BEECHCRAFT AT-11 AND THE SNB-1 KANSAN
The Army Air Force AT-11 and the U.S. Navy SNB-1 Kansan are advanced twin engine trainers that were used to train Bombardiers, Gunners and Navigators during and after WWII. Over 90% of all of the Bombardiers in WWII trained in this glass-nosed version of the famous Twin Beech.
This is a wartime ad showing an AT-11 being loaded with practice bombs on the ramp at Victorville Army Air Force Base in California. Of interest is the early Beechcraft turret which is commonly mistaken for a Navigators blister.
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1943 Beechcraft SNB-1 bureau number 51043. (Photo by Paul Minert)
This is the first page of the flight manual for the AT-11 and the SNB-1 (dated July 25, 1944).
A student bombardier checks the arming wires on the M38A-2 practice bombs in the bomb bay of the AT-11. He is standing on the cover over the secret C-1 autopilot.
In the bombardier training mode the AT-11 carried ten 100 pound M38A2 practice bombs or ten 100 pound general purpose high explosive bombs. The typical crew consisted of a pilot, the instructor and two students. Each student would take a turn in the nose behind the Norden or Sperry bombsight as the instructor looked on from his right side. Each student would drop one bomb per run for five separate bombing runs and would then trade places with the other student. The student who was not at the bombsight would use a 35mm motion picture camera to film each bomb run through a hole in the floor to record the other students bombing scores.
This is a colorized wartime photo showing how the Norden Bombsight was loaded into the Bombardiers compartment in the AT-11. There are several accounts of this nose hatch coming open in flight as the hapless instructor or student would follow the same trajectory as the bombs. This is why the crew members were to wear their parachutes at all times as demonstrated by this student,
The Norden Bombsight in the nose of an AT-11/SNB-1. This is a fully operational M-9B model with an X-1 reflex sight and an Automatic Bombing Computer installed in the nose of SNB-1 Bureau Number 51043 (N68635) Photo taken in 1994.
In the gunnery training mode either a single 30 caliber motor driven turret (Made by Beechcraft and used on early AT-11's) or a twin 30 caliber electrically powered turret (made by Crocker Wheeler and used on later AT-11's and all SNB-1's) was installed in the top of the rear fuselage. There was also a tunnel gun which consisted of a flexible mounted 30 caliber machine gun in the lower rear fuselage. Two student gunners would man the turret and the tunnel gun as an instructor watched over them.
The AT-11 was set up just like a miniature version of the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24 Liberator. The advanced trainer was supposed to simulate the same environment as the full sized bombers. Tied into the Norden bombsight was the same C-1 autopilot that was used on all of the bombers of WWII. It was through this autopilot that the Bombardier could fly the aircraft through the bombsight.
A Navigator's position was located in the right rear fuselage (in the AT-11 only) which allowed for crew coordination training between the Pilot, the Bombardier, the Gunner and the Navigator. 192 AT-11's were configured with the Navigators station at the factory. Beech also made a Navigators station kit so aircraft in the field could be modified should the operating authority choose to do so. Most all of the AT-11's that I have seen show signs of this modification either from the factory or the field mod. The AT-11 was equipped with an oxygen system to allow for high altitude missions. The AT-11 and the SNB-1 had an SCR-283 radio set for communication between the tower and other aircraft.
This is a student navigator at his work station in the AT-11. The table could be folded out of the way for easier entry. Notice the D-12 master Navigators compass mounted on the seat between the Navigators legs. The oxygen bottles are just visible at the lower left corner.
The Beechcraft AT-11 was so successful that it was used by many other Air Forces during WWII including the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Brazilian Air Force. The Chinese Air Force reportedly used the AT-11 in combat.
Two AT-11's belonging to Loren Buss of Colorado and the Lundell family from Arizona and my SNB-1(the one with the turret) in formation over Paso Robles. Photo taken by Paul Minert
Although 1584 were made in WWII, the AT-11 is a bit rare today. The few that did survive were saved because of their post war uses. Many were pressed into an aerial photography role, while others were converted into miniature airliners. Several AT-11's became the first air tankers or Borate bombers in California.
There are a few AT-11's that are going through extensive restorations to their original factory configuration. There is one such restoration that was recently completed and stands head and shoulders above the rest. Thanks to Ray Plote of Lake in the Hills, Illinois a beautiful AT-11 has emerged from the ashes. He and a dedicated crew restored a converted aerial photography AT-11 back to its factory fresh condition. Almost every skin has been replaced and this aircraft truly looks like she just rolled out of the factory doors.
I was given the distinct honor of test flying this beautiful Beech on her first post restoration flight. I would like to thank Mr. Plote for bestowing that great privilege upon me. Special thanks are also due to Dan, Don, Whip and all of the others who helped restore this AT-11 to her former glory. Their work has garnered the attention of others as well. She recently won the Best Trainer Award at both of EAA's Sun and Fun and the Oshkosh Airventure convention in 2002.Well done guys!
The AT-11 and the SNB-1 are one of my favorite airplanes to fly and to own. I have had several AT-11's over the years and I believe that they are at the top of the Twin Beech family. There aren't many aircraft in which you can sit in a glass nose. The co-pilots seat gives an unobstructed view through the same nose. The gun turret is another spectacular seat as you have a 360 degree view on top of the aircraft. Whether you have a military stock interior or a comfortable overstuffed passenger cabin, the AT-11 delivers great performance at a very affordable price. You can take a bunch of your friends or family along in an attention getting Warbird at under 50 gallons an hour (try that in a B-25 or other bomber). Everyone has a good seat and a good time as well. I have taken hundreds flying in my old SNB-1 and everyone had a blast. I can still hear the people in the nose whooping and hollering with delight over the sounds of two 985's, and they were not on the intercom!
I would like to thank Sam Koskela for giving me this wonderful photograph. He took this at Eagle Field one evening and it is so good that we used it for our header. Thanks Sam!
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THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID FOR OUR COUNTRY!
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