Of most interest to aviation people is the over-all war picture. Allied arms win frequent inspiring victories. But the Axis is still battering its way ahead, at this writing, in Russia, China, and in the American East Coast waters. The Allies dominate the English Channel and Australian fronts. Both of those fronts are controlled importantly by air.
"Battering its way" is the right expression. For the Axis has its throttles wide out. Next winter is the high hump to cross, and the Axis commanders know that if they don't get a long lead before then, the Allies will be after them with more hot lead than they can endure.
That is to say, or Army and Navy expected this desperate threshing about of the bleeding enemy. Uninformed persons are depressed about our defeats, but not the boss men. They knew it was coming. Of course, they are not happy, for this destruction of life and property is all in the red column of the book.
The Axis doom is written in American production figures. Aircraft output has risen to a point where the information jolts the enemy rather than helps him, so the President himself announces a rate of nearly 4000 a month. One government arsenal is delivering 1000 Garand rifles per day. In one month our industry built 50,00 machine guns, 1500 tanks, nearly 2000 artillery and anti-tank guns, exclusive of AA guns. Our shipyards have actually delivered 10,000-ton Liberty ships in 46 days, from the day of keel-laying.
In a word, the Axis will be buried under a flood of American production. How long it will take depends on many things, but it is sure. If you've ever done any irrigating you know that torrents of water can be coming into the headgates of the canal, while at a point far down, you still see only a trickle. US production is pouring through the headgates now.
The Axis has only 58 million tons of steel per year, to fight the Allies' 130 million tons. That always was, and is, the major factor in the equation. But, as the President and other leaders constantly warn, it will take muscle and brain work to drive this steel home. We are short of mills to roll it for ships, and we are short of alloying metals to give it the required qualities. Over-confidence about our seemingly unlimited power, evidenced in these figures could lose the war for us.
In Washington, the war has passed out of one phase into another. The political-promotion-organization job is done, and now the production-delivery-fighting job begins. The first period convinced the people they must defend themselves, put them in a mood to make sacrifices, took their factories for war goods. Now, production is rolling, Army and Navy more and more will take control of it, leaving the War Production Board to stretch and distribute raw materials, which will always be scarce.
The number one headline in aviation concerns its relation to sea power. In the House of Representatives, as a bill was passed appropriating money to build 500,000 tons of new aircraft carriers, Carl Vinson, chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee and spokesman in Congress for the Navy, said that the Navy was in full agreement with the Committee's action in not providing for any new battleships. The Navy let it be known that it considers aircraft carriers its capital ships in the new warfare.
This Communique does not claim any prophetic powers, but our No 1, last January, did say it looked as if the sea war might be a carrier war. When this war started we had seven carriers, and eleven building, which will make eighteen, minus loss of the Lexington. The 500,000 tons just authorized will add up to between 20 and 30 ships. The grand total would make a ship-based air force the like of which never has been dreamed of before.
But it is entirely possible that further shifts in the weapons of war may come before so many carriers shall have been built. In support of such a possibility we have the word of no less than Rear Admiral William H P Blandy, chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance. The Admiral says that undoubtedly the airplane has replaced the battleship as the striking force of the Navy. And he added that while present emphasis is on construction of carriers, "one can't accurately predict the evolution of fighting craft, and it may be that we are in a period of transition from carrier-based aircraft to planes completely land-based."
As every engineer knows, the restrictions naturally imposed upon the design of ship-based airplanes make them incapable of performance equal to that of land planes. Therefore, if land planes can be designed to retain their performance and still have range enough to attack wherever ship-based planes can attack, there would be no point in having carriers. The carriers presently have the great advantage of enabling airplanes to attack where they could not, otherwise. But carriers concentrate planes for enemy attack, rather than disperse them, and the ships themselves are thinly protected against bombs and torpedoes.
