The T-6 ranks as one of the most produced aircraft models in the world. The legendary training aircraft is also one of the most important designs in the history of military aviation. Today, the single-engine low wing aircraft with the elegant flying properties is one of the most popular warbirds at air shows.
When the Second World War broke out, demand for high performance training aircraft increased in the USA and the countries of the Commonwealth. North American Aviation had already developed the T-6 on the basis of its NA-16 prototype, which was launched in 1935. Equipped with Pratt & Whitney’s very first radial engine, it could not, of course, match the speed of fighter jets; yet the aircraft was superior in terms of manoeuvrability, and presented an ideal challenge for aspiring fighter pilots. North American duly teamed up with aircraft manufacturers in allied countries to ramp up production massively: by the end of the war, 15,495 aircraft were being manufactured.
Within the United States Army Air Forces, the T-6 was nicknamed the ‘Texan’ after the North American Aviation production facility in Dallas; the Royal Air Force elevated the aircraft’s moniker to ‘Harvard’, most likely to underline the elite status of the trainer with the tandem cockpit. As for trainee pilots, they reverently and aptly dubbed the T-6 the ‘pilot maker’. The majority of allied fighter pilots would learn their craft in a T-6. The air forces of over 60 nations would subsequently avail of its services – including the Austrian Armed Forces, which had 10 T-6 aircraft in service between 1959 and 1971.
The T-6 of the Flying Bulls fleet was produced for the USAAF in 1942 by Canadian aerospace manufacturer Noorduyn Aviation. Shortly after completion, it was handed over to
the Royal Canadian Air Force, where it led a reservist existence before transferring to private ownership in 1946.
The T-6 was then sold to the Swiss Air Force in 1947, and spent the next 20 years serving its original purpose by training Swiss fighter pilots. On withdrawal from service, the grand old lady founds its way to Germany via various private owners. Late in the 1970s, it was acquired by Walter Eichhorn, who was only six years old than the aircraft itself. For 44 years, he would perform airborne acrobatics in the T-6. Until 1991, the unmistakable sound of the T-6 engine could be heard as he performed solo at numerous air shows. In 1992, his son Toni helped form a double act, also in a T-6, and the ‘Flying Eichhorns’ quickly became a firm feature of the aerobatic scene. When, at the age of 84, Walter was denied permission to fly aeroplanes weighing more than two tons, he climbed into his Harvard one last time to fly it to Salzburg and deliver it into safe hands. Though he piloted some 60 different aircraft over the course of his career – thereby gaining admission to the exalted circle of ‘Living Legends of Aviation’ – the T-6 remained his true love, and one which will continue to be shared with the general public through the work of the Flying Bulls.