North American P-64/NA-50 – N840
The North American P-64 is often referred to by Warbird lovers as an “export fighter version of the AT-6 Texan”, North American’s ubiquitous WWII trainer. In actuality, the P-64 is similar to, but not the same as the AT-6. The most significant differences include a shorter wing, the aircraft length, and a more powerful engine. The parts for these aircraft, though similar, are not interchangeable.
On 1 Sep 1940, Lewis Waite piloted the P-64 on its first flight. By that time, North American had already built many successful trainers, was building the B-25 Mitchell which became a very successful twin-engine bomber, but had not had much success with their fighter designs. Their fighter efforts would dramatically change with the design of the P-51 Mustang. North American’s model NA-50 (also NA-50A and NA-68), later classified by the USAAF as the P-64, was designed to be a less expensive fighter for export.
The museum’s P-64 has an interesting past. One story has it that as one of the aircraft designated for shipment to Siam, the plane was in Honolulu, Hawaii on 7 Dec 1941. When Siam fell to the Japanese, the aircraft was confiscated by the US Army under provisions of the Neutrality Act, returned to the US and assigned to a training command. Air Force records show the aircraft was acquired directly from NAA, shipped to McClellan Field in California where it was received on 16 Apr 1941. Regardless of how and when it arrived, it was there in 1943 that Col. Hoyt obtained it for his personal use. Jack Canary, a North American Field Service Rep stationed there, was approached by Col. Hoyt concerning the feasibility of an engine change. Hoyt and Canary determined the change was possible which resulted in the slightly different cowling lines of this aircraft. Canary was then transferred and lost track of the aircraft.
At the end of the war, Col. Hoyt was flying the plane to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for disposal when engine trouble forced him down at Demming AFB. The plane was repaired and continued on to Albuquerque. As luck would have it, Jack Canary was in Albuquerque looking for T-6s when he spied the P-64 in the scrap line. He purchased the plane for $800 and it became a part of his Phoenix charter business in 1946. It was painted a snappy red with black trim and used for stunt work and publicity.
In 1949, the aircraft was sold to Charles Barnes and then to the Mexican Light and Power Company for cloud seeding duty. More modifications were made to the plane in addition to those made by Jack Canary. A Wright R1820-60 engine was installed to raise the service ceiling. During 1953, the P-64 could be seen operating from Sky Harbor Airport.
From 1954 until 1964 the history of the aircraft is rather vague. Then in 1963, it caught the eye of Paul Poberezny, President of the EAA, while he was visiting Ray Stits at the Flabob Airport in Riverside, California. By this time, the aircraft had been painted in its present blue and yellow with red and white trim scheme. John Hoak was the owner of the plane and negotiations were initiated to purchase the P-64. Once the sale was concluded, Paul arrived in May of 1964 to ferry the aircraft back to Milwaukee. Ray Stits and his sons prepared the plane for flight with great diligence. Paul was quite concerned how the machine would perform after standing idle for such a long time. After takeoff, backfiring caused Poberezny to abort the flight. He decided to leave the aircraft in California for further repairs and in June of 1964, Bob Dentice delivered the P-64 to Milwaukee. A complete overhaul, under the supervision of Norm Poberezny and Michael Terlizzi, was undertaken to return the plane to tip-top flying condition.
The only survivor of the six Siam bound P-64’s is now on display in the Eagle Hangar of the EAA AirVenture Museum.
Aircraft researched by EAA volunteer John Gates and Tom Lymburn