My Birthday Present – and the BT-13

My brother gave me a Commemorative Air Force calendar for my birthday. I flipped through the year to see what aircraft were included. How about this aircraft – a BT-13 – for July:


For those of you who don’t familiar with the story, the postwar history of the BT-13 and the N3N are interwoven in an interesting way.

Surplus military aircraft were very cheap after World War II. A few hundred dollars could get you an aircraft. But what to do with them? Some aircraft were easily repurposed, such as the N3N which made a capable (and durable) agricultural aircraft. Others – such as the BT-13 – were almost useless. This is not to imply that there was anything wrong with the aircraft, just that no one could figure out a profitable civilian use for the aircraft.

As it turns out, the N3N had two weaknesses as an “ag” aircraft: The Bendix wheels / Lockheed brakes were not up to the job and the Wright J6-7 engine with only 235 horsepower limited the payload. The BT-13 had disc brakes and a Pratt and Whitney R-985 (at 450 hp). So a lot of surplus BT-13 aircraft were flown out to the desert, stripped of their engines, wheels/brakes/tires and rudder pedals and just left there.

Here is an accurately restored N3N showing off the original 30 x 5 wheels and Wright engine:

N3N-3 Taxi Test

Here is the “business end” of an N3N ag aircraft with the BT-13 wheels and P&W engine:

N45159 2994

If you go through the agricultural photo page here you will see that there are no photos of ag aircraft using the Bendix wheels. A few early dusters are shown with the Wright engine, but those are infrequent  (and I suspect all are before the end of the war).

A big reason why such a large percentage of N3Ns survive today is that they were profitable aircraft for decades. The BT-13 is a rare aircraft today even though over 9500 were built. So the high survival rate of the N3N fleet owes a debt to the BT-13 for the sacrifice that made the “N” the commercial success that is was.


2 thoughts on “My Birthday Present – and the BT-13

  1. Jeff Houghton

    Yep, those duster operators that used stearmans and N3N’s bought all the BT’s they could. If you really look for them, the BT is still out there in barns and fields. In the middle of the family N3N restoration in the 70’s, my uncle bought no less than 13 BT’s from various duster strips. In the end he would end up with one. Your correct as you will not find the original 30×5’s on a Pratt powered airplane…..well someone was operating one a few yrs ago but since has been converted. Reason being is that its part of the STC to install the 450hp. To install the engine, BT brakes were required and a minimum of 75 gallons of fuel on board. This is where the top wing tank is installed. Just another reason why those survivors that were never dusters are just that much more special.


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