In 1940-1941, North American Aviation built the SNJ as an advanced WWII military training aircraft designed to perform all the maneuvers of a fighter plane at slower speeds. The SNJ, the Navy’s equivalent of the Texas T-6, served as the classroom for most of the Allied pilots flying in WWII. It is recognized by many names; the T-6 Texan (U.S. Army Air Corps) and the Harvard (RAF), but was most affectionately known as the “pilot maker” by crew members.
Made famous as a trainer, the SNJ won honors in WWII and in the early portion of the Korean War. A total of 15,495 planes were manufactured training thousands of pilots across 34 different countries.
The GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team flies the SNJ-2 version of the aircraft. This model has an enlarged 180-gallon fuel tank allowing the aircraft to operate for more than four hours. Each plane weighs 5,500 pounds and is powered by a 600-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine. Other unique design elements include a decrease of eight inches in the overall length, a larger round rudder and a free castering tailwheel.
This exceptional aircraft was the successor to North American Aviation’s BC-1 basic combat trainer which was designed and produced in 1937 for the U.S. Army Air Corps. The BC-1 was created to be an easily repairable, low-cost trainer with the same features as a high-speed fighter that utilized fixed landing gear. Although the aircraft was not as fast as a fighter, the airplane had excellent maneuverability with the ability to roll, vertical roll, spin, loop, and snap to provide the best training for different types of tactics, from ground strafing to aerial dogfighting to bombardment. This aircraft had multifaceted equipment such as instrument flying instrumentation, bomb racks, gun and standard cameras, fixed and flexible guns, and nearly every other device military pilots had to use at the time.
The GEICO Skytypers “skytype” by creating giant messages in the sky with five aircraft flying in a tight, line-abreast formation. The planes skytype by coordinating dot matrix-style messages with environmentally friendly puffs of white smoke. A computer located in the lead aircraft sends radio signals to the other planes and white environmentally friendly puffs of smoke create the “skytyped” messages.