Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 “Yellow Peril” by Karaya

1/72 scale
Kit No. 72005
Cost: $29.99
Decals: By Techmod, three versions – U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, French Navy
Comments: Resin kit with photo etch details for cockpit and windscreen frames, film inserts for instrument panels and windscreens; delicate engraved panel lines and flush rivet detail; no rigging diagram


On Christmas Eve 1935, Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, directed the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to proceed with construction of a prototype for a new primary trainer. The decision came just months after the first aviation cadets, part of a new program to expand the ranks of naval aviators, reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. As the years unfolded all naval aviation cadets, along with their commissioned officer counterparts and enlisted naval aviation pilots, would train on the aircraft King ordered into production that day. When war came to the United States in December 1941, vaulting King to the positions of Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, these were the aviators on the front lines fighting the Axis powers.

The development of the trainer that became known as the N3N received high priority and proceeded swiftly, due to the influx of new trainees coupled with a shortage of trainers. A mock-up was ready by March 1936; by August, the prototype was ready for its maiden flight. As a primary trainer, the airplane was not complex, and included some unique design features, notably aluminum construction, a single integral upper wing, and removable side panels on the left side of the fuselage that allowed for easy inspection of the airplane’s internal structure. The N3N featured a unique, all-metal frame construction. The front of the aircraft back to the firewall in the front cockpit and the vertical stabilizer were metal covered and the rest of the aircraft was fabric covered.

The tail section, with a large rounded vertical stabilizer that was the trainer’s most prominent physical feature, was connected to the fuselage by just four bolts! However, the tail proved to be heavy, affecting the airplane’s performance, and the location of the fuel tank in the middle of the fuselage caused fear of fatalities in the event of crashes, which were common in primary training.

Test pilots soon made a number of recommendations for changes to the design, ranging from lengthening the control sticks by two inches to providing drainage plugs for the main float on the seaplane version of the airplane. Once these modifications were made, they reported that the airplane was satisfactorily controllable, maneuverable, and stable in the air, both as a seaplane and landplane.

The name “Yellow Peril” was not the official name of this aircraft but a generic name applied to several primary trainers including the Boeing/Stearman NS and N2S Kaydets. The name originated from the fact that all naval trainers had been painted orange-yellow since 1917 as well as from its use in Naval Aviation Reserve bases where prospective Aviation Cadets received their first training. In the event that a cadet failed to solo within a certain period of time, he was in “Peril” of not being appointed an Aviation Cadet.

The first production N3N-1s were delivered beginning in June 1936, launching a production run that would total 998 airplanes, the most numerous of which was the N3N-3, which differed from the early versions in the redesign of the tail, removal of the engine cowling, and incorporation of single strut landing gear. What was common to nearly all N3Ns, regardless of version, was the color, which prompted the nickname “Yellow Peril.” Although it was oftentimes applied to all primary trainers with that particular hue, the nickname was most associated with the N3N.

As the first airplanes went into service at NAS Pensacola, flight students and instructors alike looked forward to flying the N3N, which in appearance was much more “cleaned-up” than the NY it was designed to replace in the words of the Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter. Additionally, the N3N boasted a complete set of instruments in each cockpit, an advance over the NY’s air-cooled altimeter and engine gauges, though the rear-windshield of the new trainer was “found so inefficient in shielding the student from windblasts resulting from slips and skids” that NY windshields were put on the rear cockpits of the N3Ns.

Ironically, it would be on the ground that the N3N proved at its most perilous, the long nose of the airplane making visibility difficult during taxiing on the runway.

At peak service, the buzzing of the engines of N3Ns permeated the skies at Navy training stations across America, their distinctive yellow color drawing attention on flight lines and in the air. A generation of naval aviators made milestone flights in them, including their first solos, on the path to the front lines in more advanced combat types. The end of World War II nearly brought an end to the N3N’s flying days, with nearly all of them struck from the Navy’s inventory, many purchased by civilians for use as crop dusters.

