BT-13 'Valiant' first Enid Army Flying School trainer

  • Published
  • By Jim Malachowski
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Historian
Officially activated Nov. 21, 1941, the base was without a name, but generally referred to as the Air Corps Basic Flying School of Enid, Okla. It was not until Feb. 11, 1942, the base was officially named Enid Army Flying School.
The lack of a real name, however, did not slow the mission of the school to train aviation cadets to become aircraft pilots and commissioned officers in the Army Air Corps.
The tranquility of wheat fields surrounding Enid was shattered by the noise of construction machines and the rumblings of scores of silver mechanical monsters clawing their way through the air. That very first aircraft was the Vultee BT-13 "Valiant."
The low-wing, single-engine, basic trainer model had a 42-foot wingspan, a 450-horsepower engine and a top speed of 156 miles per hour. Quickly nicknamed the "Vibrator" by the pilots who flew it for the way the glass canopy tended to vibrate and rattle in flight, most flying cadets considered the aircraft to be the noisiest aircraft ever built.
A Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine powered the BT-13, however demand for the engines outpaced supply in the early stages of World War II. To counter the shortage, nearly 1,700 Vibrators were produced in 1941 and '42 with a slightly more powerful Wright R-975 engine. They were designated as BT-15s. More than 270 BT-13s and 15s flew from the Enid Flying School from January 1942 to mid-1946 in the basic-trainer role.
Finally finishing their simulator work in link trainers, cadets climbed in to the cockpit for their first flight with an instructor pilot. Compared with the primary trainers in use at the time, the BT-13 was considerably larger and more complex. It not only had a more powerful engine, it was also faster and heavier. It also had a spacious front cockpit seemingly filled with a bewildering multitude of instruments and controls to the novice student.
The first controls the instructor pointed out were the prop pitch control, and two green wheels in the lower left side of the cockpit. The first was the elevator trim tab and the second one controlled the flaps.
Typical advice on an all too common problem sounded like this: "If you have to go around, remember to roll the trim tab cranked forward fast! If you don't, when you apply power, the BT will climb at once and stall. You will discover it's impossible to hold enough forward pressure on the stick to keep the nose down. In all probability, the BT will roll, and you'll find yourself on your back on the field surrounded by a busted airplane."
As flying progressed, cadets found the BT's simplicity and straightforward design successfully prepared them for advanced training in the North American T-6 "Texan" and the Martin TB-25 "Invader" after graduation.
More pilots trained basically in the BT-13 than any other aircraft during World War II. The basic phase of training at the Enid Flying School alone graduated 8,169 students during the war. Cadets flew the Valiant around Enid, Carrier, Breckinridge, Waukomis and Drummond in addition to cross-country flights until her sunset flight in mid-1946. All Vultee BT-13s were retired after the war and most were destroyed.
The BT-13 on display in the airpark was built by the Vultee Aircraft Company of Downey, Calif., and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps on Jan. 12, 1942. It served as a basic trainer at Perrin Army Air Field, Sherman, Texas, from 1942 to August 1945 then transferred to Mustang Field, El Reno, Okla., and disposed of as surplus. Rescued and restored, the aircraft has proudly represented the classic BT-13 basic-trainer since October 1985.