by Jack McKillop

Gerard F. Vultee, for whom the Vultee Aircraft was named, had worked as an engineer at Douglas Aircraft and Lockheed Aircraft before becoming Lockheed's chief engineer in 1928. While at Lockheed, Vultee designed the Lockheed 8 Sirius for Charles and Anne Lindbergh and began design work on a single-engined transport but the Stock Market Crash of 1929 had placed Lockheed in financial trouble and it could not afford to build this new aircraft. Vultee left Lockheed in 1930 and began looking for a financial backer for his transport. Vultee's search ended when he met Errett Lobban Cord in September 1931. Cord, the head of the Cord Corporation, owned two aviation companies, Stinson Aircraft and Lycoming Motors, two automobile companies, Auburn and Dusenberg, and five other engine manufacturers. In early 1931, Cord had founded two airlines and he saw Vultee's high-speed transport as a replacement for the Stinson tri-motors these airlines were operating. In January 1932, Cord formed the Airplane Development Corporation as a subsidiary of the Cord Corporation, with Vultee as chief engineer, to begin work on the Vultee V-1 transport. The company initially used a hangar in Burbank, California but moved to Glendale six months later.

In early 1932, Cord faced labor problems with his airlines pilots and he sold both airlines to American Airways in exchange for seven percent of the stock of American's parent company, the Aviation Corporation. By late 1932, Cord had purchased 30 percent of the stock in the Aviation Corporation and after a bitter stockholder's battle, Cord gained control of the company.

The U.S. Congress passed the Air Mail Act of 1934 which prohibited any air mail contractor from holding an interest in any other aviation enterprise except landing fields. The result was that the Aviation Corporation was required to divest American Airways which was promptly renamed American Airlines. Another result was that the Cord companies were restructured, i.e., the Aviation Manufacturing Company was formed as a division of the Aviation Corporation and the corporate hierarchy was now the Aviation Company-Aviation Manufacturing Company-Airplane Development Company. (Note that none of these companies were named Vultee.) Gerard Vultee was named vice president and chief engineer of the Aviation Manufacturing Company and work began on an attack bomber for export. The facilities at Glendale proved too small for production and the company moved to an abandoned plant in Downey, California in June 1936.

Although Vultee aircraft sold well overseas, the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC), superseded by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, had ignored their aircraft, and in January 1938, Vultee and his wife flew east on a sales trip. While returning to California, Vultee took off from Winslow, Arizona on 29 January, flew into a snowstorm and crashed in the mountains killing both occupants of the aircraft.

E.L. Cord sold his interests in the Aviation Corporation to a syndicate in 1937 which resulted in a number of corporate reorganizations. In November 1937, Vultee was reorganized as the Vultee Aircraft Division of the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation; this was the first time that a company was named Vultee. In 1939, Stinson Aircraft became a division of Vultee and on 14 November 1939, Vultee Aircraft, Incorporated was established to acquire the assets of the Aviation Manufacturing Company making Vultee a subsidiary of the parent company, the Aviation Company. The next major reorganization occurred in November 1941 when Vultee acquired majority ownership of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation. Two boards of directors, headed by the same person, were maintained to control the two companies but this changed on 17 March 1943 when the two companies merged and were renamed the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation with headquarters in San Diego, California. Stinson remained a division of the new company

In 1939, Vultee had begun a design effort on a pursuit aircraft and three training aircraft; one of these trainers was the Model 54. A total of 11,538 Model 54/74/79s were built for the USAAC/USAAF as BT-13-VUs and BT-15-VUs, for the U.S. Navy (USN) as SNVs, and for the Peruvian Air Force.

The Model 54/74/79 basic trainer was a single-engine, two-seat, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear designed as a transition trainer between primary trainers, such as the Stearman N2S Kaydet, q.v., and advanced trainers, such as the North American SNJ Texan, q.v. The aircraft was all metal with metal framed, fabric covered control surfaces, i.e., the elevators, rudder and ailerons; the tandem cockpits, under a continuous transparent canopy, had dual controls. The BT-13/SNVs were powered by a 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine driving a Hamilton-Standard two-position variable-pitch propeller. There was a shortage of R-985 engines in 1941-42 and 1,693 Model 74s were completed with a 450 hp (340 kW) Wright R-975-11 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine; these aircraft were delivered to the USAAF only and were designated BT-15-VUs.

