Officials of the British Air Commission acknowledged that a plan is already in operation which is designed to improve the maintenance and servicing of American flying equipment abroad.
Service teams of Royal Air Force enlisted mechanics are being trained in the assembly, repair and servicing of American equipment at various plants throughout the United States where airframes, engines, instruments and other accessories are in production for the British.
Each service team normally comprises six men, non-commissioned officers already highly trained and fully qualified in the RAF, one metal rigger (aircraft mechanic); two engine fitters (aircraft engine mechanics); one instrument maker; one electrician; one armorer. The team assigned to a particular type goes to the factory producing that type. They obtain living quarters in the vicinity and remain as long as is necessary to master their subject.
The metal rigger spends his time at the scene of fabrication and assembly, obtaining all the knowledge he can regarding the airframe assembly and all of its components. The two engine fitters study the method of mounting the powerplant, the location of engine accessories, features of installation, proper ways of servicing, checking, replacing minor parts and so on, then they go to the factory of the engine manufacturer. There they study the design and construction of the engine, as well as major repairs, overhauls and inspections. Wherever necessary they also travel to the plants of the suppliers of engine parts and accessories so that they will be completely informed on everything relating to the powerplant.
The instrument maker and electrician follow somewhat the same procedure. After familiarizing themselves with all the instruments and electrical equipment as installed in the completed aircraft, they visit in turn each of the manufacturers supplying such equipment to be instructed in the design, construction and repair of every part.
The armorer is concerned with the installation of armor plate, bomb racks, turrets, guns, ammunition boxes. His job, though as fully important as the others, usually does not require as much time. Therefore, there is not at present an armorer member of each team.
By early November, teams were hard at work with Lockheed Aircraft, North American Aviation, Glenn L Martin Co and Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division. Additional teams are being sent to plants of other manufacturers as rapidly as qualified men can be selected and transported to the United States.
In spite of the sizable handicaps under which these men are working, it is noteworthy that all reports from the firms training the teams thus far have been enthusiastic over the spirit of these RAF men, who are reported to spend 12 hours a day regularly at their job. They do not have unlimited funds at their disposal, and quarters are usually difficult to find in the neighborhood of our big aircraft plants, but with the cooperation of the firms and other assisting agencies most have been made fairly comfortable now.
The instrument men, particularly, have to travel great distances between their assignments and all of the men have to maintain an orderly accumulation of data in addition to their practical experience so that they may instruct others upon their return. The men in these teams are volunteers from service squadrons who have had long years of experience. They evidently have been selected with a great deal of care, to the end that they may not only absorb as much knowledge as possible here but can also impart their knowledge of American flying equipment to the combat squadrons concerned.
The project outlined is directed toward the immediate problem of providing thoroughly trained RAF ground crews as quickly as possible to service and repair American flying equipment now in active service with the British air forces.
Quite apart from this, but having a similar purpose, is a program under which a number of sergeant-instructors of the RAF are taking special courses on particular aircraft. However, this is part of a long term program looking toward the adequate dissemination of knowledge regarding American equipment in the regular training of RAF service men. These men will return to Britain to serve as instructors in schools for instructors.
Both of these programs together represent the efforts of the British to meet their half of a larger problem which America must also help to solve. Elsewhere in this issue, are described the steps taken by United States plane manufacturers abroad to assist British Authorities in maintaining their products at the utmost peak of efficiency. (See Bell servicing abroad, Fornoff, and Lockheed servicing abroad, Stunkel.)
There are so many radical differences between the two countries' methods of construction, measurements, standards for threads, nuts and bolts and consequently, tools, that confusion and delays in servicing and repair are inescapable unless every practicable provision is made to anticipate and overcome the innumerable discrepancies beforehand.
Most American service men who have actually had considerable experience in England or other British possessions agree that the larger proportion of spares, tools of all kinds, disposable materials and items such as rubber tubing, glass, nut plates, springs and so on now included in the British orders are urgently required.
It is certainly not meant as a reflection on British skilled workmen, but actually they have far fewer tools of all descriptions to go around. American machinists and mechanics, with very few exceptions, own very elaborate chests of tools of their own, usually a couple hundred dollars worth. Nearly every American male, whether doctor, lawyer, merchant, mechanic or clerk, has around his household or automobile varying collections of screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, wrenches and files. This is not so universally true in any other nation.
If the matter is not already under consideration, it might be wise for our lease-lend officials and the British purchasing people to study the advisability of instituting a large-scale program for supplying the British with quantities of standard hand tools for wide distribution in servicing squadrons and repair depots. This is particularly important in view of the vast quantities of American machinery of all kinds which will be in use with their armed services in the near future.
Some of the common tools and similar items for which an acute need frequently is experienced in servicing American flying equipment abroad are:
The greatest caution must be exercised on both sides of the Atlantic to avoid future shortages of these and thousands of other similar items. "For want of a nail a kingdom was lost." So runs an old saying. Likewise, for want of a grommet or washer a 25-ton bomber might be kept on the ground.
There are numerous procedural delays in the order and shipment of corrective or changed parts or replacements. Some manufacturers feel that British agencies can do much to shorten the time now required for urgent replacement orders to reach them. It is also felt in some quarters that our export control unnecessarily complicates service replacements. They feel that blanket licenses should be issued American firms to ship abroad technical data, parts, tools and replacements for planes already purchased. But whatever the difficulties, certainly the appropriate agencies of both nations should take all necessary steps to reduce to a minimum the time required for all needed spares, replacements, parts and tools to reach the spot where they will do the most good.
The question of tools and supplies for American flying equipment is all-important in connection with the scheme for training RAF service teams here, for all their knowledge of our equipment will be largely nullified if they do not have tools and equipment to keep our planes in the air.
This article was originally published in the December, 1941, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 40, no 12, pp 70, 182.
The original article includes 1 photo a Boston being unloaded from a ship.
Photo credited to British Combine Photos.