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