The Harvard Aircraft

The Harvard is probably the best known and most successful training aircraft of World War II.  It was from the “pilot maker” that the youth of the free world graduated to fly single-engine fighter aircraft and is sometimes referred to as the “Yellow Peril”.  The Harvard was a transitional aircraft.  The pilots cut their teeth on the Fleet Finch, de Havilland Tiger Moth, and Fleet Cornell before flying the Hurricane, Spitfire and Mustang in which “our boys” went on to turn the tide of war.


The Harvard was originally designed by North American Aviation (later famous for the B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang, and F-86 Sabre) and was a British Commonwealth version of the AT-6 advanced trainer (known as the SNJ by the US Navy).  Over 17,000 Harvards/AT-6/SNJs and variants were built by North American in Inglewood, California and Dallas, Texas (origin of the AT-6’s nickname, the ‘Texan’) as well as under licence in Canada, Australia and Sweden from the late 1930’s to the mid 1950’s.  Of these, 2,377 Harvards (or variants) were flown in RCAF service.

The Harvard was the single-engine advanced trainer for pilots who came to Canada from all over the world to train and earn their wings under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).  The first graduates of BCATP received their wings in 1940 at Camp Borden, the birthplace of the Royal Canadian Air Force.  One of the graduates of this course was Flight Lieutenant Glen Rawson of Hanover, who is a proud CHAA member.

The Royal Canadian Air Force took delivery of their first Harvard from North American on July 20, 1939.  This version, called the Mk I (Mark One), was the RCAF’s first trainer with retractable landing gear.  30 Mk I’s were delivered to Canada before the upgraded Mk II came into production. Just over 1000 Mk II’s were delivered to the RCAF from North American.  From 1940-45, the Harvard also was built under licence by Noorduyn Aviation near Montreal (best known for their ‘Norseman’ bushplane).  These were known as the Harvard Mk IIB as well as the AT-16 for those produced under the ‘Lend-Lease’ plan.  1,710 Harvards were built by Noorduyn, of which 859 served with the RCAF.


In 1946, Canadian Car & Foundry (CC&F or Can-Car) acquired Noorduyn, and was involved in the refurbishing of wartime Harvards.  In 1951, CC&F received an order to build 270 brand-new Harvards (known as the Harvard Mk 4) for the RCAF at its plant in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay).  A further 285 Harvards were ordered from CC&F by the United States Air Force to distribute to NATO Air Forces in Europe.  Harvards were used by the RCAF for pilot training up until the type’s retirement in 1965.

Today, there are fewer than 50 Harvards flying in Canada and CHAA is proud that many of them are associated with us.  In the local area, there are privately-owned Harvards in Woodstock, Muirkirk, Dunnville, Windsor, and Oshawa.