In 1934 the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia was tasked to manufacture a new primary trainer for the U.S. Navy. Following successful tests, this little biplane trainer was built in both land and seaplane versions. The Navy initially ordered 179 N3N-1 models, and the factory began producing more than 800 N3N-3 models in 1938. U.S. Navy primary flight training schools used N3Ns extensively throughout World War II. A few of the seaplane version were retained for primary training at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1961 they became the last biplanes retired from U.S. military service.
This N3N-3 was transferred from Cherry Point to Annapolis in 1946, where it served as a seaplane trainer. It was restored and displayed at the Naval Academy Museum before being transferred here.
In December 15, 1922, the navy developed specifications for a float biplane for instruction in flying and gunnery. It had a weight limit of 1,815 pounds. This aircraft was designated as the N2N and would be similar to the Consolidated NY-2s and NY-3s still in service. Following the production of this aircraft through 1929, the Navy requirement for a new primary flight traininer for the 1930s prompted the development of an important series of biplanes that served from 1938 through World War II. The N3N model, manufactured by the Navy Aircraft Factory (NAF) in Philadelphia answered the need. The N3N was used extensively as the primary trainer until the end of WWII. Outwardly, this aircraft appeared similar to the Consolidated NY-2 and NY-3. The major difference in the N3N was its structure, which featured riveted extruded aluminum fuselage construction with removable side panels for ease of inspection and maintenance. The wings, also constructed internally of all metal, were covered with fabric like the fuselage and tail.
Following successful tests at Philadelphia and Anacostia, as both a land-plane and a single-float seaplane, the Navy ordered production with a 220 horsepower Wright J-5 radial engine. The prototype, US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) Number 9991, went through service trials during February and March 1936. The trials recommended minor modifications, leading to the creation of another version, the XN3N-2. The NAF built one hundred and seventy-nine N3N-1s, with the first one delivered in June 1936. A fourth N3N-1 (BuAer # 0020) was modified as another prototype, XN3N-3. These two aircraft were fitted with navy built versions of the 240 hp Wright J-6-7 (R-760-96) engine, which was the same as that used in the NY-3s since 1929. The N3N-3, of which 816 were built, differed slightly from the -1. It had a redesigned vertical tail and a single strut landing gear. The N3N-1 was produced with a distinctive anti-drag ring around the engine, but the N3N-3s did not have this feature.
The N3N's nickname, "Yellow Peril", came from the aircraft's propensity for "ground looping" on landing. The narrow landing gear, only 72 1/2 inches from the centerline of each tire, did not provide much lateral stability at higher touchdown speeds. Many naval aviation cadets learned about this feature the hard way during primary flight training.
The engine was started by using a hand crank. The crank was inserted and vigorously turned until the inertia flywheel achieved sufficient momentum and the starter T-handle was pulled. Taxiing the N3N required a series of "S" turns because forward visibility was partially blocked by the engine.
Take off in calm winds within 600 feet were normal. A neutral control stick position with full throttle and 2,000 rpm was all that was needed to get the N3N flying. Landings were best-done using the full-stall technique. The N3N was flown over the fence at about 57-60 knots (65-70 mph) and stalled at 44 knots (50 mph) with a full load. Visibility was better from the back seat for landing. Cockpit instrumentation consisted of an altimeter, tachometer, airspeed indicator, compass, turn and bank indicator, and a combination fuel and oil temperature and pressure gauge. The aircraft could climb at 900 feet per minute and cruise at 87 knots (100 mph), at 1800 rpm. Climbing and gliding were accomplished at 65 knots. The aircraft's service ceiling was 15,200 feet (4,632 m). The N3N's great structural integrity allowed for high G turns and pullouts at close to 174 knots (200 mph).
On June 13, 1946, NASM's N3N-3, outfitted with floats, became part of the Naval Academy's training squadron at Annapolis, Maryland. The aircraft continued in this role until the spring of 1960 when it was struck from the Navy's inventory. That fall, the National Air Museum acquired the aircraft. These N3N seaplanes, when retired in 1961, were the last biplanes retired from US military service.