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Built to replace the Consolidated NY-2 and NY-3, the N3N was successfully tested as both a conventional airplane and a seaplane. The seaplane used a single float under the fuselage and floats under the outer tips of the lower wing. The conventional airplane used a fixed landing gear. The prototype XN3N-1 was powered by a Wright J-5radial engine. An order for 179 production aircraft was received. Near the end of the first production run the engine was replaced with the Wright R-760-2 Whirlwind radial. The aircraft is constructed using Alcoas's extrudedaluminum, with bolts and rivets, rather than the more common welded steel tubing fuselages. Early production models used aluminum stringers formed for cancelled airship construction orders.
NAF N3N-3 flown privately in Florida in 1972
The N.A.F. built 997 N3N aircraft beginning in 1935. They included 179 N3N-1s and 816 N3N-3s, plus their prototypes. Production ended in 1942, but the type remained in use through the rest of World War II. The N3N was the last biplane in US military service - the last (used by the U.S. Naval Academy for aviation familiarization) were retired in 1959. The N3N was also unique in that it was an aircraft designed and manufactured by an aviation firm wholly owned and operated by the U.S. government (the Navy, in this case) as opposed to private industry. For this purpose, the U.S. Navy bought the rights and the tooling for the Wright R-760 series engine and produced their own engines. These Navy-built engines were installed on Navy-built airframes.
According to Trimble, "The N3N-3, sometimes known as the Yellow Bird for its distinctive, high-visibility paint scheme, or less kindly, Yellow Peril for the jeopardy in which student aviators often found themselves, showed itself to be rugged, reliable, and generally forgiving to student pilots."
Four N3N-3s were delivered to the United States Coast Guard in 1941. Postwar, many surviving aircraft were sold on the US civil aircraft market and bought for operation by agricultural aerial spraying firms and private pilot owners. A number are still (as of 2014) active in the USA.
N3N production in 1937
First prototype aircraft, Bureau of Aeronautics number 9991.
Two-seat primary trainer biplane, powered by a 220-hp (164-kW) Wright J-5 radial piston engine. 179 were built.
One prototype only (Bureau number 0265) powered by a 240-hp (179-kW) Wright R-760-96 radial piston engine.
One production N3N-1 (0020) converted into a 'dash three' prototype.
Two-seat primary trainer biplane, powered by a 235-hp (175-kW) Wright R-760-2 Whirlwind 7 radial piston engine. 816 built.