IN THE YEAR which has elapsed since I last reported to readers of Aviation on the production achievements of the aircraft manufacturing industry, the plane builders have performed continuing miracles of production which throw into the shade their attainments of 1940, impressive as was the job done during that critical year.
Events which have rocked our civilization to its foundations have occurred since my last report. Russia and Germany have locked in a titanic struggle; many old war fronts have changed, and most important to all Americans, the United States has been savagely attacked without warning and is now devoting every energy to full-out war production in order to equip armies and navies ours and our allies' to smash the Axis Powers.
One of the increments of US involvement in the war has been establishment of a necessary, rigorous censorship to keep information of value from reaching the enemy. Therefore, my report on production cannot be written in cold figures, as was my report last June. But I can report that, as of today, production of military airplanes in the United States has almost doubled in number since Pearl Harbor. In poundage, an even more important index, the increase is substantially higher.
The magnitude of the job which has been done becomes even more apparent with realization that it has been done, to date, almost entirely by an industry that as recently as September 1939 the date on which world hostilities opened employed only about 85,000 workmen. I am not permitted to describe in figures the spectacular increases we have made in floor space, in employees since that time. However, the fact that the already-impressive production at the time of Pearl Harbor has been nearly doubled in the five months which have followed should furnish an intelligible yardstick with which to measure the task of expansion which has been accomplished. When the automobile industry, even now getting into plane production, really gets rolling, a wave of warplanes that the Axis cannot possibly breast will be taking to the skies.
What aircraft production might have been today, had it not been for shortage of materials, is almost breathtaking. Almost every plane plant in the country could increase its production from 25 to 50 percent today, the first of May were the materials available. By materials I refer not only to raw materials, such as aluminum or nickel, but also to such fabricated items as forgings, extrusions and the hundreds of highly machined parts. These materials and parts, turned out by foundries and mills and hundreds of machine shops and plants, are vital to us in our efforts to keep our assembly lines moving at capacity.
I have no criticism to offer; but you recently have heard about the War Production Board's campaign to stimulate production by inspiring management and labor to greater effort. In our case it was unnecessary. Our plants from the first have been using the materials as rapidly as they could be received under government allocations. We are only one of the industries in the war effort. It isn't for us to tell the government that we should be allocated all the available supply of certain critical materials at the expense of those plants making ships, tanks, guns and hundreds of other items of needed equipment. The government is faced with the tremendous task of deciding how the materials should be allocated. This materials bottleneck will be broken in time, and ours and other industries will write new and inspiring chapters in American industrial history.
The aircraft industry, and the air forces, of which the aircraft industry considers itself a vital part, are not resting on any production laurels they have gained to date. Both realize that the outcome of the war, and the future destiny of America and the world, depend upon us getting to the fine pilots of the United Nations planes a' plenty in plenty of time. To that end we are working day and night, and to that end are working with us the countless thousands of aircraft workmen, "the home army". How well we are succeeding is best and most safely revealed by the production increase since Pearl Harbor that I have mentioned, and by telling you that our aircraft plants are ahead of the schedules set for them by the government. In this latter connection remember, President Roosevelt called for 60,000 planes this year.
There is still another means of letting you know how well plane production is getting on. Recent weeks have seen many plane companies returning to the government large portions of their profits. This has been made possible by the unceasing effort of our people to find new production devices and techniques to increase production. In this battle of brains, our people have been so successful that man-hours of work on aircraft have been spectacularly reduced, sometimes cut in half. These production victories have cut the cost of warplanes to the taxpayers by cutting the time it takes to build them, and obviously, has made possible the construction of thousands of additional planes in the time saved. Every one of these additional planes has been built, without delay, to the extent that the material supply has allowed.
There is one very real enemy standing squarely in the path of American victory in this, and this enemy is endangering aircraft production along with other production. This enemy is the "oral saboteur", who seeks to wreck production by creating belief in the public mind particularly in the defense worker's mind that the war effort is breaking down. He seizes any peg on which to hang his arguments. "American warplanes are inferior, cannot cope with the enemy." "American workmen are being brutally exploited by management." "Management is venal and unpatriotic." "The materials shortage is disastrous, cannot be remedied." This oral saboteur may be an actual enemy agent, or he may be an irresponsible gabbler a show-off or a sorehead. The show-offs and soreheads are the welcome dupes of the Fifth Columnist. They spread his venomous propaganda while he stands by, chuckling. Considerable publicity has been given this propaganda. It is difficult to refute most of it without revealing production and other information which would be of great value to the enemy, disclosure of which would serve Axis ends almost equally with the production failure which the oral sabotage campaign seeks to induce.
We must present a united front to the oral saboteur and destroy him. He is our greatest enemy. The armies of the Axis can be brought down by the combined might of the United Nations, bolstered by the mass war production which only the United States can attain. American airplanes are the most efficient, most deadly in the world. That has been proved on every front where our equipment has come to grips with the enemy. Your daily newspaper tells you that. Our pilots are surpassed in ability by none. We have powerful allies. The Axis will be defeated, unless we permit the Axis to defeat us first in the battle of production, right here at home.
A study of this war makes it impossible to believe that air power will not be the determining factor. The first three clays of the war alone, with their air-wrought destruction at Pearl Harbor and the ludicrous ease with which two huge battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, were sunk by aircraft, should attest to the significance of air power. So, all we have to do is get to the fighting fronts planes a'plenty in plenty of time. That the air forces and the aircraft industry propose to do, and will do.
This article was originally published in the May, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 5, pp 72-73, 239.
The PDF of this article includes a flight shot of a B-17E from 3 o'clock, a photo of machinists on the Lycoming production line, a photo of B-26s on the factory floor and a photo of pistons for Wright engines coming from the Hudson assembly line.
B-26 photo credited to Press Association; the other photos are not credited.