VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Before Vance Air Force Base even had an official name, its mission has always been the same -- to train the world's best pilots to defend the nation.
The very first aircraft used to train pilots here, the Vultee "Valiant,” made its debut in 1941. The Vultee BT-15 was the first Valiant to arrive, followed later by the Vultee BT-13.
The BT-15, with a 450-horsepower Wright engine, was used until the summer of 1944. The BT-13 was equipped with a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine. The two models served almost exclusively as the basic trainer for all aircrews training in the United States during the war.
The Valiant, a single-engine, low-wing model was heavier, faster and more powerful than the aircraft students flew during their primary training, such as PT-13, PT-17, and PT-19. With a 42-foot wingspan and a top speed of 180 miles per hour, the Valiant towered and powered over its training predecessors. However, all that power manifested itself in deafening ways.
The roar of an airplane is often considered to be the sound of freedom, but to the young men flying the Valiant the sound of freedom was often muddled by the less patriotic rattle of the glass canopy and the high pitch squeal of the two-position propeller.
Because of its violent shaking, the Valiant was dubbed “The Vibrator” by the students bumping along inside the trembling aircraft.
Despite its monstrous noise and clunky-looking design, the Valiant was surprisingly agile. It served as a great transition aircraft for pilots advancing on to fighters.
Vance Air Force Base’s current historian, Daniel LeClair, who holds a doctorate in History, said the Valiant was described as “heavy and stable,” and generally thought to be ideal for formation flying.
“It’s a single engine aircraft and most fighters were single-engine aircraft with a couple of exceptions during the war,” said LeClair. “Transitioning from the Valiant into a single-engine fighter seemed like a natural progression.”
Today, Vance continues to train the world’s best pilots, flying the T-6A Texan II, the T-1A Jayhawk and the T-38C Talon.
But in memory of those important flying machines of the past, a variety of historical Vance aircraft are currently displayed outside Vance’s main gate. Among those aircraft sits a BT-13 Valiant, no longer vibrating, but resting in static tranquility.