The North American P-64 is often thought of as an export fighter version of the AT-6 Texan, North American’s ubiquitous World War II trainer. In actuality, while the two aircraft are similar, there are a number of key differences. The P-64 is a slightly smaller airplane, about two feet shorter in length, and with a wingspan that is about five feet shorter than its better-known trainer cousin.
What we now know as the P-64 started life as the NA-68, and first flew in September of 1940. The NA-68 was an upgraded version of the earlier NA-50, which was designed as a low-cost fighter that could be sold for export. Seven NA-50s had been built for the Peruvian Air Force, and six NA-68s were produced for the Royal Thai Air Force, but were never delivered. Those six airplanes were confiscated mid-shipment around the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and their invasion of Thailand the following day. The NA-68s were stripped of their armament, redesignated P-64 (P for “pursuit”) and assigned to a training squadron in Arizona.
At the end of the war, the airplane was flown to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for disposal. As luck would have it, a man named Jack Canary was in Albuquerque looking for T-6s when he spotted the P-64 in the scrap line. He purchased the airplane for $800 and it became a part of his Phoenix-based charter business in 1946. It was painted a snappy red with black trim and used for stunt work and publicity.
In 1949, the aircraft was sold to Charles Barnes and then to the Mexican Light and Power Company for cloud seeding duty. In 1953, it was spotted flying out of Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Arizona, but from 1954 until 1963 the history of the aircraft is rather vague. That’s when it caught the eye of EAA founder Paul Poberezny while he was visiting Ray Stits at the Flabob Airport in Riverside, California. By this time, the aircraft had been painted in its present blue and yellow with red and white trim scheme.
Paul made arrangements to buy the airplane from the owner at the time, John Hoak, and, after a couple of attempts, it was ferried to EAA headquarters in Wisconsin in the summer of 1964. The airplane was overhauled, and, eventually, the engine was upgraded from the original 875-hp Wright engine to the 1,200-hp Wright Cyclone that powers it to this day. Paul debuted the airplane at the EAA convention in Rockford, Illinois, in 1965, and for the next 23 years it was his signature mount as he flew it to air shows and fly-ins around the country. His elegant, graceful aerobatic routines came to symbolize EAA wherever Paul and the pugnacious little fighter went.
Paul retired the airplane for static display in the EAA museum in 1988. Then, in 2013, after extensive efforts by EAA’s aircraft maintenance staff, the P-64 roared to life as Paul fired up its engine one more time. After some additional refurbishment, the airplane was flown in July of 2016, and displayed to an appreciative audience at that summer’s AirVenture Oshkosh convention.