This blog is dedicated to the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N aircraft. The N3N is NOT A STEARMAN, hence the blog name. The N3N is the only aircraft designed and built in volume by the U.S. Government.

4406 over the fence

The N3N is a completely different aircraft from the Stearman, sharing only (3) things in common with the Navy NS1/N2S Stearman:
1. The same mission – primary trainer
2. The Navy Yellow color. Both the N3N and Stearman share the “Yellow Peril” moniker because either could wash-out a Cadet.
3. 1930’s Technology – biplane layout, fabric covering, radial engine, conventional gear, etc. I believe that this is the single biggest reason for the confusion.

The same mission and the same technology are often reasons for aircraft to look similar. Even an aviation enthusiast might struggle identify the three aircraft below. All three are: (a) from the same era, (b) designed for the same use and (c) utilize the same generation of technology:
So which one is the “copy”?

(and yes, I do have a Jane’s “All the World’s Aircraft” from 1957, among several others)

When you get up close, there are truly NO common elements in the N3N and the Stearman. Every detail is different, from the airfoil to the wingspan.

For the newcomer here are some visual differences:
1. The easiest visual difference is the landing gear. The N3N gear is braced and unfaired (left). The Stearman has a mono-strut landing gear with those cool fairings (right).
N3N GearStearman landing gear

2. Ailerons – the N3N has twice as many ailerons as a Stearman 🙂 . The aileron link strut is just behind the “N” strut, so the “N” strut of an N3N appears to have a doubled rear element:
N3N Aileron Strut

3. Here are some additional visual identification points on the tailfeathers:

  • Horizontal stabilizer location – The N3N-3 stabilizer has a semi-cruciform layout (horizontal stabilizer passes through the vertical stabilizer), while the Stearman stabilizer passes through the fuselage.
  • Horizontal stabilizer bracing – The N3N uses a single strut to brace the stabilizer while the Stearman uses twin flying wires on both the top and the bottom.
  • Tailwheel location – The N3N tailwheel is much further forward, under the horizontal stabilizer. The Stearman tailwheel is so far aft that the elevator has a cutout for the mounting structure:

N3N Stab StrutStearman H stab flying wires
The biggest differences are NOT visible: The N3N is an all-aluminum airframe while the Stearman has a wood wing and a welded-tube steel fuselage.

Perhaps coolest of all, the N3N was designed to operate as a floatplane. Wheels can be swapped for floats in a couple of hours. The Naval Academy (Annapolis) operated N3N floatplanes until 1961, giving the N3N a 25 year service life.

There are a bunch of other differences, some of which I detail at this link (including photos of the different construction techniques): N3N versus Stearman

Suffice it to say that an N3N is not an NAF copy of the Stearman and the Stearman is not a civilian copy of the N3N.

My father was an N3N crew chief at NAS Glenview during WWII. This blog is in his honor. Here’s a link to the NAS Glenview Museum:

I intend it to be a place for all things N3N. I hope you will make it a regular hangout. Fleet photos and additional information is welcome. Please add your comments on any post (that is, the home page articles) or get a hold of me through the info on the “Contact Us” page.

David Jay