In 1938 the US Army Air Corps was evaluating
a new basic combat trainer, designated the Vultee V-54, it was
considered operationally ideal as a trainer but was regarded
as being unnecessarily complicated and overpowered.
Vultee then developed the V-74
trainer to meet this requirement having a cantilever low-wing
with fixed landing gear, dual controls and flight instruments
as standard equipment. The initial version was designated BT-13
by the US Army Air Corps and nicknamed the Valiant. Satisfactory
testing brought in an order of 300 aircraft in September 1939,
at that time the largest order placed by the US Army for basic
trainers. The first of these aircraft were accepted by the USAAC
in June of 1940.
From September 1939 to the Summer of 1944 a total of 11,537 Vultees
were built to meet the needs of the US Army Air Corps and the
US Navy, making the plane one of the most important American
trainer aircraft of World War II. The BT-13 production run outnumbered
all other Basic Trainer (BT) types produced.
BT-13 at Minter Field, California, March 1943
The Navy quickly recognized the ruggedness of the BT-13 and
selected it to fulfill the same training roles. A total of 1,350
BT-13A and 650 BT-13B aircraft were transferred to the US Navy
which designated them SNV-1 and SNV-2B respectively.
Almost every U.S. pilot and many of the allied pilots who
were trained in the U.S. learned their basic flying skills in
the BT-13. The demand for BT-13's out-paced Pratt & Whitneys
ability to deliver the R-985 engines, Vultee began to equip the
BT-13 airframes with the 450 HP Wright R-975-11 Whirlwind radial
engine. This final variant was designated as the BT-15 (1,693
Under the designation XBT-16B, one BT-13A was rebuilt with
a plastic fuselage for evaluation. As soon as World War II ended
all versions in service were retired from the USAAF and US Navy.
After 1948 a handful of BT-13's receive the revised designation
The Valiant was also known as the "Vultee Vibrator",
nicknamed from its pilots.
Less than 50 of these aircraft are airworthy and have become
very popular with warbird collectors and can often be seen at
airshows around the country.
Aircraft, Downey, California USA
Chief designer: Richard Palmer. The H-1 Hughes racer was
designed by Richard Palmer, and similarities can be seen in aircraft
The Downey plant begins in 1929, when part
of what was the NASA/Reusable Space Systems space complex was
a ranch owned and operated by James Hughan. Mr. E. M. Smith,
a local industrialist, purchased a 72-acre tract from Hughan
and converted it into an airport and built a 60,000 square foot
manufacturing facility. Some seven years later, after a number
of unsuccessful attempts by Smith's Emsco Aircraft Corporation
and other tenants to build and market airplanes ranging from
passenger craft to a folding-wing creation that would fit in
a garage, the facility was taken over by a young aircraft designer
and entrepreneur named Gerard "Jerry"
Vultee, and Downey was on its way. By 1938, the Vultee Aviation
Manufacturing Company has 1,500 employees and was producing planes
for several countries.
An era was ending and another was beginning that would change
forever the face of the aircraft industry. Even the visionary
Vultee, who had been killed with his wife in a plane crash in
1938, could not have foreseen the colorful and history-making
future awaiting his unpretentious little plant.
Vultee Aircraft later merged with Consolidated Aircraft of
San Diego, a combination that would become known as Convair.
At its plants in San Diego and Downey during World War II, Consolidated
Vultee produced thousands of planes for the American War effort.
To support this unprecedented production at Downey, the Army
Air Corps and Vultee greatly expanded the plant in the early
1940s. As the war wound down, so did Downey.
In 1945, after the signing of the armistice with Germany
and with Japan, the doors to the plant began closing, ostensibly
for the last time.