1944 VULTEE BT-13B “VALIANT”

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Vultee engineers originally conceived the Valiant as a fighter. However, they altered their design in order to compete for an Army bid for an advanced trainer, building their first prototype with retractable landing gear and a 600hp motor. When the contract for an advanced trainer went to North American Aviation for their AT-6, Vultee designers simplified their design even further to satisfy the requirements of a basic trainer and by doing so hit a home-run. By numbers of planes, the Valiant Basic trainer represented the largest order ever placed by the Army Air Corps to date.

Entering service in 1940, the BT-13 was the basic trainer most widely used by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II representing the second of the three stages of pilot training — primary, basic and advanced. Compared with the primary trainers in use at the time, it was considerably more complex. The BT-13 (Navy designation SNV-2) not only had a more powerful engine, it was also faster and heavier. In addition, it required the student pilot to use two-way radio communications with the ground and to operate landing flaps as well as a two-position variable pitch propeller. Nicknamed the “Vultee Vibrator” by the pilots who flew it, the BT-13 was normally powered by a 450-hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine. Because of a shortage of these engines, however, 1,693 Valiants flew with Wright R-975 engines, thereby becoming BT-15s. By the end of WWII, 10,375 BT-13s and BT-15s had been accepted by the USAAF.

By July 1941, Vultee’s plant in Downey was producing 15 percent of all the military aircraft in the nation. The company received enormous military contracts to construct these basic training planes for Army, Navy, and Marine pilots. As many of Downey’s men went off to war, hundreds of women joined the Vultee workforce. Vultee was the first military aircraft manufacturer to employ women directly in production and these women received exactly the same pay for equivalent work as men. Vultee’s particular masterpiece is what executives exultantly described as the first and truly powered assembly line in the industry. It consisted of an overhead oval track from which dangled twenty-five cradles fed with raw fuselage frames.

The aircraft on display was delivered to the USAAF on Feb 21, 1944 and assigned to the 434th AAF Base Unit (Combat Crew Training Station-Fighter Air Training Command), Santa Rosa AAF, CA, where she served throughout the war. This Valiant was declared surplus and sold into civilian hands in 1946. Jim Smith acquired this aircraft in 2009.