Naval Aircraft Factory

The Naval Aircraft Factory was a department of the U.S. Navy that manufactured aircraft for the service between 1918 and 1945.  It was located at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania in a plant building that still exists and is now used for warship design.

The NAF produced several aircraft designs of its own and many of other manufactures, mostly in limited quantities.  The one aircraft that it produced in significant numbers, and for which it is primarily remembered, is the N3N trainer biplane.


First flown in August 1935, the N3N was a two-seat biplane trainer designed by the NAF for primary training of Navy pilots.  Roughly comparable to the Boeing PT-17, it has the distinction of being the last biplane used by the U.S. armed forces, the last examples being retired in 1961.  Besides the U.S. Navy, the type was used in limited numbers by Paraguay.  A total of 997 was built.

A distinctive feature of the N3N was its interchangeable landing gear that allowed it to be relatively easily converted between wheels and floats for use as a land- or seaplane.

Surplus N3Ns were sold onto the civilian market where they found a variety of uses such as crop dusting and leisure flying.

N3N-3 1901

An early N3N, built in 1940, is maintained and flown as N44907 by an owner on Long Island, New York.  The paint scheme with the vertical tail stripes and red dot in the center of the roundel, would be accurate for a Navy trainer of the prewar period, such as this one.

N3N-3 2782

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum‘s N3N, N44718, is shown here on static display at the museum’s annual airshow.

N3N-3 2827

Yanks Air Museum has a large collection of unrestored N3N projects, but has also completed at least two beautiful restorations.  This one is registered N45280.

N3N-3 2865

This beautiful N3N, registered to an Ohio owner as N773N, appears at Midwestern airshows accompanied by its interchangeable float undercarriage. 

N3N-3 2892

Registered N120BH, N3N serial 2892 is displayed on its floats at the Military Aviation Museum.

N3N-3 N582WH

The Ohio owner of N582WH often displays it at airshows alongside its float equipment to illustrate the N3N’s interchangeable wheel-float feature.  The post-1947 U.S. insignia look odd on a 1930s biplane design, but are quite plausible given how long after the war a few N3Ns remained in Navy service.

Modeling Notes (with links to targeted eBay searches):  Model kits of N3Ns are limited to a couple of obscure, expensive and hard-to-find 1/72 resin kits by RVHP and Karaya.