It should be noted that construction of battleships has not officially stopped. Some statements were made that work on some ships under construction had been suspended, but other statements conflicted. What actually happened was concealed from enemy ears behind Senate doors, which locked the public out for the first time since 1924. By a strange coincidence, the galleries were cleared that last time while the Senate discussed Japanese immigration. But whatever the current status of battleship building, you will find very few authorities who believe that capital ships will figure importantly in any more wars.
One of the big combat plane manufacturers said recently, in the presence of one of our editors, that the capital ship has been dead for 15 years, and the public knew it, or felt it. But it took all this time to jar battleships loose from the traditions of sea way.
The same man expressed his opinion that carriers will serve a very useful purpose during this war, and that construction of them should be rushed with all speed. But, he said, their period will pass quickly. In six or seven years, in his opinion, long-range land-based airplanes will put the carriers out of business. He pointed out the value of shore-based flying boats, too, which never find themselves stranded in the air because the enemy has bombed their base.
Only a few weeks ago both Army and Navy told Congress they felt that the function of gliders in this country's strategy was limited. It seemed that the glider program was small, and experimental. Now, suddenly, the Army has a big glider production and pilot training project going, and the Navy's interest is perking up.
The main reason for this change of heart seems to be air cargo. Not long ago, the surface shipping situation got so bad that the Army instituted a vast air cargo program, ordering large numbers of current cargo plane designs, and manufacturers are planning planes twice as big in two or three years, if the war goes on. Although everybody knew it all the time, the volume of freight and people that planes can and do carry in emergency, is a revelation when you get it down on a mission report. This has all been told in recent issues of Aviation Magazine.
Now, in addition to the cargo plane program, the Army proposes glider cargo. Engineers have known all along that a given aircraft engine will haul three or four times as much load if it is distributed among two or three gliders and the plane itself. Yet a real trial of this interesting proposition had to wait for an emergency war goods delivery problem.
Well, it's being tried, and in earnest, too. We can't tell you much about the types and numbers of gliders that have been designed and ordered. Except that some of them are surprisingly big, and that they will carry some heavy weapons which, you may have read, have been carried in airplanes. They will carry soldiers, and their equipment. It is not telling the enemy anything to say that a two-plane and gliders of certain types can carry a freight car full of food and ammunition, more or less, for China, or any other place that needs it.
The experts say that gliders cannot yet cross the oceans. The trains are slow (as airplanes go) and they have to follow fuel stations. But they will cross the oceans.
At present, we are using ordinary transport planes to pull gliders, and probably will for some time. As yet there is no announced special design of a "locomotive" plane. Engineers say there will be one, perhaps not until after the war. It would be a power plant with just enough wing to support it, and of course special aerodynamic features. One of these would be special engine cooling. A conventional transport plane, slowed down and lugging gliders, tends to heat up, even with a full draft of air. This is not a serious problem for the designers.
An important contribution to this vital glider project has been made by Dick duPont's All-American Aviation air mail pick-up system, working in cooperation with Wright Field. They have added to the air mail pickup certain equipment which enables a tow plane to pick up a glider without landing. The glider's line is placed across the "goal posts, and a hook extended down from the plane on a metal arm, grabs it. Then, a reel of line in the tow plane, to which the hook is attached, starts paying out. A brake gradually tightens the reel, accelerating the glider without shock, until it is air-borne and the reel is firmly locked.
This is an important development. It may make possible the recovery of gliders landed in enemy territory. The pickup, which duPont believes may be made to take on a full train of gliders without landing, will be important in whatever "powerless" transportation there is after the war.
You find almost complete optimism on this point, even among men known for their conservatism. They believe a great volume of peacetime freight will move in cargo planes and gliders. One new prospect, which no one has time to more than glance at, is gliders for scheduled passenger transport. In theory, nothing could be sweeter: no noise, no vibration. Not even a sailing yacht could equal it. But what problems may arise, no one can say.
This article was originally published in the August, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 8, pp 88-89, 251-252.
The original article includes photos of a TBD Devastator, an F4U-1 Corsair, an F4F-3 Wildcat, and an unidentified carrier.
Photos are not credited.