photo: Tom McManus

It may be hard to believe, but in 1961 an open-cockpit biplane, designed in 1934, still remained in active service with the US Navy.  That year the US Naval Academy in Annapolis retired the last of the N3N-3 "Yellow Peril" primary trainers.

The N3N design had its beginnings in 1934, with the first models delivered to the Navy in 1936.  Built at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, the N3N was configured both as a land plane and a seaplane.  The NAF was the only factory where aircraft and engines were built together...

The Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF), located at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, was established by the United States Navy in 1918 in order to assist in solving the problem of aircraft supply which faced the Navy Department upon the entry of the U.S. into World War I.  The Armyís requirements for an enormous quantity of planes created a decided lack of interest among aircraft manufacturers in the Navyís requirements for a comparatively small quantity of aircraft.  The Navy Department concluded that it was necessary to build a Navy-owned aircraft factory in order to assure a part of its aircraft supply, to obtain cost data for the Departmentís guidance in its dealings with private manufacturers, and to have under its own control a factory capable of producing experimental designs.  The NAF ended aircraft production in early 1945.

The N3N featured a unique, all-metal frame construction.  The front of the aircraft back to the firewall in the front cockpit and the vertical stabilizer were metal covered and the rest of the aircraft was fabric covered. Other unique features were a single integral top wing and five removable panels on the left side of the fuselage giving maintenance personnel easy access for inspections.

The N3N-3, which sported a revised tail shape and, with the exception of the first thirty produced, lacked the cowl ring of its predecessor, the N3N-1, served as a primary trainer during World War II.  In addition, four of these aircraft were assigned to the Coast Guard during the war.

The name "Yellow Peril" was not the official name of this aircraft but a generic name applied to several primary trainers including the Boeing/Stearman NS and N2S Kaydets.  The name originated from the fact that all naval trainers had been painted orange-yellow since 1917 as well as from its use in Naval Aviation Reserve bases where prospective Aviation Cadets received their first training.  In the event that a cadet failed to solo within a certain period of time, he was in "Peril" of not being appointed an Aviation Cadet.

Most were sold as surplus after the war, but a few of the seaplane version were sent to the Naval Academy where they remained in use for the next sixteen years.  When retired by the USNA in 1961 they had outlasted the famous Stearman's service record by 13 years... the last of those biplanes were deleted from the government inventory in 1948!

The N3N was very similar to its successor, the Boeing/Stearman N2S Kaydet, which replaced it in the latter part of the war as the Navy's primary trainer, and the two are often mistaken for each other. 



There four major distinguishing features of the N3N versus the N2S:

    1     The N3N has a more rounded and taller vertical fin and rudder.

    2     The N3N has one strut connecting the vertical fin to the horizontal stabilizer, while the N2S has two flying wires.

    3     The N3N has ailerons on the upper and lower wings with an aileron interconnect strut between them; the N2S only has ailerons on the lower wing.

    4     The N3N has 30 x 5 Bendix wheels compared to the much smaller wheels and wider tires on the N2Ss.


The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's N3N-3 was acquired in 1996 and depicts the paint scheme of a typical US Navy training squadron.


Engine:  Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine of 450 HP
Originally Wright R-760-2 of 235 HP
Wing Span:  34 Feet

Wing Area:  305 Sq Ft

Length: 25 Feet, 6 Inches

Empty Weight:  2,090 lbs

Maximum Weight:  2,802 (wheels), 2,940 (floats)

Height:  10 Feet, 10 Inches

Maximum Speed:  126 MPH

Normal Cruising Speed:  90 MPH

Service Ceiling:  11,500 Feet

Rate of Climb:  800 FPM

Crew:  2 (Instructor and Student)

Normal Range:  470 Miles

Armament:  None





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