The Northrop A-17A Nomad

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Backgrounder / September 16, 2013

The Northrop A-17A Nomad was a military development of the commercially successful Northrop Gamma.  First delivered in 1935 to the United States Army Air Corps as a two-seat, light attack bomber, the Northrop A-17A was essentially obsolete by the time the Second World War erupted. 

Notwithstanding this fact, in June 1940, the Royal Air Force purchased 93 surplus A-17As for various training roles. The RCAF subsequently acquired a small number of those Nomads, as they became known in British service, exclusively for training purposes as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  They were never used operationally overseas. 

Initially, the aircraft were used at Camp Borden, Ontario, (now Canadian Forces Base Borden) to check out qualified civilian pilots who were offering their services to the air force.  In 1941, the aircraft were modified to a target-towing configuration to allow for air-to-air gunnery training at various schools in Quebec and Ontario. 

In addition to be used by the RCAF in Canada, the Royal Norwegian Air Force trained some aircrew in exile on the A-17A at airports in Toronto and Muskoka, Ontario.  The RCAF Nomads were retired with the cessation of hostilities.  The Nomads were not particularly outstanding aircraft, but they did provide reliable training service logging an average of approximately 3,000 flying hours each in their four and a half years of service.

Service details

  • Model: A-17A
  • Marks: Mk I
  • Role: Trainer
  • Entered RCAF service: 1940
  • Ended RCAF service: 1945
  • Number: 32 in service with RCAF


Manufacturer Northrop
Crew/passengers Crew of two – pilot and observer in tandem
Powerplant One 825 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Junior R-1535-13 radial engine
Performance Maximum speed: 220 mph (354 km/h)
Service ceiling 19,400 feet (5,915 metres)
Range 730 miles (1,175 kilometres)
Maximum take-off 7,543 pounds (3,421 kilograms)
Empty weight 5,106 pounds (2,316 kilograms)
Maximum take-off weight 7,543 pounds (3,421 kilograms)
  • Span – 47 feet, 9 inches (14.55 metres);
  • Length – 31 feet, 8 inches (9.65 metres);
  • Height – 12 feet (3.66 metres);
  • Wing area – 362 square feet (33.63 square metres)
Armament Provisions for five 0.30 calibre machine guns (four in the wings and one on a flexible mount in the rear cockpit) plus four 100-pound (45 kilogram) bombs.
Cost Unknown



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