TodayApril 17, 2022

President George Bush’s The Yellow Peril N3N

President George Bush

To say former President George Bush was gutsy as a young man is an understatement, though, as most youth his age he probably didn’t think so.

President Bush was a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass when pearl harbor was attacked. Like many youths of today, President Bush felt compelled to join the fight. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and began pre-flight training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After preflight training at Chapel Hill, Bush moved on to Wold-Chamberlain Naval Airfield in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he flew solo for the first time in November 1942. His first solo flight was in an N2S-N.

According to the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute, In June 1939, there were only 1,248 active Navy and Marine Corps aviators in the United States. Yet between 1941 and 1945, the U.S. Navy trained nearly 65,000 pilots. The vast majority of these pilots had no prior flight experience and many had never even seen the inside of an aircraft cockpit. Before these novices could master the skills required to fly high-performance fighters or land on a pitching carrier deck they had to gain experience on a variety of small, easily-produced relatively docile, but capable basic trainers. Thrust into the air for the first time, and with instructors, determined to wash out all but the best students, constantly looking over their shoulders (literally).

By March 16, 1936, the prototype N3N, built by the NAF in its Philadelphia factory, had completed it’s flight-testing, begun seven months earlier, at Philadelphia and the Washington Naval Yard, in both landplane and single-float seaplane configurations. Subsequently, the Navy ordered full production with a 220-horsepower Wright J-5 radial engine. The NAF built 179 N3N-1s, with the first delivery occurring in June 1936. Another prototype, the XN3N-3, utilized Navy versions of the 240 hp Wright J-6-7 (R-760-96) engine – in service since 1929. The 816 N3N-3s that NAF built differed slightly from the N3N-1 with a redesigned vertical tail and a single strut landing gear. The N3N-1 had a distinctive anti-drag ring around the engine, but the N3N-3s did not.

The N3N served as the Navy’s primary trainer throughout the second World War. The Navy built the bi-planes out of surplus aluminum and fabric and painted them yellow. Because of the color, the inexperience of the enlisted men flying the planes and the propensity of the plane to ground-loop if mishandled, the N3N became known as “The Yellow Peril”.

Although outwardly similar to its predecessors, the relatively fast and maneuverable N3N incorporated significant changes in its construction, which featured a bolted steel-tube fuselage with removable side panels for ease of inspection and maintenance. The wings also utilized all-metal construction in place of the wood used on earlier models, though the aircraft skin remained fabric.

The engine starts for the N3N required a cumbersome hand-cranking procedure. A member of the groundcrew inserted the crank and vigorously turned it until the inertia flywheel achieved sufficient momentum and the pilot pulled the starter T-handle. Taxiing the N3N on land required a series of “S” turns because the engine partially blocked forward visibility.

While starting was a chore, and landings were troublesome for the novice, takeoffs were reassuringly simple with only a neutral control stick position and full-throttle required to become airborne. The N3N only required 183 meters (600 feet) of runway to lift off in calm winds. The aircraft could climb at 274 meters (900 feet) per minute and cruise at 109 knots ( 100 mph.) The N3Ns service ceiling was 4,632 meters (15,200 feet).

According to Gerald Thomas, CEO of and an old fighter pilot himself, “The N3N was used because it was the only plane we could do inverted spin checkouts in.” Thomas and Bush were on some of the same “strikes” together, though they didn’t know each other.

“In pre-training, we were stationed at elimination bases. They called them elimination bases back then because our status in the Navy was unknown. The elimination bases washed out a lot of people, some for ground school and some for flying ability. Back then you had to learn morse code and navigational skills before you could become a pilot.”

“The enlisted men, at the time, didn’t get insurance until they finished the training program. Once you became an Ensign, or better, the Navy would give you insurance for $10,000, in case something happened to you. If you augered in while in training, the Navy didn’t have to pay the $10,000.”

In Thomas’s “Phylogeny of a Torpedo Pilot” he writes, “My second ride in an airplane took place after I joined the Navy as an aviation cadet. The flight instructor took me up to about 5000 feet in a “Yellow Peril,” rolled the

Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, president george bush
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, president George bush

plane on its back and dove straight for the ground. It took some time for my stomach to catch up. “That, Cadet Thomas,” my instructor stated, “is what a dive-bombing run is like! Do you think you can take it?” I gasped an affirmative through the speaker tube that connected our cockpits, but I wasn’t so sure.”Like most bi-plane trainers, after the war, N3Ns were declared surplus. Many were acquired by civilians for crop dusting, training, or war memorabilia.

The N3N-3, Serial No. 2952 N44839 is a plane that President George H. H. Bush trained in April 1943, while at Wold-Chamberlain Naval Airfield in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The plane is housed at Auburn, CA, and owned by Stewart Wells. It will be on display at the annual airport day, August 20, 2004.

The plane is aptly named, Maryann, suggested by President George H. Bush correspondence

President George H. Bush correspondance
President George H. Bush correspondence
Naval Aircraft Factory “Yellow Peril” N3N-3, Serial No. 2952 N44839
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush


Manufacturer:Naval Aircraft Factory 
Base model:N3N
Nickname:Yellow Peril
Number built:996 
Designation System:U.S. Navy / Marines
Designation Period:1922-1926
Basic role:Trainer
Crew:(2) Instructor & Student
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush


Length:25 6″7.7 m
Height:10 10″3.3 m
Wingspan:3410.3 m
Wingarea:305.0 sq ft28.3 sq m
Empty Weight:2,090 lb947 kg
Gross Weight:2,792 lb1,266 kg
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush


No. of Engines:(1)
Powerplant:680-13 Lycoming engine, nine-cylinder
Horsepower:300 HP
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush


Range:470 miles756 km
Cruise Speed:100 mph  
Max Speed:126 mph109 kt
Climb:800 ft/min243 m/min
Ceiling:15,200 ft4,632 m
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, president george bush
Aviation, N3N, the yellow peril, President George bush

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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