The AT-6 Texan

I have decided to add a new section to my blog that talks solely about the history of aviation. I have grown to really enjoy and appreciate the history of airplanes over the last several years and this seemed like the most logical way to consistently bring what knowledge I have learned to others to enjoy. Every Thursday I will be writing some form of review of a different aircraft highlighting everything that I can think of from development, to service, and to todays usage. With that in mind, it took me a while to decide which plane to start with. I have had the great fortune to have photographed so many great aircraft, that many have become favorites of mine. As some of you might recognize this plane, I decided to start with one of the first planes that I photographed and was in fact the first aircraft I ever did an air to air shoot with. This is the North American AT-6 Texan.


This is the AT-6 Texan, redesignated the T-6 in 1962, one of the most used and collected warbirds that exist today. The T-6 was designed as an advanced trainer aircraft during WWII and was used at some point by almost every serviceman that went through the US Air Corp. After completing basic training on the biplane Boeing Stearman, pilots would go on to advance training where they would learn to fly mono wing planes such as the Vultee BT-13 Variant and AT-6 Texan. Afterward depending on the proven skill set and placement they would go onto either single engine training school or multi engine training, basically separating the class into fighter pilots or bomber pilots. The AT-6 played a pivotal role in training pilots being one of the first training aircraft they flew with metal surfaces, hydraulic flaps, retractable landing gear and .30mm machine guns mounted in the wings for aerial and ground gunnery practice.


The T-6 was such a popular aircraft that 34 countries signed contracts with North American for planes of their own. 15,495 T-6’s were built to supply the orders from the other countries as well as the US. Throughout it’s service the aircraft has been known under several designations: the USAAC and later the USAAF designated it the AT-6 until 1962, US Navy designated it the SNJ and the British Commonwealth air forces designated it the Harvard, which is its best known name outside the us.

Due to the T-6’s ease of maintenace, low cost and large production, it has become one of the most popular warbirds collected today. Unlike fighters or bombers which had a relatively short lived life expecantcy overseas, the T-6 lasted long past WWII and was used during Korea as a trainer for the US. It never saw front line service as a fighter for the USAAF but it was used by other countries up through the 1970’s as a fighter plane. With its Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine, 600 hp (450 kW), the plane was capable of speeds up to 208 mph. This later changed as the planes performance was enhanced for racing. The T6 gave pilots the ability to do rolls, Immelmanns, loops, spins, snaps and vertical rolls which was partly why it made for such a good trainer. This later allowed the plane to be very versatile in aerobatic roles at Airshows.


Seen here is a row of T-6 trainers at EAA Airventure Oshkosh from 2011. Because they have such a low cost to fly they have become such a staple in airshows that it is actually hard to find an airshow that doesn’t have at least one T-6 around. Amongst the most famous group of Airshow performers is the famed CAF Tora! Tora! Tora! group which uses several replica Zero and Nakajima “Kate” Torpedeo bombers which are all modified T-6 Texans.


One of the great historical aspects of the T-6 is all the different paint jobs that the plane had from going to so many different countries and being used for so many different squadrons. This particular plane is based out of Honolulu and is owned by a nice man named Bruce Mays. His T-6 is painted in honor of the USS Saratoga. These are the aircraft markings of a plane that would be stationed on that carrier. Back in 2011 I had the great privilege of lying with Bruce and my Dad on an air to air mission with his T-6 over Pearl Harbor. Being such an iconic spot in WWII history, and with such few warbirds actually on the island, this was by far one of the most fun and satisfying air to air shoots that I have ever been on. The only slight challenge to the whole matter was having to fly in a Cessna 172 in the back seat shooting through the plexiglass windows. Nevertheless the images and story were all worth it. Not to mention his T-6 looked absolutely gorgeous in the morning light over Oahu.


While the T-6 makes a great photo subject, and in my opinion is one of the best warbirds to practice air to air photography with, it is also one of the best photo platforms to use. With a good range in speed, again low cost in fuel consumption, and high rate of availability, the T-6 is one of the most sought after photo platforms, especially those with the reversible rear seat allowing the photographer to shoot straight back.

In 1920 Ralph Pulitzer sponsored the Pulitzer Trophy Race to establish publicity for his newspaper and aviation. The races later moved to Cleveland where they become known as the Cleveland National Air Races, which lasted until 1949. The races were put on hold during WWII but resumed afterward. They initiated a special class after WWII just for the T-6 Texan. That class continued on to the Reno National Championship Air Races, which started in 1964 after the Cleveland races were shut down. Today the T-6 class at Reno is one of the largest classes of competitors, including fan favorites like #6 “Six Cat” owned by Nick Macy with six gold medal wins to his name and #43 “Midnight Miss III” owned by Dennis Buehn with five gold medal wins.


This here is Dennis flying his beloved Midnight Miss III back in 2013 at Pylon Race School. Dennis was the start of air to air photography for both myself and my Dad and has been a friend of ours ever since. He showed us that not only are the planes really cool but the pilots are a breed of their own. One of the most important lessons they teach is not about history, but that life can be over in a blink of an eye so enjoy every minute of it. Dennis continues to race his team of aircraft, further influencing those in the warbird community. He has owned and rebuilt over seventy T-6’s in his life which makes him one of the true experts on the aircraft.

The T-6 Texan, SNJ or Harvard if you prefer, is one of the main stay aircraft of the warbird community. If ever there was one cornerstone aircraft that all pilots have at one point or another, flown, it was this one. If it were not for this plane many of the brave men who fought in WWII may not have gotten as good of training as they got. Today these planes can be seen all around the world, and is one of the few planes that that can be said about. At museums all across the country visitors can go and see the T-6 and at a price can even go and buy a ride in one. I highly recommend that anyone interested in aviation go and see about a ride. It will get you hooked.

