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Vultee BT-13 Overview

Our Vultee BT-13A,

the "Tuskegee Trainer"


The Capital Wing has finished its Vultee BT-13 in the appropriate markings to represent a trainer based at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) during WWII in honor of Squadron and Commemorative Air Force Honorary Members, General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., USAF (Ret) combat leader of the Tuskegee Airmen, and Colonel Charles E. McGee, USAF (Ret) (at left with aircraft) also a leading Tuskegee Airman.





The “buzz number” for the trainer, TU-70, represents a BT-13 that Colonel McGee flew the most times (20+) during training in 1943.  Although trainers were not assigned to individual airman, we have added pilot names for General Davis and Colonel McGee on the BT-13 in their honor.  From 1941 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-six pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.  Four hundred and fifty of the pilots who were trained at TAAF served overseas in either the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) or the 332nd Fighter Group. The 99th Fighter Squadron trained in and flew P-40 aircraft in combat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from April 1943 until July 1944 when they were transferred to the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force flying the P-51.  More information on the Tuskegee Airmen can be found at  

Our aircraft was manufactured at the Downey, CA plant and was delivered to the USAAC in November 1942 where it was used in basic pilot training at Shaw Field, SC. After the war it was transferred to the Civil Air Patrol in California. They modified the engine by replacing the standard BT-13 Pratt & Whitney R-985 with the 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340. The cowling was also modified to cover the bigger engine. The Civil Air Patrol used the BT-13 to patrol the west coast until the late 60’s.


In 1970, the BT-13 was purchased by Frederick Walker, Sr. Frederick Walker had flown B-17’s in World War II and then spent the rest of his career flying missions for the CIA. He served in  the Viet Nam conflict. He became an instructor for many types of aircraft that were used by the CIA in their Air America operation. Walker was also the chief pilot for Air America, based in Vientiane, Thailand. He flew the BT-13 just for fun when he spent his summers in Fryeburg, Maine.


Capt. Walker passed away on Feb, 14 1999 and his family requested that his BT-13 be sold to an organization that would still keep it flying.


The National Capital Squadron (Capital Wing) purchased the aircraft in July 2000. We have returned it to its original USAAC colors and were pleased to find that the original instruments from 1942 are still in the aircraft. We are proud and honored to show this warbird to the public as we continue restoration and presevation efforts.



Col. John Fuentes fires up the BT-13 for the first time under CAF ownership!


BT-13 Background:


Fewer than 40 of these aircraft are still flying today. Our aircraft was manufactured at the Downey, CA plant and delivered to the USAAC in November 1942 where it was used in basic pilot training at Shaw Field, SC. It was transferred to the Civil Air Patrol after WWII where it remained in service until the late 1960's. In 1970, Frederick F. Walker, Sr., a WWII Veteran and Chief Pilot in Southeast Asia for Air America, bought the BT-13 and based it at the airport in Fryeburg, Maine. He would spend his summers there and fly the aircraft only a few times a year. Mr. Walker passed away on February 14, 1999 and his family sold his BT-13 to the National Capitol Squadron in July 2000. The squadron, in turn, donated it to the CAF. We are in the process of returning it to its WWII appearance.


Richard Palmer, Vultee Aircraft's chief designer, began the design of a fighter in 1938. However, the USAAC issuance of a requirement for an advanced trainer changed the design effort from a fighter to an advanced trainer. The result was the VF-51 prototype. This aircraft made its first flight in March 1939 as a low-wing, all-metal monoplane with retractable main landing gear, powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp 600 hp radial engine driving a two-blade variable pitch propeller.


Although the USAAC selected the North American BC-2, Vultee and Palmer were not finished. The VF-51 evolved into the VF-54 in an attempt to meet an expected export market for such a trainer. The VF-54 used the same basic airframe as the VF-51, but was fitted with a lower powered engine. While no export sales were made, this design now evolved into the VF-54A. Instead of retractable gear, it had faired, fixed gear and a Pratt & Whitney R-985-T3B Wasp Jr. radial rated at 450 hp. The Vultee BT-13 Valiant was born.


The USAAC ordered the BT-13 in August 1939. The initial order was for 300 aircraft with a Pratt & Whitney R-985-25 radial and the first of these was accepted by the USAAC in June 1940. The following Valiant production run outnumbered all other Basic Trainer (BT) types produced, with a total of 11,537 built for the US Army Air Corps and the US Navy, making it one of the most significant American trainer aircraft of World War II.

There were 7,037 BT-13A’s produced differing only in the use of a P&W R-985-AN-1 radial engine and removal of the landing gear fairings. 1,125 BT-13B's were produced that differed from the “A” model in having a 24-volt, rather than the original 12-volt electrical system.


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. The last variant was designated BT-15 because Pratt & Whitney found it impossible to keep up production of the R-985 engine. Instead a Wright R-975-11 radial was substituted into the 1,263 aircraft produced.


The Vultee Valiant was the aircraft cadet pilots flew after finishing the primary phase in aircraft such as the PT-17 Stearman, Fairchild PT-19 or the Ryan PT-22. The BT-13 was less forgiving than the primary trainers, introducing the feel of a more powerful and complex aircraft. Training included formation flight, instrument flying and aerobatics. The BT-13 was popularly known as the "Vultee Vibrator" by its student and instructor pilots, due to the fact that it had a tendency to shake quite violently as it approached its stall speed


Almost every U.S. pilot flew the basic course in the BT-13. Student pilots went from the BT-13 to the advanced phase in the North American AT-6 (Army) or SNJ (Navy) Texan for fighter pilot training or to twin engine training for bombers or transport type aircraft (AT-10, for example).


BT-13 Specifications:


Engine -

Standard BT-13A - 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial piston engine. Our aircraft is unique in that it is powered by a 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial piston engine.

Fuel capacity -

Internal fuel 120 US gal

Dimensions -


42 ft 0 in


28 ft 10 in


11 ft 6 in

Operational weights –

Empty; maximum take-off:

3,375 lbs

4,496 lbs

Performance -

Maximum level speed 'clean':

156 kts. (180 mph) at optimum altitude

Normal cruise:

117 kts. (135 mph)

Maximum range:

630 nm (725 miles)

Service ceiling:

21,650 ft. (6600 m)

Armament -




Capital Wing
12499 Beverly Ford Road
Brandy Station, Virginia 22714
For more information call: 540-402-1818

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