The prototype aircraft was the Model 54A which first flew on 28 July 1939. The first production aircraft was the Model 54D, designated BT-13 by the USAAC; an order for 300 aircraft powered by an R-985-25 engine was placed on 16 September 1939.

The second production aircraft was the Model 74, designated BT-13A by the USAAC/USAAF and SNV-1 by the USN. This aircraft was powered by an R-985-AN-1 engine and an initial order for 2,000 aircraft was placed by the USAAC on 14 April 1941. A total of 6,407 BT-13As were built; 200 BT-13As were transferred to the USN as SNV-1s in 1941 and 1,150 SNV-1s were ordered directly by the USN. The Model 74As were 1,693 BT-15-VUs equipped with the Wright R-975 engine; all were for the USAAF.

The last production versions were the Models 79 and 79A. The Model 79, designated BT-13B by the USAAF, was equivalent to the BT-13A but was powered by an R-985-AN-3 engine and equipped with a 24-volt electrical system; 1,125 of these aircraft were built for the USAAF. On 19 February 1944, the USAAF ordered 650 SNV-2s for the USN; these aircraft, which were identical to the BT-13Bs, were designated Model 79As.

In service, these aircraft earned the nickname Vultee Vibrator due to the vibrations created when it approached its stall speed of 75 mph (121 km/h) clean. The aircraft was underpowered, slow, noisy, unattractive and unforgiving but there is no record of any structural failures causing an accident or crash while in flight.


SNV-1: 1,350 Model 74s, equivalent to the USAAF BT-13A, powered by a 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled, radial engine.

SNV-2: 650 Model 79As, equivalent to the USAAF BT-13B, powered by a 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-3 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled, radial engine.


U.S. Navy

The first SNV-1 flew on 5 August 1941 and was delivered to Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas. By December 1941, there were 35 SNV-1s at both NAS Corpus Christi and NAS Pensacola, Florida. During the war, SNVs were also based at NAS Jacksonville and Miami, and Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Barin Field and Ellyson Field, Florida and NAAS Cabaniss Field and Cuddihy Field, Texas.

The last SNV-2 was delivered on 28 February 1944 and the SNV-1 was declared obsolete in May 1945. The last SNV-2 was removed from the inventory in April 1946.

U.S. Marine Corps (USMC)

The USMC obtained at least four SNV-1s as utility aircraft in 1943. In August 1943, four SNV-1s were assigned to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron Three Hundred Forty Two (VMSB-342) based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina.

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)

The USCG acquired two SNV-1s in 1942 for instrument flying training and utility duties; they remained in service with the USCG until 1945. In early 1943, both aircraft were assigned to Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) Biloxi, Mississippi.


Power Plant: One 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled, radial engine
  SNV-1: R-985-AN1
  SNV-2: R-985-AN3

Wing Span
  SNV-1: 42 feet (12.8 meters)
  SNV-2: 42 feet 2 inches (12.85 meters)

  SNV-1: 28 feet 10 inches (8.79 meters)
  SNV-2: 28 feet 8.5 inches (8.75 meters)

Height: 9 feet 1 inch (2.77 meters)

Wing Area: 239 square feet (22.20 square meters)

Empty Weight
  SNV-1: 2,976 pounds (1,350 kg)
  SNV-2: 3,375 pounds (1,531 kg)

Loaded Weight
  SNV-1: 3,991 pounds (1,810 kg)
  SNV-2: 4,496 pounds (2,039 kg)

Maximum Speed
  SNV-1: 182 mph at 1,400 feet (293 km/h at 427 meters)
  SNV-2: 166 mph at 1,400 feet (267 km/h at 427 meters)

Cruising Speed
  SNV-1: 170 mph at 5,000 feet (274 km/h at 1,524 meters)
  SNV-2: 140 mph at 5,500 feet (225 km/h at 1,676 meters)

Service Ceiling
  SNV-1: 21,000 feet (6,401 meters)
  SNV-2: 16,500 feet (5,029 meters)

Maximum Range: 725 miles (1,191 km)

Armament: None