Photos taken with Nikon D3, D4, 70-200 VRII, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR, 500 f/4 VR

Watch the Wings

Polished aircraft are a lot of fun to work with. Compared to aircraft with a fixed paint job throughout, any plane that has a polished aluminum surface naturally glows. It’s pretty obvious why, the metal reflects all light. Sometimes that’s good sometimes it’s bad. It can mean that you get more blown highlights along the surface. It also means that in almost any weather condition the plane is going to stand out. Of course the other benefit of polished is in post it’s really simple to make the aircraft pop. The white and highlight slider is all it takes in ACR.

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This particular T6 belongs to a friend down in Phoenix who was kind enough to let us photograph it one morning. It had just rained that morning and we were going out before the storm got worse. Now not every pilot is willing to go out between scwalls but when you work with the best one of the benefits is having that luxury. The rain didn’t hinder our flight and actually made for some great images by making the desert look more vibrant and richer by being wet.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Finding Inspiration

It’s been one heck of a week, so much so that I wasn’t even sure what to blog. I was thinking and thinking and couldn’t come up with anything. Considering how the week started I wanted to end it with something good, which isn’t easy. Last night after dinner I was sitting watching Walle and it occurred to me that I might have been over thinking. That of course lead to some more thinking of why i was over thinking at which point I actually started to hurt. Amongst all this nonsense and waste of time I came up with something to talk about.

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Last June at Pylon Race Seminar Dad and I did an air to air shoot with a good friend and his T6 Trainer. It was a simple afternoon shoot over the Nevada desert. We did our usual moving of the plane around, getting different angles with different backgrounds. When we got back down and looked through the images on our computers we noticed that some of the shots looked like they were taken with a PCE lens, which of course we weren’t using. It was truly different. Now those aren’t the ones i put up, I’m still debating what to do with those but these are ones from that shoot. What does this have to do have to with the main topic?

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Well it’s simple, my random thought to the start the weekend is, is it the knowledge already acquired by oneself that accomplishes the best photographs or does the best photographs come from shear accidents, completely unintended to happen but learned from? Now i realize in this job we are required to experiment and push ourselves to find new possibilities and then share that with others but why is it that the best answers come from the experiments we didn’t try? Is it simply a limit on our imagination or is it a logical outcome that we didn’t foresee beforehand? I don’t know but it kinda has me stumped. Now I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had this happen to them and if I am then maybe I’m just nuts. But i guarantee that at some point in every great photographers life they had a fluke photograph that gave them a brilliant idea.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Great Group of T6 Performers

The T6 Texan has been a widely used plane ever since it was first made active in 1937. It was a basic trainer that most pilots used before graduating to heavy front line fighters like the F4U Corsair, P51 Mustang and P40 Warhawk. Between the time it was first introduced and retired from active duty in the 1950’s over 15,000 planes were produced. To this day it is still used as a trainer, show plane and of course a classic warbird. At Oshkosh this past July I had the privilege of watching the AeroShell Aerobatic Team perform over the field. It was an amazing performance, close formation flying with four T6’s, smoke and low passes. It is a group very much worth seeing.

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AeroShell Aerobatic Team


Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

First but Certainly Not the Last

Well some of you might be wondering why if this is the first plane I ever photographed Air to Air then why did it take me so long to put up on the sight? Well the simple answer is a photographer you never know when an image is going to be needed for something and when should it be held in reserve. That was the case. The original flight shots, which this one isn’t, I had a plan for but now are not going to be used for that purpose. That happens.

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T6 Texan

Well the T6 Texan was the first plane i ever did an Air to Air with and it seems a rather long time ago even though it was only 2 years ago. The shot seen here isn’t from that shoot, this one was taken this past April at Fantasy of Flight during an Air to Air workshop. The plane actually belongs to Stallion 51 and we lucked into having it for the shoot, seeing as we were down one plane. It turned out to be one great shoot, the Texan was a great subject over the Florida landscape. But if you want to see some of the shots from the first shoot you’ll have to go to the gallery.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Performing T6’s

Oshkosh isn’t just known for having hundreds of planes, tons of people, and way too much to see in one day. Oshkosh also has one great air show. It only lasts three hours a day but those three hours are jam packed with activity. Starting Monday the air show kicks off and one of the first performers are the Aeroshell T6 team. They are a very impressive team with some great acrobatic stunts.

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This is the first team of T6’s to use smoke. The only other T6 that i have seen to use smoke was done at Gillespie Field this past April. The addition of smoke can make for great shots. With a blue background it’s great with a grey background like we had on Wednesday, not so great. Personally i like the symmetry to of the planes. Those great formations always make the planes seem more impressive. Then again it takes some good pilots to do that kind of flying.

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This particular group were up a good twenty minutes which may seem short but is actually quite a while considering the amount of flying they are doing and the amount of fuel they are burning through. What will come next?

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

An Historic Flight

One of the best flights that I have ever had, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering there will be so many more to come, was this past April when we did an Air to Air over Pearl Harbor and Ford Island. It was truly amazing flying over the place where the biggest and most awful war truly started for this country, Sadly; however, this might be the last non air to air to happen over Pearl because of the multiple air controllers and the activity Navy presence still at the Harbor. It was a great flight for me, one i will truly treasure. Hence why it is now in the Lost Posts section, so that the flyover will always be there.

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The Saratoga T6
Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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