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Naval Aircraft Factory N3N (Yellow Peril)

Biplane Primary Trainer Aircraft

United States | 1936

"The Naval Aircraft Factory N3N primary trainer biplane served the United States Navy prior to - and during - World War 2 and into the Cold War period that followed."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/12/2022 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) was an industrial center in Philadelphia founded by the United States Navy (USN) in 1917 to bolster the American war effort during World War 1 (1914-1918). This occurred during a time when the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) received much of the manufacturing attention from aerospace industry, leaving the Navy to fill its own requirements and supply gaps on its own. The NAF, therefore, provided its own solutions to ongoing issues and even delved into service-centric experimental designs for possible adoption later on. The industrial park went on to serve the Navy into World War 2 (1939-1945) after which point it was shut down with the cessation of hostilities.

The N3N was the last biplane aircraft to be procured by the United States Navy.

One of the storied products to emerge from the facility was the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N - a primary trainer of biplane planform seating two and developed into both land-based (wheeled) and maritime / overwater (floatplane-equipped) versions. A first flight was recorded in August of 1935 and service introduction occurred in 1936. From 1935 until 1942, some 997 examples were built and these went on to serve into 1961 before the series was given up for good.

Due to its primarily yellow paint scheme, the aircraft came to be known by the nickname of "Yellow Peril" or "Yellow Bird" to American naval aviators during her time in the air.

In service, the N3N succeeded an outgoing, aging crop of NY-2 and NY-3 wire-braced biplane aircraft built by Consolidated. It first emerged in prototype form as the XN3N-1 and this model carried the Wright J-5 air-cooled radial piston engine at its nose for propulsion power and was completed in extruded aluminum provided by ALCOA (ALuminum COmpany of America). After a successful testing phase, the Navy ordered 179 airframes to fulfill its requirement and first-run units were completed using left-over materials from abandoned Navy observation airships. Before the last aircraft of this first batch was completed, the design had shifted to the Wright R-760-2 "Whirlwind" air-cooled radial piston engine for greater power and enhanced performance. The engines were locally-built by the Navy under license.

Not needing to reinvent the wheel, NAF engineers utilized a design arrangement that was wholly-conventional. The biplane mainplanes were staggered and braced through N-type struts and cabling. The radial engine sat with its cylinders exposed at the front end of the airframe driving a two-bladed propeller unit. The crew of two sat in tandem, open-air cockpits over midships and the fuselage tapered towards the tail, ultimately capped by a rounded vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes.

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The land-based version had a tail-dragger undercarriage for ground-running that included two main legs under center mass and a tailwheel at the rear. The floatplane-equipped version has a large floatplane under centerline and smaller floats under each lower wing member for balancing on the water.

Dimensions included a length of 25.5 feet, a wingspan of 34 feet, and a height of 10.9 feet. Empty weight was 2,090 lb against a gross rating of 2,792 lb. Performance-wise, the biplane could reach speeds of 126 miles-per-hour, fly up to a ceiling of 15,200 feet, and out to a range of 470 miles.

In practice, the aircraft were well-received. They proved to be robust, agile, and reliable for the purposes of training and soldiered on even beyond the tumultuous war years into the 1950s and 1960s. Due to post-war surplus, the design fell into private hands and was used as both a crop-duster in agriculture and as a sporting racer / aerobatic performer - such was its versatility.

Beyond the XN3N-1 one-off prototype that started it all, the series included the N3N-1 production form with its Wright J-5 radial of 220 horsepower, 179 airframes being built to the standard. The XN3N-2 was another one-off prototype and this carried the Wright R-760-96 radial of 240 horsepower for testing purposes. The XN3N-3 was another one-off prototype pulled from the N3N-1 production stock for testing.

The definitive form, however, was the N3N-3 of which 816 examples were built in all. This version carried the Wright R-760-2 "Whirlwind 7" series radial engine of 235 horsepower and is the model that went on to make a name for itself in service and in its post-service lives. The USN utilized the design for its Midshipmen's Curriculum even into the 1960s.

The aircraft also operated with elements of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 Biplane Primary Trainer Aircraft.
1 x Wright R-760-2 "Whirlwind" air-cooled radial piston engine developing 235 horsepower driving a two-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
127 mph
205 kph | 111 kts
Max Speed
109 mph
175 kph | 94 kts
Cruise Speed
15,207 ft
4,635 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
469 miles
755 km | 408 nm
Operational Range
900 ft/min
274 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 Biplane Primary Trainer Aircraft.
25.5 ft
7.77 m
O/A Length
34.0 ft
(10.35 m)
O/A Width
10.8 ft
(3.30 m)
O/A Height
2,094 lb
(950 kg)
Empty Weight
2,789 lb
(1,265 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Notable series variants as part of the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N (Yellow Peril) family line.
N3N - Base Series Designation.
X3N3-1 - Original, one-off prototype form.
XN3N-2 - One-off prototype fitted with Wright R-760-96 radial of 240 horsepower.
XN3N-3 - One-off prototype pulled fromN3N-1 stock.
N3N-1 - Original production model; fitted with Wright J-5 radial of 220 horsepower; 179 units built.
N3N-3 - Definitive production model with Wright R-760-2 Whirlwind 7 series radial of 235 horsepower; 816 units built.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N (Yellow Peril). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 997 Units

Contractor(s): Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 150mph
Lo: 75mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (127mph).

Graph Average of 113 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N (Yellow Peril)
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Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Naval Aircraft Factory N3N (Yellow Peril) Biplane Primary Trainer Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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