The T-6 is a development of the Pilatus PC-9, modified significantly by Beechcraft in order to enter the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) competition in the 1990s. A similar arrangement between Pilatus and British Aerospace had also been in place for a Royal Air Force competition in the 1980s, although this competition selected the Short Tucano. The aircraft was designated under the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system and named for the decades-earlier T-6 Texan.
The T-6A was introduced to Moody Air Force Base and Randolph Air Force Base in 2000-2001, and the Air Force awarded the full rate T-6 production contract in December 2001. Laughlin Air Force Base began flying the T-6 in 2003 where it is now the primary basic trainer, replacing the T-37. Vance Air Force Base completed transitioning from the T-37 to the T-6 in 2006. That year, Columbus Air Force Base began its transition, and retired its last T-37 in April 2008. The last active USAF T-37Bs were retired at Sheppard Air Force Base in the Summer of 2009.
The T-6A also replaced all T-34Cs with Training Air Wing SIX at Naval Air Station Pensacola in early 2005. T-6Bs began replacing T-34Cs as the primary trainer with Training Air Wing FIVE at NAS Whiting Field in the late summer of 2009 and the installation will operate both aircraft as it transitions over the next few years. Training Air Wing FOUR at NAS Corpus Christi will continue to operate the T-34C as the primary trainer, with the arrival of the T-6B scheduled for that location in 2012. On 18 May 2010 Training Wing 5 had the first training flight of a T-6B.