However, a small number remained in service, still training young men in Navy blue to fly. Seemingly out of place in the jet age, a collection of seaplane versions of the N3N performed aviation indoctrination for Naval Academy midshipmen from 1946 until their retirement from those duties in 1959. Midshipmen typically made eight flights in the “Yellow Perils,” the hops in the open-cockpit biplanes memorable to all who experienced them in the skies over Annapolis in the swan-song for biplanes in naval aviation.

In 1961, the N3N still remained in active service with the US Navy. But that year the US Naval Academy in Annapolis retired the last of the N3N-3 “Yellow Peril” primary trainers. Upon its retirement from the Academy, the N3N had outlasted the famous Stearman’s service record by 13 years… the last of those biplanes were deleted from the government inventory in 1948!

The N3N was very similar to its successor, the Boeing/Stearman N2S Kaydet, which replaced it in the latter part of the war as the Navy’s primary trainer, and the two are often mistaken for each other.


Engine: Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engine of 450 HP
Originally Wright R-760-2 of 235 HP
Wing Span: 34 Feet
Wing Area: 305 Sq Ft
Length: 25 Feet, 6 Inches
Empty Weight: 2,090 lbs
Maximum Weight: 2,802 (wheels), 2,940 (floats)
Height: 10 Feet, 10 Inches
Maximum Speed: 126 MPH
Normal Cruising Speed: 90 MPH
Service Ceiling: 11,500 Feet
Rate of Climb: 800 FPM
Crew: 2 (Instructor and Student)
Normal Range: 470 Miles
Armament: None

The Kit

Karaya’s Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 “Yellow Peril” is molded in grey resin and consists of 51 resin parts, 11 metal parts on a photo-etch fret, and a sheet from which four clear plastic film inserts must be cut (two for the instrument panels, two for the windscreens). There is very fine engraved panel line and recessed rivet detail on the fuselage, and an internal cockpit frame molded onto the interior fuselage cockpit sidewalls, something this modeler has not encountered before with resin kits, particularly in this scale.

The cockpit assembly includes parts for a fiddly and fragile-looking cockpit cage, so extreme care will be required at an early stage, perhaps moreso than usual when handling small resin parts. The cockpit is fairly detailed, individual control yokes, rudder pedals, and photo-etch parts for what may be throttle levers, plus the instrument panels both of which have film inserts for the dials. The upper wing is a single part, and the two lower wings have well-machined locator pins which actually line up with holes in the wing roots (such is often a sporting proposition with resin kits).

The two-bladed propeller will present something of a challenge, as the propeller blades are to be individually mounted onto a central hub, and care will be required for proper alignment. There is a detailed seven-cylinder radial engine, and the elevators are two parts each, allowing their flaps, along with the separately mounted rudder, to be positioned as the modeler desires. For some reason, the instructions skip any visual reference cementing on the kit’s tail wheel, but it is clearly visible in the final illustration in which the main landing gear and propeller are added. The instructions also include a painting guide but do not reference any manufacturer, and is there no rigging diagram. Some online research for good photos of the N3N will solve the latter omission.


Decals are provided for a World War II era U.S. Navy version in overall yellow with broad red stripes on the upper and lower wings as well as the rear fuselage, and an insignia blue rudder. This aircraft was reputedly the trainer in which former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush qualified as a Navy pilot prior to flying an Avenger torpedo bomber in the Pacific during the war.

A Yellow Peril at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Parris Island base during 1942. Note the conspicuous rigging lines.

The second version is for a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft, now based at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas. This version calls for an aluminum or natural metal airframe with a yellow upper wing and yellow elevators, a yellow forward section for the vertical tail, and an insignia blue rudder (although only the top quarter need be painted, as the remainder is to be covered by a decal of red and white vertical stripes).

The third version for the French Navy features no illustration and the instructions do not otherwise refer to these markings.


A well-detailed kit that will provide an excellent addition to any modeler’s WWII line-up. Be prepared to do a little research for those rigging lines.


  • National Naval Aviation Museum
  • Mid-Atlantic Air Museum


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