produced 9,498 B-25s, 15,498 trainers, and 15,586 P-51 Mustangs.

The AT-6 Texans evolved from North American's basic trainer built before the war. Its versions sold to the Navy were designated SNJ scout trainers and those sold to the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force were called Harvards. In October 1944, an AT-6 set a record for continuous service with 5,000 hours of flying time over 750,000 miles. After the war it was redesignated the T-6.

North American continued to build trainers after the war. One of these, the T-28 Trojan, which first flew in 1949, would be adapted as an attack bomber and used during the Vietnam conflict. The company ultimately built 1,194 T-28As at its Columbus, Ohio, plant.

North American's first twin-engine military airplane was the NA-21 (later designated the XB-21), nicknamed "the Dragon." It competed with the Boeing B-17 and the Douglas B-18 bombers and did not get a contract. However, North American used this experience to build the smaller NA-40, which led to the twin-engine, medium, attack bomber, the B-25 Mitchell.

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